Apple, I love your products, but four figures to buy an iPhone?
The California company clearly understands luxury has a price — and a formula: 5 percent improvement in performance, a much larger jump in price. It’s a centuries-old model well-understood by economist Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term “conspicuous consumption.” To paraphrase, people buy pricey products to prove they can.
Of course, any in-demand product will have its imitators. And that’s how Korean automaker Hyundai makes a lot of money. The company, which entered the U.S. market with very Korean cars priced incredibly low, failed to make a dent stateside until it became an expert in knockoffs.
The Sonata wasn’t noticeable until it became as boring and as appliance-like as the Toyota Camry. The Equus luxury sedan admirably melded the world’s various super sedans into an attractively priced package.
Now comes the all-new 2018 Elantra GT.
Styled and engineered in Europe, where it’s known as the i30, the car competes in the compact hatchback segment with a growing number of adversaries, including the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda3, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
And it’s the last competitor, the VW Golf, that Hyundai has clearly targeted. The Elantra GT looks very much like a Golf that’s been sent through a Fluidic Sculpture filter. It’s clearly a knockoff, but it does offer something a bit different.
That said, how much GT — grand touring — you get in your Elantra GT depends on how much money you spend.
Opting for the base Elantra GT, starting at $19,350, gets you a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. It sounds sporting until you realize there’s only 161 horsepower under your right loafer. The better option is the pricier Elantra GT Sport. Starting at $23,250, it provides an additional 40 horsepower from a turbocharged 1.6-liter four matched to a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters. This model also gets a more sophisticated multi-link independent rear suspension and 18-inch wheels. Hyundai expects 85 percent of buyers to opt for the base model, with 15 percent opting for the GT Sport.
Does it drive like a knockoff? That depends on which model you choose.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine furnishes good acceleration in sport mode, holding the gears longer, although shifting the dual clutch transmission manually feels too slow to be useful. Keeping the car in normal mode will leave you wanting more power. Steering is nicely weighted, while the brake pedal has decent heft. It lacks the typically lightweight Asian pedal feel.
The driver’s seat is comfortable and offers adjustments for lumbar and seat cushion tilt, niceties absent on the front passenger’s seat. As you’d expect, the front seats are roomy, while rear legroom requires some cooperation from those up front. Regardless of where you sit, you’ll find the seats to be thinly padded yet decently supportive. Road and tire noise is moderate. As befitting a GT, the ride is extremely firm.
The instrument panel is centered around an 8-inch infotainment screen that includes an Infinity audio system with AM, FM, Sirius XM, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless smartphone charging. While it works well, buttons leftover from the 1980s frame it.
Of course, this is a thoroughly modern car, so you can use Amazon’s Alexa to start it in the morning. And it can be fitted with a mind-numbing array of safety nannies, including smart cruise control with stop-start capability, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, attention assist, high-beam assist, and blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert.
But the Elantra GT is first and foremost about driving fun.
With its easy, familiar feel, it’s very much a good-looking car in the Golf idiom. But to call this car a GT is stretching credibility. It’s a practical compact hatchback with a bit of sporting flair.
It’s the sort of knockoff that Hyundai excels at.
2018 Hyundai Elantra GT
Base prices: $19,350-$24,350
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 161; 201
Torque: 150; 195 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 22-26/29-32
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Length: 170.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 24.9-55.1 cubic feet
Curb weight: 2,901-3,155 pounds