Iâ€™m not joking. The Supertramp song in the title did indeed start playing on SiriusXMâ€™s Classic Rewind station as I pressed the start button after another long day at the office. Iâ€™m sure â€œTake The Long Way Homeâ€� and Foghatâ€™s â€œSlow Rideâ€� are the most often-played afternoon drive time songs for classic rock stations nationwide, but it seemed serendipitous.
I didnâ€™t have to be home right after work. It was a dry, sunny, albeit brisk afternoon. And I had a willing partner â€“ the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport â€“ fitted with a proper six-speed manual gearbox. Instead of turning south at the roundabout toward home, I turned north, dropped a gear, and followed the meander of the river. Magically, Iâ€™d forgotten about the day Iâ€™d spent glued to spreadsheets.
Thatâ€™s the beauty of a hot hatchback. It can pull commuter duty admirably â€“ I sat in nasty traffic that morning in the GT Sport, inching along as someone certainly spilled coffee on their Dockers. The hatch can swallow every bit of crap a family of four can throw in it. A hatch can be economical â€“ I saw 26.3 mpg over my week with a 201 horsepower turbocharged engine. And, when that right song coincides with the right road, a hot hatch is happy to dance.
There are certainly elephants looming when I talk about hot hatches. Volkswagen arguably defined the segment with the GTI, and Honda stimulated a generation of enthusiasts with the Civic Si. Both models have legions of loyal fanatics built through decades of dedication to performance cars. Hyundai, on the other hand, has only occasionally acknowledged the fun car market â€“ and most of those efforts have been half-hearted. Recall the Scoupe?
Iâ€™m not ready to say the Elantra GT Sport is the equal of the GTI or the Civic Si â€“ I need time with all three back to back, preferably with timing equipment on an autocross course (and a better driver) to quantify my judgement. I do feel, however, that this Hyundai is capable of inducing grins just as well as the established competition. It rides quite nicely, though itâ€™s obviously tuned to be a bit stiffer than a standard Elantra.
Interestingly, the GT Sport trim uses a very different rear suspension compared to the standard Elantra GT. While the regular GT makes do with a torsion beam axle, the GT Sport uses a proper multi-link independent rear suspension that gives better control of the rear wheels. It feels composed in spirited driving, though understeer is ever present. Maybe the aftermarket will bring a larger rear sway bar to help the rear rotate more easily?
Iâ€™d struggle to call the Elantra GT Sport pretty. Itâ€™s quite plain, really. Nothing about the style stands out in a parking lot full of compacts and crossovers, and that might be a good thing. Itâ€™s an incognito mode for the road. Iâ€™d argue the demure style should age nicely â€“ that second or third owner wonâ€™t be ashamed to be seen in this hatch in a decade. The Electric Blue Metallic paint is the only thing that livens up the look of this hatch â€“ short of the â€œSportâ€� badge on the tailgate and the twin tailpipes, there is no hint of the extra performance beneath the plain wrapper.
The interior is similarly plain, though red trim on the dash, seats, and shift knob brighten up a dull black interior because everyone knows red means fast. Everything is laid out logically, and the chunky steering wheel feels quite good in my hands. The six-speed manual shift lever is well placed, and the shift action is well defined with widely-spaced gates. Â Iâ€™ll note a little bit of dislike for the electronic parking brake â€“ I prefer a traditional lever paired with a manual transmissions to ease hill starts.
The leather sport seats are perfectly comfortable and well-bolstered for spirited driving. The kids had plenty of space in the rear behind me, which is increasingly a concern as they grow ever taller. 24.9 cubic feet of space in the cargo area â€“ with the seats up â€“ means there is plenty of room for just about anything we need for a weekend of kids’ sports or a weekâ€™s worth of groceries.
Indeed, thatâ€™s the everlasting essence of a hot hatch: practicality mated with fun. I could easily live with this Elantra GT Sport as my only car, as it hauls kids, stuff, and a smiling driver with equal ease.
Knowing how good this Hyundai is with “just” 201 horsepower, I’m incredibly excited for the future N models, including the 271hp Veloster revealed in Detroit.
[Images: Â© 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]