It's understandable if you aren't familiar with the Hyundai Elantra GT. The GT is a hatchback--not a red-hot segment in America--and it's eclipsed by the Hyundai's best-selling sedan, the Elantra. The Elantra GT has been a part of the Elantra family since the 2013 model year, but for 2018 the 5-door hatch receives a welcome restyle and some feisty attitude.

Since its inception, the Elantra GT was based on the European Hyundai i30, a hatchback with a chassis designed for sportier driving. While you might not think of Hyundai in that context, the Korean automaker recently unveiled the high-performance N version of the all-new Hyundai i30, which is going on sale in Europe by the end of this year. No, there won't be an Elantra GT N, but Hyundai is eyeing the Volkswagen Golf/GTI as a direct competitor for the GT.

Really? Elantra Versus GTI?

While it doesn’t have the same refinement as the GTI or the same amount of power, Hyundai has a legitimate hot hatch that is oodles of fun to drive while costing thousands less than the VW. The Elantra GT's new styling makes the hatchback longer, lower and wider and gives it a bolder road presence. This is further enhanced on Sport models with sport seats, red accents around the air vents, and red contrast stitching on the steering wheel and transmission shifter cover.

But Sport isn't a styling package. It's more like the GTI to Volkswagen's Golf. Backing the 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder is a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) with paddle shifters. If you want, you can leave it in Drive and have a blast, but we tap-tap-tapped the paddles during our time behind the wheel. It's hard not to: acceleration is wonderfully quick from a stop, plus steering was quite good. The car is engaging to drive, encouraging you to use of the paddle shifters. Want even more direct engagement? A 6-speed manual is also available. The Sport's sport-tuned multilink independent rear suspension made it a pleasure to zip around on mountain and canyon roads. The Sport's brakes are larger than in the standard GT, as is the wheel and tire package (18-inch vs. 17s). Braking was firm and confident, but there was more interior noise in the Sport than the regular GT.

Not only does the Sport offer the practicality of 25 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, but it offers more efficiency than you would think. With the 7-speed DCT, fuel economy is an EPA-rated 26 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. That's better than the 2018 Elantra GT with the base 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission (24 city/32 highway, 27 combined), and better than in any 2017 Elantra GT. So with the GT Sport, you can get a car that's got more power, is more fun to drive, and is more fuel-efficient.

The Daily Commuter

Not everyone is going to want the Sport, though. The Elantra GT is more conservative, more comfortable and quieter. Under the hood of the standard GT is a 2.0-liter, 161-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, which you can get with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The 2018 GT's engine loses 11 horsepower compared to the 2017 model, but has ample output for the daily commute. With the base engine and the automatic transmission--we didn’t get to drive the manual with either configuration--there is enough power, but the engine felt taxed on grades, and midrange passing power leaves something to be desired. It's not that you can't pass someone; it's just that it takes a little advanced planning. The cabin is quieter than in the GT Sport, and the ride is comfortable, with a coupled torsion-beam rear suspension as opposed to the Sport model’s independent rear.

The interior uses sharper, crisper lines and a new touch screen that sits higher on the dashboard, making it easier to glance at without losing sight of the road. Instead of being integrated into the design of the center stack, it looks like a separate attached piece. Moving the screen up freed up space for horizontal vents that are readily at hand, and also simplified the heat/vent/air-conditioning controls. And whether you choose the Elantra GT or the Elantra GT Sport, features like heated side mirrors, an 8-inch display, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel are standard. Smart cruise control, navigation, lane-keep assist, wireless smartphone charging, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, panoramic moonroof, ventilated front seats, rear vents, and dual climate control are available.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2018

More legroom

Another benefit with the all-new Elantra GT is that legroom has increased by a touch in the front and rear, and cargo volume has gone up as well. Its 55.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down is more than you'll find in the VW Golf or Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic, or Mazda3 hatchbacks, and is more cargo room than in many subcompact SUVs.

While the Elantra GT and GT Sport may not topple the Golf/GTI in the hatchback world, the Hyundais have made huge advances in the segment. These newest entries have brought together Hyundai's philosophy of offering value-packed models, class-above features and genuine driving fun. Pricing starts at $19,350 for the base GT with a 6-speed manual, $1,000 extra for the 6-speed automatic. The GT Sport starts at $23,250 with the manual and $24,350 for models equipped with the 7-speed DCT. All prices exclude $885 destination charges.

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