2016 Hyundai Elantra GT- Kimchi with Euro Fusion

thumbnail_image16“Whoa Cowboy!” You may exclaim.  “You already tested this generation Hyundai Elantra way back in 2013.  What’s the point of testing the hatchback version?”  While it’s easy to dimiss the Hyundai Elantra GT as being just an Elantra with a humpback, it’s not quite that simple.  Sure, the two share the same engine and most Hyundai dealers will group the sedan and hatch together in the same corner of the sales lot.  But unlike the sedan which was designed from the get-go for the Korean and American markets, the hatch was intended for European consumers and is based on the German-engineered Hyundai i30.  There’s enough of a unique, Euro flavor in the GT that it was worthy of its own separate review.

thumbnail_image18“GT” may conjure up images of supercars racing in the streets of Monaco.  Although the Elantra GT, or i30, may be a common sight on the Mediterranean, a street racer it is not.  But Hyundai has had a habit of labeling its hatchback versions “GT” since the introduction of the original Elantra GT back in 2001.  Like the current generation, that adaptation was also essentially sold as the hatch version, but came with its own exclusive suspension tuning and continental styling cues.  To make the situation more confusing, Hyundai sold the sedan several years later with the optional GT package with the same upgrades.

thumbnail_image2This version of the GT debuted back in 2011 at the Frankfort Auto Show as i30, and was later introduced in the US to replace the Elantra Touring; an infinitely more practical, but boxier and less chic wagon variant of the Elantra. In the five years since, the GT has gone through a minor styling update and the standard engine has gone from a 1.8 liter to a more robust, but less efficient, 2.0 liter.  An all-new i30 (Elantra GT) just debuted this past month in Europe, so our test 2016 is among the last of this generation.

thumbnail_image24So what is so different about the hatch?  Obviously, the first thing is styling.  At first glance, the hatch just appears as a truncated version of the sedan with the same swoopy, expressive motif.  But look more closely.  The large, gaping front grille is trapezoidal and much more prominent than the sedan’s thin, mail-slot piece.  The headlights flow further back into bulging fenders that echo the Mazda 2.  The two do not share any sheetmetal.  Overall, the Elantra GT is very handsome with a look that would be at home on the streets of Paris and screams “I’m from Europe!”.  The “fluidic sculpture” theme that Hyundai was injecting in all of its models early this decade has aged much better on the GT than on many of the brand’s other offerings.  It still looks contemporary to this day.

thumbnail_image19Inside it’s the same story.  While the interiors between the two Elantras may initially appear interchangeable, they’re not.  They may share many of the same parts; the steering wheel and instruments for example, but the meat and bones of the dash panels, and even the doors, are not the same.  The sedan has a more “pinched Coke-bottle” look in the dash, while the hatch has a more upright, conservative presentation, and includes some Audi-esque buttresses that flow down to the center console.  Looks are subjective, but once again, I find the hatch’s interior to have aged more gracefully and be easier on the eyes.

thumbnail_image20In typical Hyundai fashion, the controls for the radio and ventilation are simple and easy to learn.  Although not the most technologically advanced, there’s no arguing against the GT radio’s uncomplicated volume and tuning knobs and crisp radio readout backlit in a pleasing blue.  Ventilation controls are also a cinch, although I did wonder what the logic was behind using separate buttons for the vent position (ala 1990’s Suzuki) instead of a knob.  They take up space and look more cluttered than necessary.  Regardless, it’s still easy to use despite taking some attention from the road.

As in the sedan, gauges are crisp, clear and easy to decipher. They’re thumbnail_image11also attractive and light up nicely at night.  All secondary controls make sense and there’s no learning curve once in the GT.  The soft-touch materials used feel opulent to the touch, and quality of construction seems solid and robust.  The door panels especially are pleasing to eye with thick grab handles, tasteful pseudo chrome, and natty cloth that feels durable.  Visibility is not an issue front and rear, and despite the thick rear roof pillars, the large hatch window still gives a clear view to the back.  Overall, the GT’s cabin is a nice, soothing place to thumbnail_image25spend the time.

Front seat room is generous with loads of headroom and space for feet to stretch.  One of my complaints about the original GT from years ago was a lack of space for taller noggins, and this has since been addressed  The dash does not intrude on knees, and unlike many Japanese competitors, the interior was designed with taller Westerners in mind. thumbnail_image6Seats have plenty of travel for even the long-legged drivers.  The adjustable center armest that can be slid front and back while concealing a storage area is a thoughtful touch.  Unlike the sedan, the GT comes with standard front heated seats, as well an air conditioned glove box; pleasant surprises on an economy oriented vehicle.  Now you can keep your tooshy warm while the sodas in the glove box remain chilled.  Seats are comfortable for the most part, but the seat bottoms did feel flat on longer drives.

thumbnail_image23Despite the hatch being a full 10 inches shorter in length than the sedan, and having a wheelbase that is also comes up short by two inches, the rear seat actually has more space for full-size adults.  As upfront, headroom is plentiful despite the car’s swoopy style, and legroom is very decent.  Hyundai is still insistent on plastic backing on the seatbacks and that allows for little give for knees.  There are thumbnail_image5some merciful scallops in the seats for knees, but overall, the back seat’s room belies the car’s small outside dimensions and is much less claustrophobic than a Ford Focus.  However, the newer Chevy Cruze and Toyota iM hatches offer even more rear space.

Hatches are intended to be the most practical of all vehicles; small enough to squeeze into tight city parking spaces while cramming in the most amount of gear with no fuss.  When it comes to this, the GT does pretty well, but also falls short.  The hatch opening is wide and the liftback clears out of the way to access 23.0 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats up; more than the Mazda3, Toyota iM, and Chevy Cruze.  The cargo floor is low and the wide, allowing ample space for a suitcase and gear.  But folding thumbnail_image7down the rear seat is a four-step chore; the front seats need to be moved forward, the rear seat bottoms flipped up via the back doors, rear headrests removed, and the seatback eventually folded down.  It’s reminiscent of the aggravating, involved process on the Chevy Spark.  While many small car’s seats flip and fold easily with the release of a button or lever, not so here. thumbnail_image8Getting the seatbacks to lie down against the flipped seat bottom requires some strength, and they stubbornly have to be jammed into their position.  Once all these steps are taken, there is still no reward of a flat loading floor, making it difficult to slide heavy objects in.  Luckily, space is still quite reasonable for this class.  The competition, along with Hyundai’s own cheaper Accent, have progressed with interior flexibility.

So we’ve established that the Elantra GT is not a Grand Tourer, or worthy othumbnail_image9f Gran Turismo.  But what was it like to drive?  Not bad, and even though it doesn’t match the sporting character of some of its competitors, it is an improvement over the sedan.

As mentioned, the GT does use the same 2.0 liter 4-cylinder as the standard Elantra, and that’s not anything to hold against it.  It’s a modern all-aluminum block unit with direct-injection, dual-overhead cams, variable valve timing, while churning out a healthy 173 horsepower.  This was a big step up from the 1.8 liter originally offered on the GT back in 2013.  For an economy car, the engine feels robust and never wheezy.  There is a slight thumbnail_image12delay during off-the-mark accelerations, but overall, keeping up to speed and tackling hills is effortless.  Engine noise is also hushed within the cabin except at higher rpms, although wind and road noise was prevalent on the freeway.

The six-speed automatic transmission is a good match and a slick unit.  As in other Hyundais, it can be switched over to manuamatic mode at anytime for thumbnail_image15more control.  But left in DRIVE, which the majority of GT drivers will do, shifts were well-timed and smooth.  We did notice the occasional harsh downshift while going downhill with the cruise control activated.  It only happened three times during the course of our 600 mile test, but it was an obvious jolt that was uncharacteristic of the transmission.  Whether or not it was a defect on our particular car remains unknown.  I have driven the six-speed manual transmission version of the GT, and although have nicely spaced ratios, the shifter’s gates were notchy and each shift felt forced.  The automatic is, surprisingly, a much more enjoyable experience.

thumbnail_image14Handling is where the GT does divide itself from the sedan.  It does have sportier suspension tuning and it shows.  Road grip is pretty good and although no match for a Ford Focus, the GT does inspire driver confidence and is still fun to fling around a mountain road.  Part of that may be due to the car’s modest 2,700lb. weight.

thumbnail_image21Back in 2013, I stated that the sedan’s steering was “lifeless and non-communicative.”  That’s not so much the case here.  Unique to the hatch is the ability to select steering modes via a button on the steering wheel.  Choices are “COMFORT”, “NORMAL”, and “SPORT”.  Comfort mode mimics a Lincoln Town Car, or the regular Elantra, with minimal feedback from the road thumbnail_image3and effort to turn the wheel.  Even though Sport is intended for curvy roads, I found it better for flat, straight stretches as well, allowing for more precise corrections.  In Sport, there was enough road feel that separated the car from the sedan and many Korean offerings.  The Euro engineering is obvious in this case.

Ride also reflects the Germanic roots.  Close your eyes, and it would be a convincing compact VW.  There’s a perfect balance of being firm without punishing occupants on the car.

thumbnail_image13On a random note, the GT does come with a spare tire, which was unavailable on the same generation sedan.  It’s yet another cultural distinction from Europe that has carried through to the New World.  Spare tires are an expectation over there, and in some countries, required by law.  Hyundai may have found it easier to just include the spare for US bound i30’s.

thumbnail_image17The EPA rates the Elantra GT at 24mpg in the city, and 33 mpg on the highway.  We seriously blew those numbers out of the water, and were able to achieve 40mpg on a 200 mile stretch of highway.  Between highways, mountain roads, our performance tests, and some city driving, we still reached 36mpg on average.  As to what the EPA did to get such lower numbers is a big question, or maybe a government conspiracy?

thumbnail_image22Our tester had 26k miles of rental duty on the clock during the time we had it.  Every trim piece of the car still felt tight and solid, and mechanically it was sound.  It wasn’t until the car had an empty front passenger seat that a mysterious rattle made itself known.  Applying pressure to the seat, or putting another butt in it, resolved the issue and it’s likely a loose bolt within the seat’s pinning’s. Aside from that, the GT felt like a quality piece.  As a consumer, keep in mind that Hyundai still backs their cars with the well-known 10year/100k powertrain warranty; among the longest and most confident in the business.

thumbnail_image4The base Elantra GT reflects on how today’s economy cars are not the punishment boxes they once were.  Prices start at $18,800 for a manual transmission and include 16-inch wheels, heated mirrors, air conditioning, full power accessories, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding rear seats, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker CD player with USB/iPod input and auxiliary jack.  Our was essentially a base version that didn’t even have floor mats, and the only option was the automatic transmission that costs a cool $1,000, bringing the price to $19,800.  Considering the amount of goodies that the base comes with, it’s pretty price competitive with the Focus and iM, while undercutting the Cruze.

thumbnail_image1All-in-all, the Elantra GT may not live up its sporting moniker.  But it’s a car that does everything most people would ask of it.  It’s roomy, well-equipped, practical, handsome, nice to drive, and just feels reliable and trustworthy.  It’s the hatchback for people who don’t like hatchbacks or downsizing.  My mother, who swears by SUV’s, mentioned she could easily live with this car.  There’s a few compromises, namely the cargo versatility, and it isn’t as roomy as a Corolla, or as fun as a Focus, but there’s nothing about the GT that was a turnoff.  It also makes up for the prior sedan’s shortcomings and is the Elantra of choice.  It’d be an enjoyable car to own with a little Euro flair without the Euro price or long-term reliability issues.  For that, it earns a solid 4.0/5.0 boomerangs.

 

 

 

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