With its planted stance, sport-tuned suspension and more curves – via Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design – than SI’s Swimsuit Issue, Hyundai’s Elantra GT throws its immediate competition (Focus, Golf and Mazda3) more than a curve; it has the potential for sustaining Hyundai’s market mayhem – even in an environment comprised of low gas prices and small CUVs – well into the next model year. The Korean carmaker continues on a roll, as rapidly increasing sales and subsequent shortage of inventory have combined to create a ‘perfect storm’, notable even in a rapidly expanding marketplace.
In contrast to its sedan or coupe counterparts, the Elantra 5-door has that ‘just right’ visual balance, with the aforementioned curvature accenting the sides, a greenhouse promising adequate visibility and an abbreviated rear overhang adding to the hatch’s visual athleticism. We were – in a word – taken with the assembled sheetmetal in a way we hadn’t been with the sedan or subsequent coupe.
On its arrival in our driveway we retained that initial enthusiasm, enhanced – we think – by the addition of a Style Package which includes, among dozens of other things, 17-inch alloy wheels surrounded by 215/45R17 tires. The wheels’ shine seemed a bit ‘too much’ visually, while the GT’s 45-series tires may have been too much, functionally. Regardless, we continue to like the basic shape while confused by its perceived heft; its hatch feels heavy, and the windshield – while cleaning it – seemed to have the area of a queen-sized mattress and the mass of Queen Mother (RIP).
Inside, the Elantra’s seating surfaces looked (in)appropriately upmarket in perforated leather, and provided both easy access and (once seated) a reasonable level of comfort and support. The dash area enjoyed a logical layout and, for the most part, intuitive controls. On a 3-hour drive from Dallas to Austin the XM radio was a blessing (we never tire of ‘60s on 6), while the Nav – with a straight shot south on I-35 – proved unnecessary. At speeds varying between 70 and 80 the Elantra GT’s cabin was almost serene, and therein lies the disconnect between my expectation of an Elantra GT and its deliverables.
I wouldn’t, to be sure, want to go back to the Hyundai of a decade ago. While in the midst of a wide-ranging array of improvements to everything from product to distribution to its retail environments, there remained a not-quite-there aspect to the bulk of Hyundai’s product line. In executing this latest Elantra, however, they seemed to have benchmarked Buick (and no, not the Regal GS) more than BMW. Although we wouldn’t expect any Hyundai to incorporate BMW traits for around $20K (base), neither would we wish to be lulled into a semi-slumber while behind the wheel. And that’s exactly the case with Hyundai’s Elantra GT, which so aggressively filters sensations from the road – even when the selectable steering mode is adjusted to ‘sport’ – there are no sensations from the road.
Our expectations may have been set higher by a week spent behind the wheel of Hyundai’s new Veloster. With 138 horsepower from 1.6 liters we weren’t gunning for pink slips, but the Veloster’s level of connectivity between the steering wheel, road and seat-of-the-pants was exceptional for an under-$20K price point. The Veloster proved to be a point-and-shoot gem, while its Elantra stablemate was more point-and-ponder.
The Elantra GT’s window sticker supplied additional points to ponder. At a base price – with destination – of roughly $20K the Elantra GT matches up nicely with its competitive segment. Notably, when directly compared to products from Ford (Focus), Volkswagen (Golf) or Mazda (Mazda3 5-door) it’s no longer the screaming deal a Hyundai once was, but neither does it come in the marginal wrappings it once did. That $20,000 Elantra GT provides everything you need to reliably and stylishly get to where you want to go. Push a GT – with options – to around $25K, however, and we think there are more viable options. Were it our $25,000 when shopping for a 5-door compact we’d be inclined to put that money on a Mazda or VW (GTI, anyone?) showroom. Or, for that matter, we’d pop for the all-new Tucson, with a higher seat point, turbo drivetrain and – despite a higher center of gravity – a seemingly more composed ride/handling balance.
The good news: You don’t need to spec your Elantra GT with everything and anything, which is what our press fleet example represented. We’d opt for a well-equipped 6-speed manual, hope to buy it for around $18K and put the $7,000 balance into a Japanese motorcycle. In the continued absence of an entertaining Civic, that combination may be the winning combination.