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Surprise test: Hyundai Elantra vs Dodge Dart

Hyundai Elantra GT Sport vs Dodge Dart: a better alternative?

by David Zatz

The 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is around the same size as the Dart, but comes in hatchback form; its little turbocharged engine is barely larger than the Dart’s 1.4 turbo, but generates a lot more power (201 hp) and more torque (195 lb-ft) — starting at a lower engine speed. Indeed, the Elantra GT Sport feels more like a V6 car than a little four-cylinder turbo.

car review

The Hyundai’s engine really feels bigger than it is, with no turbo whine, no surges, and just a barely perceptible shift from launch to boost. There is really no comparison to the Dart 1.4, which starts out slow, unless you rev absurdly high before launching, bogs a bit, and then, with a couple of obvious valve-timing program shifts along the way, zooms off. It can also be run at much lower speeds than the Dart’s turbo 1.4; if you hang out at 2,000 rpm, the upshift light comes on. Again, it behaves more like a big V6 than a little four-cylinder. The only time you can tell the Hyundai has a turbo, really, is when you first hit the gas from a full stop, and there’s the slightest pause.

Once more, if you missed it: in second gear, the Hyundai gives you acceleration from 800 rpm on up. You can zoom up hills starting from 1,500 rpm — in fourth gear. If you’re moving, you can go into second; no more “guess if 1st or 2nd lurches more.” It makes life easier for the driver; there’s less planning and less working around the limitations of the engine. It’s good for predictable launches, every time. And it’s faster, 0-60, than any Dart.

hyundai 201 horsepower turbo engine

There is no comparing the shifters; Hyundai’s stick is a little better in feel and precision, but the clutch is worlds apart — the Hyundai is a joy to shift, and the Dart is often finicky and unpredictable, especially coupled to the laggy 1.4 engine. The Hyundai engine is also pretty quiet and well-behaved, with a smoother idle and less noise than any of the three Dart engines.

There is a mystery regarding gearing; Hyundai could have put in a wide-ratio gearbox, to boost highway mileage and take advantage of the engine’s large usable rpm range — from just over idle to redline — but instead, they put in a close-ratio unit which has you in sixth gear at, get this, 40 mph. I thought the Dart was geared a bit low for the highway, but the Elantra is almost absurd. Perhaps that’s so they can share a transmission with the ordinary Elantras?

2018 Hyundai Elantra

The only downside to the predictable, linear acceleration of the Elantra GT is that it takes a little bit of the fun out of it. The turbo Dart is all over the map; a successful launch is something to be proud of, and while you bog at first, then you zoom off nicely. The better-cushioned Elantra doesn’t give quite the same thrill, but it does give you rather better and more predictable acceleration, and is far less likely to leave you hanging in the middle of an intersection. It makes for a more relaxed, and still quite enjoyable, drive... especially if you have passengers who get seasick.

The ride is amazingly smooth for a car with P225/40R18 wheels. You do still feel the road, even roads that seem smooth in other cars, but it’s well cushioned. I’d rate the ride as being a little better than the Dart; and the handling, as well. The car was simply glued to the pavement, even over rough concrete and pothole-ridden blacktop, taking turns comfortably at high speeds. It’s not an edgy car like the little Fiats that invite sharp turns just for the joy of it, but it doesn’t feel as heavy as it is (3,000 pounds), and it’ll take pretty much anything you can throw at it.

Despite the low-profile tires, the Elantra took in stride some large bumps that the Dart doesn’t handle so well; and the ground clearance is high enough that no ramp was sharp enough to cause a scrape.

Getting inside the 2018 Elantra GT Sport

The Elantra GT is roughly the size and shape of the Dodge Dart, except in hatchback form. The cargo area is, in practical terms, similar in size though much larger in official measurements. You can put larger things in now and then but you won’t be able to see behind you, if you do. The width is about the same as the Dart’s trunk even though the outer body is narrower by a couple of inches.

inside the elantra

The interior looks quite good, largely because of thin, metallic, practically glowing red trim around the vents and radio, matching the contrasting stitching on the seat; without that, it would look fairly dull. It’s quite functional, though, and having the radio stick out of the dash helps the rest of the dashboard’s styling. The glove compartment is large, the center console isn’t (and has no coin tray), and there are no map pockets, just bottle holders, on the doors; rear passengers get mesh pocket on the back of the front seats.

Getting into the Elantra GT is easier than getting into the Dart; it seems a little higher off the ground, but, mainly, the dashboard is placed just a little further away from the door frame. In both the Dart and 300C, I tend to knock the headlight knob into Automatic with my knee when I get in or out.

Both front and rear seats are comfortable and supportive; I’d give the edge to the Dart, for front seats, and to the Elantra, for rear seats. My back is fairly sensitive to seat quality, and I felt no pain after a week with the Hyundai. Despite the center rear seat belt and headrest, incidentally, this is a four-passenger car.

gauges

Gauges are clear and easy to read, but the speedometer goes to an absurd 160 mph, while the tachometer goes to 8,000 rpm even though redline appears to be 6,500 rpm. At least they are large enough (and marked intelligently enough) to be legible — even in the smaller km/h scale. Still, dropping the speedo range to 140 mph would make it even better. If you’re going that fast, you’re probably not doing a lot of gazing at the speedo anyway — or at least you shouldn’t be. (There is also a digital speedometer reading for those who want to test the upper limits.) They aren’t as flashy as the Dart’s (at least with the optional Dart trip computer), but they are quite functional, and the type is large enough to read at a glance — on both the trip computer and the gauges.

Let’s stop for a moment and appreciate what Hyundai has done for drivers with slightly less than perfect vision, and all those who share the road with them.

The dashboard lights up white-on-black, day and night, while buttons are marked out in bright blue, for no discernible reason. Most controls are backlit, including the ones on the steering wheel. You can shut it off, but normally, if you activate or change the wipers, a little status indication comes up to tell you about it. There are indicators to show you the DRLs are on, and that the headlights are on; and when you change the headlight setting, a little text comes up to tell you about it. Shift into reverse, if you set it that way, and if needed, the rear wiper will activate.

Elantra interior

The steering wheel controls are roughly similar to Chrysler’s in placement, using toggles instead of buttons for volume, station up/down, trip computer up/down, and cruise adjustments. After a little time, I realized it’s a better arrangement. The climate controls make sense; Dodge has a knob for fan speed, Hyundai for temperature control.

The trip computer is clear; the animations are neatly done, the font is large and readable, and everything makes sense. It isn’t very ambitious; you basically get tire pressure (per tire), the settings, and economy/speed averages (or instant readings), with the ability to show a digital speedometer, handy if you go ever 160 mph.

Cabin amenities include an overhead sunglass carrier, bright lights in front and rear (incandescent), sun visors with slide-out sections, and lighted vanity mirrors.

hatchback

The cargo area is fairly large, though not as deep as it could be, because Hyundai made provisions for a full size tire but put in a donut spare. You can take off the spare tire cover and use some of that extra space, if you need to, but it's not flat. The width is generous — about as wide as the Dart’s trunk, in fact. Our car had a subwoofer, but it didn’t intrude into the trunk as the Dart’s does (when so equipped). Both seats fold forward, a roughly 50/50 split, to create more length.

hatch

Visibility was generally good — and at night, the LED headlights were simply amazing in their power and focus. These were standard on the GT line.

Telematics, quirks, and peculiarities

The Elantra GT Sport easily out-does the Dodge Dart in the engine department (unless your #1 priority is gas mileage) and with its smooth manual transmission, but it’s not without quirks. The main one is the telematics system, which is sad, because this is a brand new 2018 car and should have the best, most up to date interface. Hyundai chose a tablet/phone style, which is interesting, and could work (thanks largely to its large, readable fonts) if not for the quirks.

The system alerts you once a minute if you have the radio on after you shut the engine, warning you of the battery drain, and telling you to turn the engine on... every minute. Admittedly, that’s not bad after you shut off the beeping.

Elantra home screen

The sound system also only takes MP3 (and WMV) files, — nothing else, no AAC, and yes, the year is 2017. You can get a bulk converter easily enough and make MP3 copies of whatever you have, if you don’t exclusively use MP3s (iTunes, incidentally, is AAC-only, and most comparisons find that AAC is superior at the same bit-rates).

Like all these systems, you also have to use a program like USB Overdrive, or a series of Terminal commands, to take out any Mac-specific files if that’s the computer you use. This isn’t really a Hyundai quirk; it seems the auto industry just writes off Mac users. Macs are only 15% of US retail computer sales, after all, and Apple’s only responsible for around a fifth of the phones in South Korea.

Two more telematics quirks worth mentioning: when selecting Artist>Album from a USB drive, the system thinks you want to see every track on every album before choosing; then it plays the tracks not in album (of USB drive) order, but in alphabetical order, so you'll need to do some prep-work (may I suggest the auto-numbering feature of A Better Finder Rename? There’s no financial gain for us if you get it).

rear seats

The sound itself seems a bit thin while in motion, but quite good while stopped, suggesting that the system doesn’t compensate well for in-motion noise. (Another quirk: the stereo automatically lowers its volume not when you first turn it on, but when you turn the engine on; that “feature” can be shut off). Sound quality is not as clear as the system in our Dart or 300C, but it’s not bad, either.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported and there’s enough room for your phone in the USB-cable compartment. They work quickly and flawlessly, in my experience.

woods

The best part of the telematics system could be the well-done cellphone integration; the Hyunda’s system instantly recognized my iPhone, and when I got a call, it clearly spoke the name of the caller. The microphones are overhead, not in the mirror, so we can have a regular, flip-the-tab day/night mirror rather than one of the ineffectual “automatic” day/night mirrors. These are both real advantages in day-to-day life with the car.

There’s a single lock/unlock button in the central console; the individual doors don’t have separate lock controls. It reminds me of the first Hyundai I drove, years ago, which let the driver’s door control all the others; if the driver’s door locked, all doors locked.

Pricing it out

If you bought a Dodge Dart with a few options, you may have been faced with a sticker price upwards of $24,000. The Hyundai Elantra GT Sport has that price — but it has way more options than the Dart did, and they’re all standard.

The base model in the GT line is the plain ol’ GT; and in this case GT just means it’s the hatchback. That’ll set you back $19,350, unless you want an automatic, which adds $1,000; but it’s quite well optioned, with all the nonperformance features of our test car (and there are a lot of those). The GT has a 2-liter engine rated at 161 hp and 150 lb-ft — a lightweight compared with any Dart engine but better than Corolla.

car profile

Elantra sedans are similar in equipment — but only with the SEL package, and HID headlights are only an option on the Limited. The base engine of the sedan is a 1.4 turbo, but the 201-horsepower 1.6 is sold with the Sport and a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Oh, what you get with the GT! Both the GT and GT Sport have standard blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alerts; the blind spot detection is oversensitive and gave us false alarms of cars moving up two lanes over, but it can save you from a crash, and the cross-traffic alerts are almost a life-saver in crowded parking lots when you get between two black Suburbans. You also get side impact and side curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.

The rest of our car was, basically, standard except for the floor mats, and I, for one, always replace them with mud/snow mats anyway. Let’s do the stereo first: eight-inch central display, six speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, USB and auxiliary input, and center 4.2-inch trip computer/preference setting area.

tail

Then we have the pushbutton start, “proximity key” (you press a button on the side to lock or unlock the car), dual automatic temperature controls (with automatic defogger), electric parking brake to hold you in place, and leather seats and steering wheel. We wrap it up with those alloy wheels and P225/40R18 tires, LED headlights and tail-lights, turn signals in the outside mirrors, rear window wiper, and spoiler.

93% of the car was sourced from Korea, and just 1% from the US and Canada.

What about quality? Our friends at TrueDelta.com only had figures for the 2013; they determined that Darts with the 1.4 turbo had a frankly awful record, while the Chrysler-engined ones had better-than-average reliability, with 11 trips per hundred cars. The prior-generation Hyundai Elantra GT, with a larger sample, came in with better-than-average reliability — as did the plain Elantra. Numbers for the 2018s aren’t ready yet, but one can expect them to be good; going back to 2007, the Elantra has outperformed the market in quality.

Put it all together, and you see that the Elantra GT is really quite a bargain — even compared with a heavily discounted Dart. That’s not even including Hyunda’s 5/60 general warranty, 10/100 powertrain warranty, and 5-year roadside assistance.

Yes, the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is built on a fresh 2018 design, while the Dart launched in 2013; but one can see that Dodge would have found it tough to match, much less beat, the Hyundai, even with a midterm redesign. The only four-cylinder that would really work against the Elantra would be the “eTorque,” which isn’t even out yet, and would probably be too expensive even if it was.

Specifications Dart SXT Mazda3 G.T. Hyundai Elantra GT Sport
Price, model shown$19,395 $22,545 $24,135
Price, base$16,995 $17,845$17,800 (sedan)
Weight3,173 2,869 3,014-3,102
Horsepower*184 155 201
Torque*171 150 195
Cabin volume97.2 93.3 96.5
Trunk13.1 12.4 25
Total legroom77.5 78.0 77.0
Shoulder room58.2 / 56.1 57.2 / 54.4 56.2 / 55.4
MPG (stick)23/33 29/41 22/29
MPG (auto)21/30 30/41 26/32
0-60 (auto)8.3 7.7 6.8

* 2.4 Dart, 2.0 Mazda3 i, 1.6 turbo Elantra; the base Elantra GT (not Sport) is just 161 hp and 150 lb-ft, with a 24/32 mpg rating (automatic), while Elantra sedan is rated at 28/37 normally, 32/40 in Eco.

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We make no guarantees regarding validity or accuracy of information, predictions, or advice — see the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2017, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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