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OK, despite its GT moniker, Hyundai's new Elantra hatchback lacks the requisite boosted motor -- turbocharged, supercharged or oversized -- to give the car the necessary chops to be called a hot hatch.
All that means is that it shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as the hyperkinetic Mazdaspeed3, VW Golf R, Subaru WRX, etc. But neither does it carry the price premium of those esteemed cars.
A more accurate description of the newest version of the Elantra is sporty hatch -- certainly more so than the Touring wagon it replaces in the lineup -- with better performance from its 148-horsepower 1.8-litre Nu four-cylinder and far better handling than the Touring.
As for looks, if you're a fan of the Fluidic Sculpture design scheme Hyundai has imbued throughout its product range -- and count me as one of the admirers -- the GT is a stunner, with aggressive features and bold character lines that blow away such rival hatches as the Ford Focus, Mazda3 Sport and Toyota Matrix.
The Nu four-cylinder, used throughout the Elantra lineup and the only engine offered, is a sophisticated little unit. It has a lightweight aluminum block and head, Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing, hydraulic engine mounts, roller swing arms and hydraulic lash adjusters, to name just a few details.
Could it use a bit more torque? Sure -- 131 pound-feet at 4,700 r.p.m. isn't going to scorch the tarmac. But the GT tips the scales at a lightweight 1,245 kilograms, so there's enough grunt to get the hatch up to speed in reasonable time.
Driving the GLS trim level (one up from the base GL model) means the car comes with a standard six-speed manual. Keep the revs up and the GT hints at some sporting potential. The four-cylinder doesn't mind revving to redline, doing so cleanly and without too much noise. It helps that the manual box has good clutch take-up, properly spaced gears and mostly well-defined gate (first and third are a little too close for my liking).
More impressive is the hatch's ride and handling. While the Elantra sedan is tuned for comfort, the GT has a sportier feel, having been calibrated for increased feel, responsiveness and handling performance. Credit the fact that the GT is based on the European-market Hyundai i30 for the car's tighter driving experience.
Differences in its platform include a stiffer twist beam and rear-spring rates, plus firmer dampers for less body movement when cornering. A 22-millimetre-diameter front stabilizer bar also helps reduce body roll. The ride, while far from sports car stiff, is a definite notch above the usual low-cost hatchback and provides the basis for an involving driving experience.
Also a cut above the norm is the standard Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) system, which provides three selectable operating modes (Comfort, Normal and Sport) to tailor the car's steering response based on driver preference and road conditions. Comfort offers the lightest steering, making it ideal for parking-lot manoeuvres. Sport is noticeably heavier and is the preferred mode for twisty roads as well as providing on-centre stability during higher-speed driving. Normal, the default mode, offers a perfectly acceptable balance of the two.
Helping to keep the hatch shiny side up are a number of safety backups, headed by the Vehicle Stability Management system, which manages the electronic stability control and the power steering to assist in maintaining control on slick roads. Traction control and ABS are included.
Looking to the cabin, the GT is as sporty inside as it is outside, with a nicely detailed dash area and plenty of headroom and legroom for the front-seat occupants. Standard features across the GT line include a 172-watt AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers and iPod/USB/auxiliary connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition and heated front seats. The GLS model adds a power-adjustable driver's seat, panoramic sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and, on the outside, fog lamps and alloy wheels.
There's plenty of storage space throughout the cabin, including a sunglasses holder, two front and two rear cup holders, door bottle holders, cooled glove compartment, central console storage, sliding armrest, front storage tray, front seatback pockets and under-floor storage for the cargo area.
Speaking of the latter, the 60/40-split rear seat can be folded flat to create a usable 50.8 cubic feet of space. The rear-seat cushions can also be folded upward. The only annoyance is the lack of a remote rear hatch release button in the cabin. One has to use the key fob to unlock the hatch, then push a button on the door to gain access to the back.
More so than the new Elantra Coupe I also drove, the GT garnered numerous admiring looks and interest. Although the motorhead in me wouldn't be upset if Hyundai wanted to hop up the 1.8L engine with maybe 10 or 15 per cent more power (or even bolt on a turbocharger to create a hot hatch), the more rational side likes the GT just the way it is: sensible utility inside, eye-catching outside, with just enough sport built in to keep things interesting -- at a price that doesn't deplete the bank account.
-- Postmedia News
Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive compact hatchback
Power: 148 hp @ 6,500 r.p.m.; 131 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,700 r.p.m.
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Price: base/as tested $19,949/$21,149
Destination charge: $1,495
Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 7.2 city, 4.9 hwy.