I’m glad I got to drive this little hatchback when I did because it was not too long ago that I was parading around in the snow in its Kia counterpart, the turbocharged Forte5 SX, and I really wanted to be able to draw a contrast between the two.
Cut from the same cloth but built by two distinctly different badges, the Forte5 and Elantra GT are practical, playful, and completely pertinent in today’s market; the latter of the two is the more mainstream machine. It genuinely is a good little car, and if you knock around on the interweb you’ll see that most critics tend to agree that the Elantra GT is a solid five-door, compact hatch.
But after a week of solid windshield time with the little Elantra, I came away feeling a bit underwhelmed. When it was introduced last year at the Chicago Auto Show, Hyundai claimed it had come up with a redesign that “both looks and feels dynamic.” Sure, it does look a lot nicer with the restyled front nose and those 17-inch alloy wheels, and it does come with some fresh tech for those who don’t mind dropping a few grand into an economical compact car. But when comparing it to its Kia counterpart or the recently reviewed Mazda3 we had, there was no avoiding the fact that the Elantra GT still isn’t hitting on all cylinders.
Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language has remade the GT model of the Elantra into a far more streamlined vehicle, and thankfully it isn’t as obtuse as the Veloster or as bubbly up front as the Forte5 SX. It has a restyled nose, complete with a fresh grille, wrap-around projector headlamps, sharp fog lights, harder hood creases, and some slick LED tail lights out back. But despite these much needed refreshes, there isn’t much to this car that makes it stand out from the herd, and not once did I catch myself getting enthralled over an external design cue.
Exterior pros and cons
+ That freshly sculptured fascia looks nice, even if it isn’t groundbreaking or head-turning, and the same goes for those optional 17-inch alloy wheels.
+ The tech package comes complete with LED tail lights, which put on a nice little show after the sun goes down.
+ Well proportioned, cleanly lined, and understated, there is nothing about the Elantra GT that is offensive or gregarious.
– This is not a very “GT looking” automobile, and not having a dual port exhaust (or a polished tip at all for that matter), diffuser, or any aero upgrades whatsoever make it look even less so.
– The Kia Forte5 SX gets proximity-based, LED puddle lighting, power folding mirrors but its Hyundai counterpart doesn’t.
– The bland rear liftgate and its frumpy spoiler are pretty underwhelming, and those over-sized bumper reflectors are just a distraction to the eye.
While 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque in a compact hatch aren’t the worst power numbers we’ve ever seen, in practice the Elantra GT tends to offer a drive that is much like its external styling lines. Consistent, unassuming, and practical, I found that throttling on the direct injected 2.0-liter motor alongside the Shiftronic six-speed auto is like eating a big bowl of white rice for dinner. You are going to get the sustenance you signed up for, and it certainly isn’t going to leave a bad taste in your mouth, just don’t go in expecting a kaleidoscope of flavor and fun.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Hyundai’s choice to put an “active ECO” button in this car was nice to see, especially since some automakers still don’t offer a freeway cruising option for better MPG gains.
+ Lighter and far more torque-rich than the old 1.8-liter motor, this new powerplant certainly has its evolutionary merits.
+ While a manual gearbox would have proven more enjoyable, the six-speed automatic with its overdrive lock-up torque converter for high-speed cruising was a steadfast staple that did not feel indecisive or improperly calibrated to the new engine.
– A lot can be said for an automaker that upgrades a car’s powerplant, and while this engine is indeed an advancement over the old model, the 245-horsepower turbo motor out of the Sonata Sport 2.0T offers way more grunt and almost identical fuel efficiency.
– Compared to other four-cylinder engines out there, this new powerplant isn’t nearly as fuel efficient as we would have hoped for, as even the more torque-centric Mazda3 got better MPG gains out of its larger 2.5-liter motor.
– Getting up to speed on the interstate isn’t a total drag with this engine/transmission combo, but it still feels like this duo is working too hard when on an incline, with considerable amounts of engine noise.
This car has an interior that looks a lot more high dollar than it actually is, both in a good and bad way. It has all of the proper credentials in place to compete with hatchbacks like the Impreza, Focus, and Golf, offering solid stow space capacities, a quiet cabin, and globs of features that have made Korean cars a genuine contender in recent years. Nevertheless, it’s still an inexpensive compact car, and while it fell short in a few interior quality tests, it excelled in delivering a swanky interior space for the money.
Interior pros and cons
+ Quiet, leather-bound, and sensible, there’s a lot about this interior that speaks volumes about Hyundai’s aspirations, with a cooled glove box, heated and cooled front seats, and a CleanAir Ionizer being a few touch points to consider.
+ The center stack is stylish and easy to navigate, as is the button-clad steering wheel, and all of the contrasting trim pieces look nicely designed.
+ Additional upgrades found in the Style Package work well in tandem with the tech package, with the metal performance pedals, under-floor storage, 10-way power driver’s seat, leather-bound steering wheel and shifter, and signature panoramic sunroof being the best of the bunch.
– No paddle shifters, LED dome lights, clever Sonata laser gauge cluster, or electronic e-brake.
– Cramped rear legroom and no heated rear bench like what we found on the equally priced Forte5 SX.
– Poorly fitted visor over the gauge cluster is very flimsy, door handle inserts have unattached material in them that just slides around and feels unfinished, and some of the control buttons were redundant.
Tech and safety
It may look small on the outside, but with a five star crash rating from Uncle Sam and a healthy array of threat detection technology on the inside, there is a lot to like here. Hyundai has also rolled out its Blue Link telematics system in this puppy, so add that to the already notable list of stock upgrades and the goodies included in the Style Package, and you’ve got a pretty connected little compact.
Tech pros and cons
+ Push-button start, proximity key entry, a pop-out rearview camera that hides behind the Hyundai badge so it stays clean, and automatic dual climate controls are just a few of the goods you’ll get after adding the available upgrade packages.
+ Korean car makers continue to hit home runs with their 7-inch touchscreen navigation units. I have yet to run into one that doesn’t want to work properly. Add that to Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system and you’ve got one hell of a center stack.
+ Hyundai is big on showing drivers their stats via a full color screen read-out, and since virtually everything is customizable, this can be both informative and aesthetically pleasing.
– The multi information display (MID) looks dated when compared to other compacts nowadays, and not showing drivers their vehicle speed just lessens its credibility even more.
– Compared to other tech packages on the market, this one has a surprisingly limited amount of pre-installed apps on it.
– No variable cruise control, accident mitigation, or blind spot monitoring here, and that’s with the additional $3,950 tech package installed.
When driving the Elantra GT, one of the first things you’ll notice is how straightforward and well thought out everything is. Everything is easy to locate and utilize, and with the addition of both the style and tech package, there’s little about this car that doesn’t serve a purpose. The seats are leather and comfortable, all around visibility is good, those sport pedals are grippy and offer a well proportioned dead pedal, and while manually shifting an automatic shifter is sort of a bore, it remains just as leather bound and well balanced as the grippy steering wheel beside it.
While the “sport-tuned suspension” that has been recalibrated just for for those 17-inch wheels offers something that should be relabeled as “stock-grade” and the powertrain isn’t overly memorable, the steering set-up deserves a bit of recognition. With the push of a button, drivers can choose three steering response settings, and I was surprised by the level of returns it offered, even if it doesn’t do squat for throttle, shifts, or suspension. Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings grow noticeably more taut, and Hyundai says that both active steering return gains and high frequency friction levels have been optimized exclusively for this little hatchback.
Wrap up and review
After returning the 2016 Elantra GT to its owners, I sat back and contemplated its worth. For all of the fresh improvements it has on its resume, it still falls short when compared to the competition. Once equipped with both Hyundai’s style and tech packages, the little five-door hatch jumps from $19,800 all the way up to $26,675, which seems like a bargain all the way up until you see what you get for about the same amount on the Kia. I also found it to be pretty bland looking when compared to other cars in its segment, and having loosely fitted interior pieces doesn’t help it win any quality battles.
Overall, this is a pretty straightforward, if somewhat forgettable, automobile, and while you can tell that Hyundai is trying to appeal to people who want a balance between economically practical and snappy, the automaker isn’t really going all-in one way or another. The new powerplant feels dated even though it’s fresh out the box, the sport suspension seems like it is just a standard setup, and outside of those base-looking 17-inch wheel upgrades, nothing about it screams “GT.” This car is without question evolving in the right direction, but unfortunately it is still at the back of the pack, which leaves us to wonder when the next overhaul is set to arrive.