Having just returned a Hyundai Elantra Sedan, I was wandering around the Hertz Phoenix Sky Harbor facility, trying to select the next car, and not finding it easy. There were so many cars on site that they were crammed in bumper to bumper in many of the aisles usually reserved for the various Status categories such as President’s Circle, Five Star and Gold, and what was accessible was extremely limited in terms of different model types. And then my eye caught something which from the partial view of it that I had, I did not immediately recognise. Intrigued, I made my way through the row of parked cars to find that it was a Hyundai Elantra GT, a car that is better known in Europe as the Hyundai i30, and a model which I have never seen before in the Hertz US fleet. This one was in a stall where you could simply drive it out, so in the interests of sampling something that was unusual in US rental car terms, but which would also be an instructive contrast to the mainstream US model I had just returned, I continued my search no further and decided to take this as my next rental car.
Closer examination revealed that it was on Florida plates, and not having been there for some years, I don’t know whether these are common in the rental fleet on the Gulf coast, but they are certainly rare in the Pacific South West Hertz fleet. The key said that it was a 2016 model, and indeed I had already noted that this was what is now the previous generation design. However, it had only covered 14,000 miles, so I have to wonder where it has been, as I later discovered it was actually built in August 2015 (according to the plate inside the door) and it entered the Hertz fleet in early March 2016. Although there were a few minor bodywork scrapes in the sort of places where cars tend to get damaged, there was nothing to suggest that it had been repaired, though I did spot that the front tyres were a different brand to the back ones, and I would not have thought that the fronts would have needed replacing with that mileage on the car. The interior, thankfully, still looked as good as new. The weather forecast was not encouraging – with a day potentially of even denser cloud than I had experienced with the Elantra Sedan. This car was finished in the same rather attractive red that Hyundai call Scarlet Red Pearl, which I had hoped would be easier than some colours on a cloudy day, but the Elantra GT has a lot of curves and lines on it, as it was on the “Fluidic Sculpture” era Hyundai models, so my early morning photos using the hotel as a backdrop were not entirely successful. I headed up into the hills, north east of the city, and took some better shots before deciding to return to Phoenix, at which point I could see a large expanse of blue sky starting to clear. So, the photography problem was solved. That just left the question as to how different the Elantra GT would prove to be and whether it was “better” than the Sedan model.
Accelerating up the ramp onto the 10 freeway for the brief journey back to the hotel, it was immediately obvious that the Elantra GT has more power than the regular Sedan car. And when I did my research, I found this to be true, as the GT has a 173 bhp 2 litre engine as opposed to the 148 bhp of the Sedan models, coupled to a six speed automatic transmission. Whereas the sedan is quick enough for everyday motoring, it is not what you would call a rapid car. Nor, let’s be honest is the GT, but the extra power is welcome, and would make a particular difference if the car were full with people and luggage (I was one-up all the test, of course) or when facing hills. As I spent most of the day in the sunny part of the valley to the south of Phoenix, the GT did not have to cope with those, either, but were there a couple of times when the ability to accelerate away from a merge situation were useful. The downside to the extra power is that the fuel economy is not as good. The Sedan had achieved a very impressive 38 mpg (US) overall, whereas the GT achieved 32.22 mpg US (which equals 38.49 mpg Imperial), still a decent figure but not quite as good. The other driving dynamics felt very similar. Underway, the Elantra GT is pleasantly quiet, with all sources of noise well controlled, and the engine feels quite smooth and refined, so even when you do need bursts of speed, there is little to disturb you or your passengers. You get the same plastic-moulded steering wheel as your interface to the steered and driven wheels, and the setup is pretty much as you would expect for a family car with – GT name not withstanding – no real sporting ambition. The steering is light, but not without feel, unless you put it in to Eco mode. Just as with the sedan, you can immediately feel the difference between this and Normal or Sport models, as the steering in Eco mode is more reminiscent of a Toyota – vague and over-assisted feeling. It might be useful if you were doing a lot of manoeuvering in a tight spot, but otherwise, Normal will feel that much better out on the road. There was less of an obvious difference between this and Sport. The handling is as you might expect from a modern front wheel driver – plenty of grip, secure road-holding, but if you go into a bend with some enthusiasm, you may detect understeer. For normal driving conditions, it is exactly as almost every driver of this car would surely want it. The Elantra GT was on slightly bigger wheels than the Sedan, 205/55 R16 as opposed to 195/55 R16s, but the ride felt very similar – and that was good, as this was a pleasant cruiser, not that Arizona’s roads are the same challenge as those in neighbouring California. In normal motoring, the brakes are fine. I had one occasion to do a very abrupt stop (not my fault!), and the Elantra GT came to halt in a short space, but with quite a bit of squeeling from the road surface. There is a traditional pull-up handbrake fitted between the seats. The only extra assistance you get with visibility is the door mirrors have a small second piece of glass in their top corners to help alleviate any blind spots, and this proved both useful and effective. There is no rear-view camera, but, with a hatch rear end, you really don’t need one, as judging the back of this car was easy.
Where the Elantra GT differs completely from the Sedan model is with its dashboard, although there are elements of “house style” present. I did wonder if this is because this Elantra GT is effectively a generation behind the Sedan, so I checked to see what the dash looked like in the previous generation Sedan, and I also checked the previous generation i30 (the one before the car that this is based upon), and they are all different in design. Whereas the latest Sedan follows the same style as the current Sonata, with an almost Audi-esque moulding across 2/3rds of the width of the dash, this one looks more like Korean dash designs of a few years back. There are quite a lot of different elements to it, but unlike a recent Ford, where it would all appear a jumble, this one looks neat enough. The whole moulding was black, with just some discrete inlays and highlighting rings to provide some visual variety. It was of a decent quality, though not as soft to touch as some buyers would perhaps expect these days. A binnacle covers the two instruments each of which are quite deeply recessed in their own housing. These cover the speedo and rev counter, with separate bar charts for water temperature and fuel in the central area which also contains the odometer and trip computer readings, through which you can cycle by pressing buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke. There are two column stalks, with the lights operated by turning the end of the indicator stalk. The centre of the dash contains the audio unit. With its small screen, and collection of conventional buttons and tuning knobs, it is perhaps a bit “old school”, but in ease of operation, all the better for that! It was limited to AM/FM and (with an expired subscription) XM Satellite radio. There was a single CD slot above the unit, and the requisite Bluetooth, AUX, USB and MP3 sockets elsewhere in the car. The GT features air conditioning, and there are a series of direction buttons and control knobs for this arranged in a vertical stack below the audio unit. Again, easy to operate.
The seats were different from the Sedan model, too. A bit more wrap-around, and covered with plain black cloth on their outers and a close black and white pattern in the centre, they not only looked good, but they proved very supportive and comfortable. They adjust manually, with a bar under the seat for fore/aft and rake and height adjustment, this latter being something that only the driver gets, on the side of the seat. The steering wheel telescopes in/out as well as up/down, and it was easy to get the optimum driving position. Both front seats have heating as standard. There are three belts in the back, but really, this would be more comfortable for just two adult occupants. Leg room gets tight if you push the front seats to the rear of their travel, but is quite generous if they are set well forward. My head was well clear of the roof, so space here for a car of this size is decent enough. There is a drop down central armrest which has cupholders in its upper face.
The boot is a nice regular shape. It is quite deep, with the load floor being a lot lower than the base of the hatch, and there is a parcel shelf to hide the contents from prying eyes. The rear seats are split asymmetrically. You need to pull the seat cushions up first, then remove the heard rests from the backrests, with the result that the backrest then drops into the space, creating a flat load platform, with the benefit of the vertical seat cushions protecting the front seats, an arrangement you don’t see that often these days. There was plenty of space under the boot floor, around the space saver, where you could tuck lots of bits and pieces. Inside the cabin, there was a good glovebox, complete with its own cooling, door bins, and in front of the gearlever a very commodious cubby area, which had a divider across the middle of it, as well as a cubby under the central armrest. Those in the back get map pockets on the back of the front seats as well as door bins.
If you want the GT version of the Elantra, there is only one trim available, this one. The equipment tally is broadly similar to the SE version of the Sedan, though for the extra $1550, you do get the more powerful 173 bhp engine and a standard six-speed manual transmission. Hyundai offers a six-speed automatic for an extra $1,000. Standard equipment is fairly similar to the base SE sedan model, which means that you get daytime running lights, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cloth upholstery, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a USB port, six speakers, and satellite radio. Heated seats and Bluetooth are included in the GT’s kit list as well. There were a number of option packages to spice things up a bit. The Style package adds a sport suspension, proximity keyless entry, and Blue Link, which is sort of Hyundai’s version of GM OnStar. The $1,650 Value Edition Package adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, a stiffer suspension, and a power driver’s seat. For $3,600 more, the Tech Package adds heated and cooled front seats, a rearview camera, a 7-inch touch screen, satellite navigation, Hyundai Blue Link, and a sunroof.
I quite liked the Elantra GT, and was pleased to get the opportunity to sample it, not least because in its i30 European guise, this model has eluded me, but also so I could do as close a comparison as possible with the Sedan model. The extra power was useful, and would I think be worth it even though you sacrifice a bit in fuel economy, though it should be noted that this engine was also available in the Sport spec Sedan model (but that was quite a lot more money, albeit with more standard equipment). Other than that, it probably comes down to preference of body style. Personally, I would take the Elantra GT over the Sedan, as I think it looks better and the greater versatility would be useful. Most rental car customers are not going to get the choice, though, as this was a definite rental orphan on the fleet, but one I was pleased to have sampled.