— A low-rent, if straightforward, cabin has dogged the redesigned Hyundai Elantra since it showed up at the Los Angeles Auto Show nearly two years ago. That same cabin bedeviled the Elantra in our most recent comparison of compact sedans, and the gussied-up Elantra Sport doesn't improve on it, driving fun notwithstanding.
The good news? The redesigned 2018 Elantra GT hatchback, like the outgoing Elantra GT, is based on the Europe-designed Hyundai i30 hatchback — not the Elantra sedan. Versus the sedan's low points — dull silver trim, cheap-plastic upper doors and ratty headliner — the GT is markedly better inside.
And some of those improvements could spread when Hyundai refreshes the sedan.
Mike Evanoff, a product planning manager for Hyundai's small cars, is no stranger to the cabin criticism in the Elantra sedan. In some respects, he agrees.
"One thing that really pisses me off is the hard plastic on the door," Evanoff told Cars.com at a media event near our Chicago offices.
Could a mid-cycle refresh on this generation of the sedan improve that? Evanoff wouldn't tip his hand.
"We'll see," he said. "Hopefully."
Evanoff joined other Hyundai officials to share details on the Elantra and refreshed 2018 Sonata, Hyundai's respective compact and mid-size cars.
- Stick-shift stickler: The Elantra GT offers a manual transmission with either Used Engine — a 2.0-liter four-cylinder (161 horsepower) in the Elantra GT or 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder (201 hp) in the Elantra GT Sport — but not if you want more options. The "manual transmission with smart cruise control and some of the [automatic emergency braking], some of the advanced driver assist, it was not compatible," Evanoff said, noting that he'd "love to" see a stick-shift Elantra GT with either trim level's optional technology package. Right now, both packages come only with the automatic.
- Not a Golf GTI competitor: Evanoff said the Volkswagen Golf was "a big target" for the Elantra GT, but he doesn't intend the Golf GTI as a competitor to the GT Sport. Indeed, the cheapest four-door GTI exceeds the Elantra GT Sport by more than $2,000. "I see a lot of comparisons to GTI," he said, but "it's not what we intended."
- Eco mode no more: The 2018 Sonata Eco, which goes on sale late this year, will continue to offer an efficiency-oriented version with a 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder. But it no longer offers an economy program among its driving modes because customers complained about drivetrain response in that mode, Evanoff said.
- Updated navigation: The Sonata's optional 8-inch multimedia system (a 7-inch unit is standard) employs Hyundai's new AVN 5.0 multimedia system. Spokesman Miles Johnson told us it has an upgraded processor with faster response. Expect quicker pinching and swiping, plus preset lists that can mix AM, FM and satellite radio stations, Johnson said. That's hardly a new feature, but it's beneficial nonetheless; in the Sonata, those stations previously needed separate lists.
- Free traffic: HD radio with traffic and dynamic routing are free through Here HD Plus Traffic — a service that intuits traffic through vehicle sensor data from a handful of automakers — with no subscriptions needed. It's of limited benefit these days since most smartphone navigation includes free traffic (aside from data costs), but it's beneficial if you have limited wireless coverage.
- Hybrids on the way: Hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Sonata will undergo the same refresh, appearing early next year as 2018 models, said Brandon Ramirez, a senior group manager of product planning at Hyundai. Expect both cars to get similar styling changes to the non-hybrid Sonata.