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The GT badge lately has been loosely used as a way to describe the sportiness of a car rather than what it really is meant for. A badge that was used to identify comfortable high performance cross country cruisers like a Ferrari California or Aston Martin Vanquish found its way on the back of a Hyundai hatchback a few years when Hyundai launched their 5-door Elantra. While the Elantra GT 5-Door at that time was anything but a Gran Turismo, its all new 2018 version might have a different story.

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A GT is all about performance and comfort – a performance car that can be used every day and travel great lengths without feeling the need to drive off a cliff. Hyundai’s new Elantra GT SPORT with a 1.6-liter, 201-horsepower turbocharged engine and new multi-link independent rear suspension might just have the right ingredients to earn that GT badging on the back.

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It’s strange, the methodology behind the new Elantra GT – it carries very little significance to the Elantra sedan. The new GT is a lot sleeker and dignified in its stance. Unlike the Elantra SPORT sedan, the GT SPORT is much more sedated and plain. Even with standard 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and LED taillights – the Elantra GT SPORT expresses a simpler way of life. The only bonkers here is the dual exhaust and red accents on the interior.

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The new interior is also nothing quite like the sedan, it in fact has taken a different approach than being subtle but with a crazy large pop tablet like touch screen display. There is a premium side to the interior, all the important surfaces are covered with soft touch materials and has a more upscale presence. All the buttons and knobs have a tactile approach and the new stainless steel controls on the steering feels like something out of a German engineered product.

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There is a bit of a tiff to be had. While our tester came equipped with a bright red shifter, opting for the manual means losing out on the Tech Package that is available on the Automatic. That means no panoramic sunroof, no power adjustable seats, and no advance safety features. However, with the manual we still get leather seats, dual-zone climate control, an 8-inch screen and blind spot monitoring. With GT SPORT too, we get highly bolstered sport seats that are comfortable and supportive – a thick, leather wrapped sport steering wheel and enough rear leg room to occupy even a large passenger.

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The combined transmission and turbocharged engine here is such a peachy delight. Turbo boost comes in right at the beginning of the rev counter and holds its way through without losing any power. The silky smooth gearbox holds a trusty approach for easy, first time manual drivers paired with a nicely weighted clutch that provides a sporty engagement to the party. The throws between gears are smooth and doesn’t require much force making it easy to drive everyday around town and in traffic.

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But really, a sport hatchback being good during city life is just half the story. It has to be good when pushed. And when the Elantra GT SPORT gets pushed, it fights back, and when it fights back, it turns into such a happy little car. The GT SPORT prances from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. Its confident, on center steering expresses adequate responsiveness in the corners as the front tires are constantly gripping for more asphalt. Pushing to its limits, the new multi-link rear suspension keeps the Elantra GT SPORT well in tuned with the road – even in some cases wanting to push its rear end out for a little over steer action. At its highest peaked limit, the Elantra GT SPORT expresses very little understeer with well-maintained body-lean and control as it shifts its weight through in the bends. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, the Elantra GT SPORT’s disc brakes happily returned our stomach into its proper position after each corner was taken at over 1g.

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Hyundai’s fight here is against the hearty Volkswagen GTI, and while the GTI may still have attributes that are better than the Elantra GT SPORT. The fact that the Elantra GT SPORT is just as much fun, just as much versatile, has a lot more comfortable features and costs $4,000 less than a GTI, it’s time for someone else to reign in on that glory. Hyundai has a new kid on the block, and they’re not backing down without a fight.

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Vehicle Specifications:
2018 Hyundai Elantra GT SPORT Manual: $23,250
As Tested (including Options & Destination): $24,260
Performance Specs:
1.6-liter Turbocharged Four-Cylinder – 201-Horsepower, 6-Speed Manual Transmission – 0-60MPH: ±6.5 seconds
EPA MPG: 25/22/29 (City/Highway/Combined) – SSB Average: 24 MPG’s – Fuel Range: ±400 Miles