In 1976 Volkswagen reluctantly released a Golf GTI with about a hundred horsepower, brash tartan seats and a cheeky golf ball gear knob. For a conservative company that had only ever made the People’s Car to that point, this limited-to-5,000 performance car was a first, and in fact there had been nothing else like a GTI before in the industry.
Well, 5,000 was a low bet because Wolfsburg’s board realised they had a hit on their hands and in the 40-plus years since, Volkswagen has built two million GTIs. And we’re not about to stop buying hot hatchbacks anytime soon — now the Koreans are at it too.
Your favourite 21st-century People’s Car brand, Hyundai (second to Toyota in our region), displayed the 2018 Elantra GT Sport at the Chicago motor show last week, wearing lower, wider and longer bodywork compared to the old car, with much more ‘European’ lines, even if the Korean marque says so itself.
Hyundai is promising a “fun-to-drive” car in the GT Sport, as well as the brand’s hallmarks of lots of extra kit thrown in. The highlights seem to be vertically set LED lights, 8.0in dash display unit with mobile integration, dual-zone climate control, wireless smartphone charging and remote starting.
But if you ask us the highlights are 201 horsepower and a chassis developed at Hyundai’s new Nürburgring-based N performance department. If, as Hyundai says, “the GT means business,” then the Sport model will need to go head to head with segment stalwarts such as the Golf GTI. It’s a tough ask (the GTI has 217 horsepower to begin with), but Hyundai’s Elantra GT Sport features a structure using twice the high-strength steel of its predecessor, to make a stiffer and lighter chassis. Attention to aerodynamics yielded a low drag coefficient of 0.30.
A four-cylinder turbocharged 1.6-litre engine comes mated to either a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox or a six-speed manual with three pedals on the floor, rated at 265Nm of torque. Hyundai says engineers ran hundreds of laps around the ’Ring to hone ride and handling, claiming minimal body roll. Unlike other Elantras the GT Sport model gains a fully independent rear suspension set-up as opposed to the standard rear torsion beam. The wheels are exclusive to the model, measuring 18in in diameter and hiding bigger brakes front and rear.
Inside there’s leather and aluminium trim and a host of safety equipment from smart cruise control to lane keeping assist. A long standard kit list can’t hurt, and the GT Sport will need all the help it can get for this hot hatch fight — Korea’s first true GTI rival will go on sale Stateside and in Europe first by the end of 2017.