Ever have a really good waiter or waitress? Sure you have. There's a certain feeling you get when you encounter someone doing a really good job at something that maybe isn't the most important or exciting job in the world, but they've brought a level of competence and attention to it that just sort of makes you feel good about the whole experience.
The Elantra GT gave me a similar feeling. It's not the most exciting or interesting car, but it knows its job and it does it quite well. And, you don't have to tip it.
(Full Disclosure: Hyundai wanted me to drive the Elantra GT so damn much. They flew me out to San Diego, even though I could have driven. They put me up in a non-filthy hotel and gave me a key to the minibar, which makes me wonder why I bothered filling the vodka bottles back up with tap water.)
The Elantra GT I think is the best of the entire Elantra family (which now numbers three members, and not the Elantra Pickup I keep pushing), which is sort of a shame, since the product planners told me this is the one they expect to sell the least. The GT is, essentially, a 5-door hatch version of the Elantra, and was designed more for European tastes than American, and it's in Europe that they really expect to sell these. We in the US just kind of got them as an afterthought. But it's this slight European sensibility that sets the car apart from its Elantroid siblings.
What I liked about the car doesn't have much to do with the specs or technical details; if we're really honest, it's a bit anonymous in many technical aspects. The overall package, though, is a very practical, usable car that offers a little bit of driving enjoyment, has a decent look, and, most importantly, feels good when you're inside it. It's a cheap car that doesn't feel like punishment, and that's a great thing.
One of the biggest keys to the enjoyable nature of being in the car has to do with the panoramic roof option. I've rarely seen an option change a car's character so much. With the large glass roof, the cabin feels airy and open, sort of like sitting on a screened-in porch. It was nice enough that I was able to keep from vomiting when I accidentally drank a water bottle with my driving partner's cigarette butt in it. By laying back and looking up through that panoramic glass, I was just able to put the vile nicotine-water taste out of my mind and keep from spraying the dash with masticated buffet food. That says something.
The Elantra Sedan is not a bad looking car at all, especially for this segment, but I actually prefer the GT's hatchback design. The side view is the best angle for the car, with the nicely sculpted front fenders giving the car a more agile look, and the upward sweep of the windows and character line gives the overall profile a nice sense of forward motion.
I'm still not a huge fan of Hyundai's corporate grille/face in general, but I think the dual upward-arching grille bars on the GT are the best variation of the front fascia of all the Elantra models. It's reasonably distinctive, but still feels a bit forced. The rear is okay, with a nicely shaped rear window and spoiler, but all in all a bit generic. If you're following one, you probably won't pay it much attention unless someone's filled the rear window washer with fake blood. Which would be a great Halloween prank, by the way.
Like I mentioned before, I liked being inside the car. The cabin is an open, airy place to be in, and I absolutely suggest coughing up for the panoramic roof. It's worth it. The GT feels roomy, even in the back seats, which, thanks to the relatively long and straight roofline, actually have decent headroom. The cargo area is good-sized, with some nice underfloor organizer cubbies, and the split seats fold to make the GT a useful cargo hauler when needed, with more room than a Mazda3, Focus, Matrix, or Golf.
The GT also has driver and passenger knee airbags, a first in this class, and luckily I decided not to test those out.
The dash is not bad, with a nice open-design for the lower center stack. The plastics, like all the Hyundais I drove, were better on the upper parts of the dash, and increased in crappiness as your hand dropped lower. Nothing egregious, but nothing to write home about. My biggest complaint is the placement of the nav/infotainment LCD screen. They must have collaborated with NASA orbital physics scientists to manage to get the damn thing to be in the glare of the sun absolutely all the time. I think it was even in glare in a tunnel, somehow. This was annoying, and the main reason I didn't score the interior higher. There is a small sort of visor over the screen, but it only helps for the top 3/4". They should have noticed this.
Hyundai makes a point of saying their 1.8 has the best horsepower per liter ratio (82.2HP) of any car in its class, and is the lightest 5-door hatchback as well. That may be true, but the experience of stomping on the gas of the 148 HP 1.8 L engine is underwhelming. The engine does get louder in response to your foot, but it feels more like a complaint, and while you do eventually get moving, speed isn't why you should consider buying this car. I felt it was better than the other Elantra I drove, so there's that. It's not dangerously slow or anything like that, and in most driving you'll be fine, but that's about it. I would normally think something in the 150 HP range is fine for a car like this— I blame the automatic transmission, which I'll bitch about in its section.
We didn't get to drive these on a track or in any type of competitive context, which makes sense for this car, so I didn't get to really push the braking to its limits. But, on some good twisty roads, and in normal traffic, I had no complaints. They feel like good, modern brakes.
The GT is a comfortable car to drive and ride in. Noise levels are pretty low, and you can drive quite fast on the highway in a very relaxed manner. Driving off the road onto the shoulder to take pictures didn't phase the car much, though it's by no means an off-roader. Also, for a relatively tallish car, body lean wasn't much of an issue, either.
This was a surprise treat for this car, and I'm grading it a point higher than I would have because of one specific feature: selectable-mode electronic power steering. It gets that extra point because it's a genuinely good idea I'm surprised I haven't seen as well-executed on anything else in this class. Essentially, the system lets you change the steering feel with a switch. You can pick "Comfort", which provides a looser wheel and a more relaxed steering feel and response, perfect for long, boring highway trips. You can also pick "Sport" which tightens up everything— wheel response, turn ratios, and makes the car's handling feel much more aggressive. On the winding mountain roads I drove on, it made a remarkable difference. There's a middle setting as well between the two extremes, but honestly I don't see the point of that one so much. I could see leaving it mostly in Sport, since it feels pretty damn good, then dropping to Comfort when you just want to relax and get there. It's a nice system.
The other aspects of the handling, as could be determined on public roads without being too much of an asshole, seem competent. The car is generally composed, you can break the back end out just a bit on the really twisty roads— not much, but just enough to have a bit of fun.
Ugh, the Hyundai automatic. As I mentioned in the Veloster review, this gearbox feels like a last-gen leftover. I suspect it's a reliable unit, but it has the nasty side effect of sucking the fun out of whatever drivetrain it's connected to. I didn't get to drive a manual GT on this trip (they didn't have one available, from what I could tell) but even without having driven the manual, I feel confident in saying it's better. The manual in the Veloster certainly was.
If you want this car, and can't drive stick, think of this as a great opportunity to make your life better. Seriously, this automatic is like the booger-gorged, tattle-telling weird kid your mom would make you take along with your friends to go do stuff, ruining whatever trouble you were planning to get into.
It's a good thing this car comes with iPod/iPhone/iPhonograph connectors, because the engine sound is not really something you're going to want to listen to very much. At best it's unobtrusive, and at worst it's a bit like having a hornet's nest mounted on a racing helmet. Which would look cool, but that muffled buzzing isn't really an auditory treat.
The audio system itself is pretty good, with six speakers, 172 watts, and AM/FM/Sirius XM/CD/MP3, USB jacks, Bluetooth, and all the usual fun stuff. No HAM or shortwave support or ship-to-shore support, which I'm sure is a disappointment to somebody. It sounds on par with other members of its segment, and for most people will be just fine.
The GT has a better-than-average toybox, with the most show-off-able being the hidden backup camera that pops out from behind the rear Hyundai badge. It easily could have just been mounted back there, but, like the old Subaru cyclops eye third light, anything on a car which pops up from behind a badge is fun. The GT has a good array of kit, including a cooled glove box (for your kidney-transplant runs), heated front seats, clean air ionizer, and you can even customize the LCD's home screen with your own pictures from a USB drive. There's also sports and stock ticker applets that can run on the screen as well.
Like all Hyundais, there's Blue Link standard, their concierge system with among other things, voice-to-text messaging, and Automatic Crash Notification, with presumably an operator to console you and tell you everything's going to be ok when you drive your car into a water park or something.
The Elantra GT is a good value, even with the automatic transmission I so brutally badmouthed. For a single person looking for flexibility, or for a family that doesn't want a lumbering SUV, it strikes me as a very solid choice for a good, wide-use car that manages to be pleasant to drive and ride in as well. It starts at $18,395 (you can pay a grand more to be punished by the automatic), which is a pretty good deal for the amount of car you're getting. It's price is on par with cars like the Toyota Matrix, and about a grand or two cheaper than the Mazda3, Focus, and Golf. All in all, not a bad deal.
Hyundai Elantra GT