GT is short for the Italian term gran turismo, which, in translation, means Grand Tourer.
This automotive genre sprang, essentially, from the fast touring cars of the 1930s. The original idea was to meld performance and comfort into a harmonious whole, a car that would handle well, could drive across Europe all day at high speeds, and offer a couple a comfortable ride and room for their luggage.
These cars typically morphed into front-engine/rear-drive coupés with two seats, or 2+2s with their tiny backseats. Some modern-era examples of true GTs include the Aston Martin V-8 Vantage, the Jaguar XKR, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the Nissan 300ZX, the BMW 6 and 8 series, the Lexus SC400, the Mitsubishi 3000GT, and the Subaru SVX.
Over the years, GT became a very popular designation as automotive marketeers from Stuttgart to Detroit sought to cash in on the term's evocations of wealth, performance, and style. And so, it was perhaps inevitable that a term once associated with the likes of the legendary Mercedes Gullwing would filter down to compact, front-drive hatchbacks — the latest being the new-for-2018 Hyundai Elantra GT that I just spent a week with.
The Elantra GT, billed as a more-fun-to-drive answer to the crossover, comes in two flavors: the standard model I drove and the higher-performing, higher-priced GT Sport. The regular GT starts at a quite affordable $20,350, and offers a generous amount of standard gear for the buck. The even better-equipped Sport, which adds sporting hardware like a turbocharged engine, retuned steering, larger brakes, higher-performing tires, and a sportier undercarriage featuring a multilink independent rear suspension, tacks about $4,000 on l'addition.
The GT is, among other things, a beneficiary of the South Korean automaker's Teutonic talent raids. Just as the GT benefits from the styling talents of former Audi chief designer Peter Schreyer, the Elantra's structural and mechanical development benefited from its supervision by the automaker's head of high-performance development, Albert Bierman, formerly in charge of BMW's performance-happy M division.
Over half the steel in the new car is high strength, nearly double what was in its predecessor. That raises body rigidity, as does the extensive use of industrial adhesives and hot stamping. This added strength improves handling and helps quiet the cabin.
The test car was powered by a normally aspirated, 161-horsepower, 2-liter engine that was buttoned to a six-speed automatic gearbox. (The GT is also available with a six-speed manual.) That engine gave the GT reasonable acceleration. But like many small fours, it got a bit buzzy when flogged. Happily, it became civil enough during normal motoring.
While the GT obviously isn't as quick and athletic as the 201-horsepower GT Sport, it is an affable companion on the road. The automatic shifts smoothly and, in sport mode, holds you in gear longer to maximize acceleration. And the GT handles with more agility than you'd expect from a car with a simple beam rear axle. Push it into a corner, and it exhibits little lean.
The GT is a handsome car, inside and out. The tester's interior proved to be clean, creative design — and ergonomically sound. The seats, comfortable and supportive, provided a driving position as good as the car's visibility and instrument/control placement. The tester's optional leather-trimmed seats were particularly comely, featuring contrasting stitching and piping, as well as uniquely patterned, perforated inserts.
The GT has adequate rear-seat legroom for someone 6-foot-2 but not enough headroom. Storage, however, is not a problem. There is a plethora of cubbies and cup holders and nearly 25 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. Fold them down, and you get a nearly league-leading 55.3.