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Driven: 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT raises the standard of its class

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It wasn't that long ago Hyundai was importing the lowest priced, bargain basement “cheap cars” you could get in America. Now some 30 years later, the brand is fast becoming competitive with models like the 2014 Elantra GT, a car we tested today and came away intrigued to say the least.

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Making the Elantra GT unique in its class which features cars like the Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and others is that it's a five door. This puts the car out there in a niche shared with only a few competitors. And like them, the five door Elantra GT comes with more standard features than its sedan counterpart.

Styling comes from Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design language DNA, bringing a sense of both elegance and upscale appeal to this class. With it’s complex curves, beveled corners and bejeweled details, it’s hard to say it looks just like everything else.

Starting at $18,750, the Elantra GT comes with fog lights, projector beam headlamps, body color door handles and heated mirrors. Our tester had the optional Style Package which gave ours handsome 17” alloy wheels with chrome inserts and LED tail lights.

The full glass panoramic roof which is part of our tester’s Tech Package opens up both its cloth sunshade and a sliding forward panel at the touch of a button, opening up the interior with a healthy dose of light and spaciousness.

With leather seats and wraps on the steering wheel and shifter, the overall sense of the cabin is decidedly upscale. But the design goes further than its upgrades with what very much seems like a scaled down dash board from Hyundai’s larger and more expensive models.

The center dash controls include the optional touch screen Navigation system with a cleverly hidden rear view camera which pops out from under the emblem on the rear hatch. The audio system, touch screen and associated controls were very easy to learn, intuitive, and are well sorted out.

Sound quality of the audio system could be a little better, but is well in keeping for this price range. Other features welcome in this car class were climate control, heated seats, and remote key-less entry with push button start.

Driving position is easily adjusted with the driver getting a power seat. Rear seats give ample space both for leg and knee room as well as head room despite the panoramic sunroof cutting into the area by an inch or two.

Rear cargo capacity is generous for a five-door hatch and has a hidden under-floor storage area which is part of the Style Package. You can of course fold down the rear seats for a larger flat cargo area as well.

The overall impression of this cabin is that whomever owns it will be proud of their purchase each time they get in it. It doesn’t remind you that you bought the “cheap car” every time you sit in the seat and look at the dash.

Exclusive under the hood of the Elantra GT is Hyundai’s 2.0 liter GDI direct injected four-cylinder engine which cranks out 173 horsepower. Our tester was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission which raised the fun factor immensely.

Power and sound of the engine is pleasant if not fun inducing. It offers up a combination of surprising refinement and ease of use on the six-speed manual transmission make for a refined and sporting ally in your stop light wars.

With the sport tuned suspension optioned on our Elantra GT, handling was also above average in terms of response and road feel. The steering has three driver adjustable modes which allow you to dial in your favorite steering effort from light to heavy.

While it’s admittedly not a Golf GTI on the twisty roads, the Elantra GT offers indeed a somewhat German feel at times. At the very least it has a solidly buttoned down suspension which delivers little noise, vibration, or harshness. In a nutshell it feels far more expensive than it is.

The EPA rates the Hyundai Elantra GT as ours is equipped at 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. Our week of testing with netted us precisely 29 mpg which is a little above what the window sticker promises.

It's easy to like this car, seeing that Hyundai really put a lot of effort into its style, value and the total feeling of quality it offers up. In a class where some competitors still remind you of your station in life, the 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT raises it.

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