2016 Hyundai Elantra GT review: Hyundai's economy hatch follows a strong first impression with fair value

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.7 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Features 7
  • Design 6
  • Media 8

The Good Hyundai's Blue Link infotainment is responsive to inputs and crisply rendered. Connected features put remote vehicle control and monitoring in the owner's pocket (or on their wrist).

The Bad The dashboard touchscreen is easily washed out by direct sunlight. Fully-loaded, the Elantra GT is more expensive than its more-established and better-equipped competition.

The Bottom Line The 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT boasts a solid level of standard features with standouts that make it feel like a value, as well as optional features that add a premium feel and a premium price.

The 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT may be an economy car, but it knows how to make a good first impression. Our fully loaded example features heated and cooled front seat surfaces. Even the rear bench has heated outboard seats. The glove compartment has a small, openable vent that allows the cool, air-conditioned breeze to flow over drinks stored there. Look up and be greeted by the GT's massive (and optional) panoramic moonroof, which lets loads of light into the already spacious cabin. To an economy car driver, maybe looking to buy their first car, these small touches help to elevate the Elantra's perceived value.

Another gee-whiz standard feature is the Elantra GT's driver-selectable steering modes (DSS). The GT uses an electric-assist power-steering system that features three modes toggled with a button on the steering wheel. From the Comfort to Normal to Sport modes, the Elantra reduces its level of assistance, causing the steering wheel to feel heavier, more precise and sportier. The hatchback's level of handling and responsiveness don't actually change between these modes, but this simple catering to the driver's preferences helps make the Elantra GT feel more premium than it is.

At the center of the dashboard is Hyundai's optional Blue Link tech, the part of the Elantra's interior that makes the strongest first impression.

Hyundai's Blue Link tech and navigation package boast a responsive interface, but tends to wash out in direct sunlight.

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Part of an optional Tech package -- which also adds automatic headlamps, LED tail lights, and the aforementioned moonroof -- drops a 7-inch touchscreen into the center of the dashboard, which is powered by Hyundai's connected infotainment tech. The software is snappy -- extremely responsive to inputs -- and features crisply rendered graphics, text and maps.

Blue Link is a connected system that puts telematics features at the driver's fingertips via a Web portal or a Hyundai Blue Link app for iOS or Android. Users can remotely monitor their fuel economy and monthly vehicle health reports, search for destinations and beam them to the Elantra GT's dashboard, and remotely track the GT's location to monitor a teen driver or recover a stolen vehicle. Many of these features are also accessible via Apple Watch or Android Wear wearable devices.

The system features Siri Eyes Free voice-command connectivity when paired with an Apple iPhone and its own onboard voice-command software. I've only got two real complaints with the Blue Link tech. The first is that voice recognition can be very slow, taking quite a bit of time to process spoken addresses. Fortunately, the system will digest an entire address in one go, without breaks for number, street name, or state, so the driver can get back to the business of watching the road.

My other complaint is with the placement of the touchscreen. Hyundai's placement of the display often places it in direct sunlight, where it washes out and becomes nearly unreadable under the glare.

One thing about the Elantra GT continues to bother me: it's a bit of a copycat. Many of its coolest features seem to have been, ahem, borrowed wholesale from the GT's competition.

Like the VW Golf, the Elantra GT's rear camera rotates out from beneath the large rear emblem.

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For example, the optional rear-view camera that comes with the Tech package flips out from beneath the Hyundai badge on the rear hatch when the Elantra is shifted into reverse. It's a cool feature, but also one that debuted on the Volkswagen Golf.

Placed side-by-side with the Ford Focus, the Elantra's interior looks nearly identical, from the shapes to the materials to the color palette. The exterior reminds me of an odd blend of the previous generation Mazda2 and Mazda3 hatchbacks. It's no secret that automakers borrow from each other all of the time -- go to any international auto show and you'll see dozens of engineers photographing and literally measuring up the competition -- but Hyundai's blatant level of copy-paste just annoys me.

But I'm an enthusiast; I'm not really Hyundai's target market with the Elantra GT. The layman economy buyer doesn't really care who borrowed or stole what feature from who -- more often than not, there's no loyalty to Volkswagen's engineers. More likely they care that those features end up in their driveway and getting the best value for the dollar. And it's tough to argue with Hyundai's repackaging of some of the best features and design into one affordable package.

Under the hood, you'll find a 2.0-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine that makes 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic that features an Active Eco mode.

The 2.0-liter engine boasts more peak power than the competition, yet somehow the Elantra GT doesn't feel as fun as the competition.

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How Eco does it go? The EPA estimates that the Elantra GT will do 24 miles per gallon when driving in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and a combined 27 mpg. Those numbers apply to both the manual and automatic configurations, so the Active Eco setting -- which adjusts the throttle response and transmission's shift pattern -- doesn't actually boost the Elantra GT's economy. Rather, it gives the driver a better shot at achieving the optimal estimates.

Hyundai makes a big show of stating that the Elantra boasts more peak power than the competing Ford Focus, Mazda3, and Volkswagen Golf. Bragging rights aside, the GT doesn't feel more potent on the road than these, the best vehicles in the class. That's because there's more to performance than peak power.

In the Elantra's case, I think the automatic transmission is the weak link in the performance puzzle, adding a slight hesitation to the GT's performance when attempting to drive with zest. Using the transmission's manual shifting mode to choose and hold a gear can coax a bit of fun out of the hatchback, but the lack of paddle shifters and fairly sluggish shifts even when manually selecting quickly throws a wet towel on having a hoot with the Hyundai.

An optional style package adds a enlarged wheels, a host of visual upgrades, and most importantly, a "sport-tuned" suspension setup. With this setup, the Elantra GT feels tight, responsive and well put together. The chassis gives the Hyundai a decent level of seat-of-the-pants feel and a firm ride. Bumps don't elicit rattles or buzzing from the cabin or suspension. The steering, in all three DSS modes, feels very responsive, but lacks a bit of precision and feedback. It can't back up it's "sport-tuned" claims, but Hyundai seems to have nailed the sporty feel of the Elantra GT down.

The "sport-tuned" suspension doesn't transform it into a hot hatch, but the Elantra GT's chassis does feel fairly solid and planted around a bend.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The 2016 Elantra GT makes a very good first impression and then backs that impression up with perfectly adequate performance. The hatchback presents itself to the economy car buyer as a solid blend of features and a reasonable value.

Speaking of value, the Hyundai Elantra GT starts a $18,800 when equipped with the manual transmission. Our automatic example jumps up to $19,800. For that amount of money, the econobox boasts a pretty good set of standard features -- like the DSS and heated front and back seats.

Our example also features a $1,975 style package that adds the sport suspension and enlarged wheels, a $3,950 tech package with its Blue Link tech and navigation, and an additional $125 for carpeted floor mats. Add a $825 destination charge to reach our fully loaded, as-tested price of $26,675.

In the UK, where the Elantra GT is known as the i30, the hatchback comes equipped with a totally different set of engines (from a 1.4-liter to a 1.6-liter turbo to a 1.6-liter diesel), option packages, and prices, but a similar level of tech. The British i30 ranges from £14,436 to £22,076. An Australian i30 is powered by a 1.8-liter gasoline engine and ranges between AU$17,580 and AU$20,900.

At the top of its price range, the Hyundai rapidly loses its low-cost advantage over its arguably superior competition. For example, a loaded-up Ford Focus Titanium with Sony Premium audio and automatic parallel parking rolls off of the lot for $26,630. At that price, you could also get a loaded and more powerful Mazda3 S Grand Touring. That's more tech, arguably better finish, and better performance for less money.

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