Hyundai gives us an unexpected surprise.
It seems unfair that the newest crop of super hatches are getting all of the attention. Headlines include performance figures to rival that of supercars, extreme and polarized styling, and niche names. These hatches are all about the hype before you drive them. And sure, taking one of these for a spin is fun, but things have gone too far away from the simple pleasures of a hot hatch.
Enter the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport. This isn’t one of those cars that lands the cover of a magazine or even gets lumped into a comparison test. Don’t let that fool you though, because there’s a certain magic in this car that will turn the Elantra GT Sport into a guilty pleasure. You just have to seek it out on purpose.
Comparing an Elantra to a BMW M car is a bit foolish, until recently. Albert Biermann – formerly of BMW’s M division – has been scooped by Hyundai to head their handling department. As such, this car feels delightfully balanced. During my week with the car, there were several conditions that would expose any chassis weaknesses. Frigid temperatures, salty and snowy roads, and 500 treadwear tires meant this car was short on the sort of mechanical grip you’d get from one of the uber hatches. Despite this, you always got the feeling that the front and back axles were working in unison, and on snow, it got even better.
Snow driving left the impression that this car’s handling limits are very easily approachable. Sure, you’d likely get the back to step out with a sharp lift of the throttle, but you can also very easily mitigate under-steer with the right amount of weight transfer via the brake pedal. While it’s a known fact that rear-drive is infinitely more fun in the snow, this wasn’t too far behind.
Aside from the truly excellent chassis, Hyundai has dedicated itself to saving the manuals. A nice and snickety 6-speed transmission in this car makes the drive even more fun. Hyundai’s other option is a decent dual-clutch automatic, but the 6 speed is obviously the more engaging of the two.
Rev out those gears and you’ll find fuel economy dips into the low 20’s but normal driving will eke that back into the range of about 30 or so. After a full week of driving, my penalty was just over 8 gallons of regular fuel, which is impressive since I made no plans to stretch any gallons of gas.
Still, power delivery – all 201 horses – comes on strong at about 3000 RPM, with a nice and bassy exhaust note to accompany it. There are no pops or bangs or other theatrics to go with the noise, but still, I had no complaints about the brisk pace. If anything, it became fun to slow down, in order to speed back up again. Though it must be said, the 185 lb/ft of torque is best in the meat of the rev range. You can try and run all the way to re-line, but there’s really no extra speed to be found there.
Options? We don’t need no stinkin’ options!
Priced at $24,260, you’ll be saving money at the dealership as well as at the pump. This car has no options, but that’s because there’s an entire laundry list of things that come standard. Leather seats which are heated up front, contrast red stitching on the seats/steering wheel and shifter, full LED headlights and tail lights, 8 inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 18 inch wheels, and of course, that 6-speed manual gearbox. At no point in my drive did I feel like this car was really missing anything, save for maybe the fun of watching a boost gauge move around.
There’s a certain appeal to cars like this. Since it doesn’t need to blast around the Nurburgring and make its rotors glow, it can handle a snowy drive, and temperatures approaching 0F. You can cover it with road salt and not really care. You can sully the carpets with the slush from your shoes and, that’s OK. It’ll behave the same regardless of road conditions and that makes it a comfortable and familiar place to be. Since it doesn’t have a particularly high pedigree badge, it can impress you simply by being better than average. In fact, it brings back something you don’t get in those other hatches: it’s simply a very good inexpensive car. It doesn’t make any promises, and that makes this car far better than average.
As a note: Hyundai has recently come out with the Veloster N package, and if that absolves any of my nit-picky complaints about the Elantra, the Veloster N is bound to be one heck of a car.
Engine: 1.6 turbo GDI I-4
Torque: 185 lb/ft
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
MPG cty/hwy/comb: 22/29/25 (32 observed)
As Tested: $24,260