“What car should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would online editor Alex Nishimoto drive? Keep reading for the answer, and see other editors’ picks here.
I’ve already gone over in detail why I would (and did) buy a Honda CR-V for my growing family. But if for some reason I ever left this job and the press car privileges that come with it, I’d need a set of wheels for myself. I’d probably buy something used if that ever happened. But if I had to pick a new car, what would I get?
First, a recap of my needs. As a married thirty-something with a child, a mortgage, and one car payment already, I’d want my second car payment to be relatively low to ease the impact on our budget. I’d also want four doors, a roomy back seat, and reasonable cargo capacity to accommodate my son’s car seat and other essential baby gear. And because he’ll be in the car sometimes, it needs to have excellent safety ratings. Lastly, I’d want a car I can enjoy driving—something that handles well, has decent power, and preferably comes with a manual transmission.
That’s a tall order, but there are a few cars that fit the bill. The Volkswagen Golf is one. I’d say the GTI, but that hot hatch’s starting price is approaching $30,000 these days. The standard Golf, with its new 147-hp, 183-lb-ft 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4, would be a fun, affordable option. But I love a good bargain, and there’s one car that offers more power and arguably more fun for less money than a top-trim Golf SE: the Hyundai Elantra GT N Line.
The N Line trim replaces the previous Sport in the Elantra GT lineup, and it offers a 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. That’s routed through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (for $1,100 more). I’m a huge fan of the manual in this car and its sedan sibling, the Elantra Sport. The buttery-smooth shifter and no-guesswork clutch feel make it one of the easiest modern sticks to drive—something I’d definitely appreciate on my 40-mile round-trip commute. One downside of the manual is a lower EPA fuel economy rating of 23/30 mpg city/highway versus 25/32 mpg for the dual-clutch. Both those numbers are on the low side for warm- and hot hatches, but Hyundai’s 1.6-liter turbocharged engine has consistently outperformed EPA ratings in our Real MPG tests. A manual Elantra Sport recorded 28.2/36.9 mpg on our real-world test loop, while a manual Veloster Turbo R Spec saw an astounding 28.9/42.8 mpg. And as a bonus, the 1.6 turbo only requires regular fuel.
The Elantra GT would meet my minimum criteria for space. (If Hyundai brought the i30 wagon here, that would be ideal.) The rear seats offer 34.8 inches of rear legroom and 38.5 inches of rear headroom, or slightly less legroom but slightly more headroom than the Golf. Rear 60/40 split-folding seats come standard—a big plus when you have a car seat or booster installed—and they fold almost flat to expand the cargo area to 55.1 cubic feet.
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The Elantra GT also meets my safety requirements, earning a four-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. There is a catch, however—and it’s kind of a big one. The Top Safety Pick designation only applies to N Line models equipped with the $3,850 Tech package, as that’s the only way you can get forward collision mitigation. That’s surprising considering the tech is standard on many other Hyundai models, including most trims of the Elantra sedan. It’s a good thing this is only a hypothetical choice because I’d have to think really hard about plunking down almost four grand to get the active safety features I want. If I could live with just one rear door, I might consider instead the Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate, which gets forward collision avoidance and a number of other safety features standard for the same price as the GT N Line.
But perhaps the Elantra GT N Line’s handling ability would help me overlook those glaring safety omissions. In testing, a mechanically similar 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport completed our figure-eight course in 26.5 seconds—half a second behind the GTI and a tenth of a second behind a Civic Si sedan. Compared to a Golf 1.4T, the Elantra GT Sport was nearly a second quicker. The numbers give you an idea of how the car compares to some of its competitors, but you really need to get behind the wheel (and turn it!) to understand its sporty appeal. Manual N Line models get standard 225/40R18 Michelin PS4 summer tires, which should help it stick in corners.
Hyundai offers a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, which tops Honda’s three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty. If I were planning to keep the car for a decade, Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty would give me peace of mind.
So there we go. The Elantra GT N Line isn’t perfect, but it does offer a blend of fun and practicality for less than a GTI (until you add in optional safety features). It’s a compromise, but at least it’s a cheap one. I’ll take mine in Summit Gray.
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