Disclaimer: I daily drive a 22 year old Golf. My standards for refinement and quality are a bit... off. This also is not my car. It was purchased by a family member to replace a wrecked car. With these grains of salt, welcome to a review which will feature much comparison and subjective analysis.
Holy crap, my Golf is a piece of shit. What I drove today is a base model 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT, equipped with Hyundai’s 2.0L Nu GDI engine, rated at 174 HP at the crank, a 6 speed automatic (old fashioned torque converter style, not the DCT), climate control, and not much else. Prior to me driving a beat up and tuned Eurotrash car, I dailied a 2010 Elantra which featured a 2.0L Beta engine and a 4 speed auto. The 2018 model is light years ahead of my Golf and my former Elantra, which now sits in a junkyard, awaiting its fate.
What can be said that hasn’t already in numerous other reviews? a 6500-ish RPM redline naturally aspirated direct injection four banger gives you acceptable power and ample torque. The transmission shifts a little slower than the non-DCT six speeds you’ll find in Mk6 Volkswagen Jetta (this is my only other reference for this class of transmission), and revs like to hang when you come off of throttle. Downshifts are not as aggressive- there’s a bit of lag if you stomp the gas, and it doesn’t seem able to skip gears. But, it’s not a CVT. What do I think of the transmission? I like it. It’s not lightning quick to change gear, but when you coast, it doesn’t downshift and slow you down the way VW autos do. What do I think of the engine? Damn. It’s a good one. Grassroot racers would do well to keep an eye out for wrecked Hyundais with this motor.
Despite being a 6 speed, there are no flappy paddles. Instead, you get a slap shift type option on the shifter. Personally, I prefer this setup, but being able to change gear on the fly with paddles without being in the +/- slot would be useful. Oh well. When using the “manual” mode, shifting is a bit quicker than just mashing the gas since the computer doesn’t have to think. However, it could be a bit more refined. There is a bit of delay between hitting the shifter and the shift actually happening- additionally, you can’t go down twice to go two gears down. You need to hit it once, let the transmission shift, then do it again. This is a compromise from using a torque converter based transmission instead of a dual clutch style one. However, what you lose in performance, you make up for in reliability. That’s kind of a hallmark of Hyundai- they may not be the fastest or best handling cars around, but boy are they reliable, and they still carry that wonderful 10 year, 100k mile warranty. I don’t really know anyone who’s owned a Hyundai who had to use that warranty extensively, though.
While I’m on the topic of handling...
This vehicle features an electrically boosted steering rack. Compared to my old 2010 Elantra, however, there have been clear improvements. The weighting of the steering changes considerably with the speed of the vehicle- however, it still feels pretty numb. The next newest car I’ve driven recently is a 2017 CRV; the steering on the 2018 Elantra GT is much more lively than that car, but nowhere near as responsive and feedback laden as my Golf. You can’t really tell what the front wheels are doing, but that’s okay because they’re just going to point wherever you tell them to, because the traction control never really turns off. In my time driving the car today, I took a few corners with spirit and found that even with traction control off, I could hear the brakes working. Doing hard launches from a stop rendered a similar result. With traction control on and damp roads, launches weren’t happening.
Handling is another story. Let’s talk suspension. Hyundai, you’ve taken a step back. You put torsion beams out back in this nice little hatch, when just eight years ago you gave me a base model Elantra with a multi-link rear and four wheel independent suspension. You’re doing what Honda did in 2000- you took away the fun stuff, IRS, and went a bit up market. This isn’t a bad thing- you can still get the IRS on the GT Sport, but it would be cool to have it across the whole range. As a result of no IRS, the GT understeers a bit, but you still have to work to get it to break loose... in front. Out back is another story.
Here’s something weird. The interior of the car is pretty classy, but the parking/emergency/hand break is still manually operated. I didn’t give it a test, but I don’t doubt you could easily swing the back end out with a yank of the handle, which is conveniently located on the center console, right behind the shifter, where it should be. In case you didn’t know, Chevy started putting it in the driver’s side foot well, up by your knee, where it would be in a truck. The Cruze isn’t a truck, Chevy. Put the parking brake in the middle so you can actually use it.
As far as ride quality, it’s nice! The wheels still have a lot of sidewall, so I don’t think anyone will be getting flats even in the most crater-filled streets.
Scroll back up there a second and look at that steering wheel. Do you work for an automaker designing steering wheels? Yeah, that is what a wheel should look like. Notice the clever indentations at 9 and 3, where your hands should be when driving. This is the kind of thing I like. It’s a very ergonomical wheel; however, the material could be a bit more forgiving. It’s got a bit of give to it when you squeeze, but a long drive might give you sore hands. I also really like the gauge cluster. I don’t think the speedo and tachometer actually have a physical connection to the crank, but they look nice and don’t have any noticeable delay.
What else do I like inside? The cabin is laid out nicely, the interior, though a bit plasticy, isn’t a pain to look at, and the seats are great. They only have three points of adjustment (forward/back, up/down, and reclining, all done manually in the base model), but are perfectly comfortable if you’re a 22 year old who doesn’t have any back problems. The bolstering on the seats is more extreme than on previous Elantras, but less so than in contemporary Volkswagens. There’s also enough leg room in the back seats for an adult. I stand about 5'7", and with the driver’s seat properly adjusted, could still sit comfortably in the back. Headroom is not a problem in either row either- granted, I like my seat as low as I can get it, so this may not be the case for all drivers. Additionally, with the seat slammed down, sideways visibility isn’t great. One of the things I liked most on my former 2010 Elantra sedan was the great visibility. Due to ever-rising crash test standards, pillars A, B, and C have grown in size a bit much for my liking. Compared to my Mk3 Golf, visibility is atrocious, which only means that I won’t see as much of the monstrous Silverado barreling down on me. It also means that I will probably live in a crash.
Many critics point out rear visibility in small cars, rightly indicating that it’s pretty bad, owing to styling and engineering limitations. Here’s what I saw when I looked to my rear view mirror:
Bad, but not unreasonable in my opinion. Certainly better than the upcoming Mazda3 Hatch.
In terms of utility, this has it. It’s a hatch, and it acts like it. The cargo area is very accessible and the seats fold down, giving you enough space to, say, carry around a couple bikes or move a kid into college.
You can’t really see it in this picture, but there are two weird little wells to either side of the cargo space, between the wheel wells and back wall. They hold small items, such as grocery bags or junkyard throttle bodies, well. There’s also a nice little cargo net that I didn’t touch and probably a space saver space in there, too.
Yeah, I’d buy one. It’s a good looking warm (not hot) hatch with plenty of utility, a smart interior, more than enough power, and just alright handling. I’d love to try one with a stick, maybe even a turbo. Wait, that’s the GT Sport. Anyways, this would be a great daily.
What would I like to see improved? Handling could be tuned a bit tighter. It’s more than competent for someone who isn’t looking for a performance vehicle. I’d also like a quicker transmission. A DCT as standard equipment wouldn’t be awful. A stick would be amazing. I didn’t futz around with the radio much, but I know it has Apple CarPlay at least and Android Auto I think?
What did I like? I liked the powerband and the quick throttle response in the manual mode. I loved the interior. The exterior isn’t a busy as some of the competition, and overall I think it looks nice.