Appearances can be deceiving. The Elantra GT might not look too angry on the outside, but get it on the right road, and you’re in for some good times.
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra sedan might be living in 2050 with its wild, triangular styling, but the Elantra GT hatchback remains clothed in yesteryear’s design for the foreseeable future. Despite the older countenance, the GT is still receiving big updates, including last year’s new N-Line trim that replaces the outgoing Sport model. It’s no full-fat Veloster N, but there’s a whole lot to like about this under-the-radar five-door, and I think it’ll appeal to a pretty wide swath of sport-adjacent buyers.
LikeGreat clutch pedalAmple space for people and cargoUnder-the-radar looks
Don’t LikeJust-okay accelerationInterior looks a little cheapHarsh ride quality
A new old look
Despite being an “old” design compared to its sedan sibling, the 2020 Elantra GT still looks good, just a bit less weird. The grille is nicely proportioned, there’s a pretty strong shoulder line riding to the back and the rear end contains just enough creases to keep things interesting. The N-Line variant throws some slightly more aggressive baubles into the mix, like a new lip spoiler, black mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels and angrier bumpers, but none of it is so shouty that you feel a little ostentatious on the road (looking at you, Honda Civic).
The Elantra GT’s interior also stays close to its nonsporty roots. While many of the touch points are pretty decent, I feel the inside lacks the visual punch and fit-and-finish of competitors like the Honda Civic Si and VW Golf GTI, which offer a few more interior reminders of the car’s sportier nature. That said, the hatchback’s red accents are welcome and the leather seats are both smooth and supportive. The back doesn’t feel like it’s missed out on any of the fun, either, wearing the same materials and offering up a solid amount of space for taller passengers.
Speaking of space, there’s a place for just about everything in the Elantra GT. The door pockets are segmented and capable of holding larger items like Nalgene-style water bottles, which is good because the cup holders appear to be aimed more towards smaller containers. Just ahead of the shifter is a cavern that houses a wireless device charger, or room for more tchotchkes. But wait — there’s also a slot next to the cup holders, in addition to a center armrest deep enough to empty your pockets into. The GT N-Line is still a family car underneath all this go-fast stuff, after all. The cargo capacity is pretty decent, too, offering up a shade under 25 cubic feet of storage with the seats up. That’s a smidge behind the Honda Civic Hatchback, but it’s leagues ahead of the five-door Toyota Corolla.
2020 Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line is an under-the-radar hustler
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One of the GT N-Line’s closest competitors (it starts with an H and ends with -onda Civic Si) left me feeling underwhelmed by how its standard three pedals worked in conjunction with the rest of the powertrain. There’s no such problem present at Hyundai, though; the GT N-Line’s clutch pedal is weighty and communicates its bite point with actual feeling, making shifts easier and more predictable than the Honda. The Elantra also has virtually no rev hang, so spirited driving can include spirited shifts with less driveline violence or unnecessary clutch slipping. The shifter itself might have some average-length throws (I wish the Veloster Turbo’s B&M short shifter were here), but the stick is precise and nicely weighted.
It (mostly) gets better from there, too. The Elantra GT N-Line uses the same engine as the old GT Sport model: a 1.6-liter, turbocharged I4 pushing 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. You might think that the turbo-four would produce some meaty torque down low, but the engine actually feels closer to a naturally aspirated vehicle, glomming onto the forward motion in a more linear fashion as the revs rise, petering off about 500 rpm before redline. That makes it a little less exciting to drive in traffic or in urban areas in general, and sixth-gear acceleration also feels stunted on the highway — a little bit of low-end grunt goes a long way, Hyundai.
Speaking of urban driving, the non-adjustable suspension is definitely on the stiff side — so much so, in fact, that choppy sections of local roads actually make me want to take a breather. Combine this with the thin (225/40) bands of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires wrapped around each rim, and comfort is hard to come by at any point, even on roads you previously thought were smooth.
The Elantra GT’s six-speed shifter is nice, I just wish it was connected to a motor with more low-end torque.
Nevertheless, once the Hyundai finds a suitably sinewy back road, the hatchback is a blast. I never get tired of whipping this thing around, even if it’s a little on the choppy side. Default and Sport modes are both available, but I find the default mode to carry the best mix of steering weight and throttle sensitivity, even when I’m feeling particularly corner-carve-y. The body roll is minimized, and what’s left serves as a good reminder that all cars do, in fact, have limits, even when they’re over-tired to hell and back.
While the GT N-Line may live at the forefront of its segment for its fun factor, it’s definitely not atop the podium when fuel economy comes into play. The EPA estimates this hatchback will achieve 23 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway, numbers I found to be sufficiently achievable if generally unimpressive. For context’s sake, the 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan will nail 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway (and then some, in my experience), while the slightly older VW GTI comes in at 24 and 32, respectively. The Si is the only car of the three to mandate a six-speed manual, too; both Hyundai and VW offer dual-clutch automatics for a little extra thrift.
Good tech, as expected
It’s getting to the point where I’m running out of new words to convey my praises for Hyundai’s infotainment tech. It’s been great for years, and even with minimal changes as other OEMs roll out flashy new getups, it continues to be great in the Elantra GT N-Line. Its 8-inch touchscreen is perfectly sized for the interior, and the dedicated home screen lets me get all the info I need at a quick glance, and one touch (or button press) is all it takes to move to a screen specific to navigation or music. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included, running through the front USB port tucked into the center console.
However, the GT N-Line feels behind the times when it comes to ports. There’s a single USB-A port up front, with additional 12-volt power sources near the USB port and in the center armrest. Two forward USB ports should be the absolute minimum in 2020, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that rear-seat occupants get dick-all in the way of juicing up.
Safety systems are also kind of a bummer if you want a manual Elantra GT N-Line, because all you get is a backup camera with mediocre resolution. If you want any safety systems at all, you have to shell out an additional $1,100 for the dual-clutch transmission, then another $3,850 for the Tech Package, which adds adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, a better sound system, wireless device charging and a power driver’s seat, in addition to a panoramic sunroof. Competitors offer all those safety systems in manual-equipped cars, some of which are even standard, so why can’t Hyundai? Yes, AEB will stall the car if it engages, but who cares? I’d rather restart the car than shell out for a collision deductible.
Hyundai’s infotainment system has soldiered on over the years with only minor updates, which is fine, because it’s been pretty darn good this whole time.
How I’d spec it
The 2020 Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line carries a starting price of $23,500, with my tester ringing in at $24,590 after $955 for destination and $135 for carpeted floor mats. No options are available for the manual model beyond those silly dealer accessories, either. Considering I’d take the manual over the DCT any day of the week, this is how I’d spec it, I guess — although I’d probably pick white paint so the black exterior trim pops more.
Down to brass tacks
If a midpriced sporty car is what you’re after, there are some excellent options on offer. The Subaru WRX brings all-wheel drive into the equation, but the driveline is a little harsher and while the interior is about on par with Hyundai’s, it’s only available as a sedan. The Honda Civic Si has both coupe and sedan form factors, and it fits like a glove on back roads, but its overly-light-and-numb clutch pedal is the absolute pits. The VW Golf GTI is the perennial segment darling, but its starting price is nearly $6,000 above the Hyundai, and I don’t know if the superior fit and finish is worth that — even if the plaid seats might be.
Consider the 2020 Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line to be a slightly more adult version of the WRX, GTI or Si. It’s a little tamer both in its looks and in the powertrain department, but it still has no problem letting loose and rewarding the driver with every flick of the wheel.