Someone once very astutely remarked to me that "Hyundai is very good at putting shiny things right in front of the customer in the showroom." The new Elantra GT may embody this more than any Hyundai right now. At $22,000 this Elantra GT came with such high-end goodies as heated leather seats, a panoramic glass moonroof, and sleek European-feeling design inside and out. The interior feels especially premium with its piano black trim, cool blue lighting, and dampened buttons.
What you end up giving up in exchange for those creature comforts are decent driving dynamics -- the GT's chassis may be the most buttoned-down chassis of any Hyundai I've driven recently, but it's still floaty on the highway and harsh on impacts. The steering is just as disconnected and overboosted as any other Korean product. Hyundai has given the driver three options for steering mode: comfort (fairly disconnected and very over-boosted), normal (disconnected and over-boosted), and sport (very disconnected and unnaturally weighted). This wouldn't be such a problem, except that the same money buys you a Mazda3i Touring, albeit with a regular moonroof and no leather; step up to the 3i Grand Touring and pit it against a fully loaded Elantra GT and the price gap is only a couple hundred dollars. I'd find it hard to choose the Hyundai over the better-driving and more-efficient Mazda.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I was sitting at a conference table across from Hyundai CEO John Krafcik a couple of months ago when I asked him a question submitted by one of our Facebook fans: "What's next?" Now that Hyundai's risky/gutsy move to implement its "fluidic sculpture" design language in cars like the Sonata and the Elantra has paid off, it's time to ask if the Korean company's cars are going to get better from here. I just drove the Hyundai Elantra GT, and the answer is "yes."
You can feel the improvement throughout. There are little details, like the sunroof buzzer: previous Hyundai cars squawked when you left the car with the sunroof popped open (with no visual explanation), but the Elantra GT's chime is calmer and accompanied with a message on the multi-function indicator. The base stereo's Bluetooth system is now able to display song titles and artists and supports steering-wheel controls (unlike the Elantra or Sonata's base system). The iPod connectivity -- Thank God! -- no longer requires a special cable and can accept any USB or 3.5-mm input.
There's also improvement in the larger areas. The ride is much more comfortable and composed over road imperfections that would rattle the GT's predecessors. The adjustable steering allows drivers to choose sports-car firmness or typical Hyundai lightness. The engine has a throatier noise in the upper register than the Elantra, which can sound tinny or gritty in the same situation.
As a package, the Elantra GT works well. If the old Elantra Touring was a well-meaning also-ran in the segment, the new GT openly threatens the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 hatchbacks in performance, usability, style, and value. That's progress indeed.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
I generally think compact hatchbacks are superior to small sedans because they are more useful for carrying cargo, so I am very pleased that Hyundai has morphed its successful Elantra sedan into this Elantra GT hatchback. The GT proves again why more people should consider hatchbacks: there is abundant interior room and practical load space, yet the car's small footprint still makes it ideal for urban driving. On the whole, the Elantra GT is a practical and remarkably pleasant car. It's very easy to drive, with good visibility, an excellent manual transmission, and very good control ergonomics.
The only problem is that the Elantra doesn't exist in a vacuum, and its competitors do some things better. Hyundai's Fluidic Sculpture creases and curves look overwrought and silly on this Elantra GT. The electric power steering, though improved from older Hyundais, still feels disconcertingly artificial. And the suspension crashes and bounces over imperfect roads. As good as the Hyundai Elantra GT may be, it's still not as satisfying to drive as the segment's standouts, the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus. I am impressed with the Elantra GT but I would have a hard time choosing it over those two competitors.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The new Elantra sedan is a very nice car that's clearly no longer at the bottom end of its competitive set. Since I really appreciate the utility of a hatchback, the new Elantra GT is easily my favorite small Hyundai. However, I was an even bigger fan of the old Elantra Touring, which was a proper station wagon that drove surprisingly well. Its replacement, the Elantra GT, isn't as spacious or as fun to drive, but it definitely looks a lot more modern and cooler.
You've really got to row the slick gearbox to get this car moving, but the oomph should be enough for most drivers. I was also perplexed by how slippery the steering wheel is. (I've noticed this in other Hyundais, too.)
I love the Elantra GT's panoramic sunroof, which makes the cabin feel even roomier than it is. The reflections of the dash top on the windshield -- right in my sight line -- were quite distracting, though. Little things like this are yet another reason to take a proper test drive when considering the purchase of any new vehicle.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Writer