Hatchbacks may not be popular today, but the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is capturing drivers’ attention – it’s one of the year’s biggest auto surprises. Here’s why the all-new 2018 Elantra GT Sport is making a splash.

The first thing you need to know about the 2018 Elantra GT Sport is that it’s actually sporty. Yes, the term “sport” gets thrown around a lot in the auto industry, and usually it only refers to aesthetic add-ons that don’t boost performance. That’s not the case here. The base model Elantra is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine good for 161 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. The Elantra GT Sport’s turbocharged 1.6-liter power plant — taken out of the Elantra Sport sedan — produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, which is fully available at just 1,500 rpm. The hatchback’s fuel economy rating is 22/29/25 mpg, although those numbers will vary based on how hard you hit the gas.

In addition to a beefier engine, the Elantra GT Sport also has a sportier suspension system. The biggest thing to know is that the rear torsion beam, which is standard on the Elantra GT, has been removed in favor of an independent multilink setup. There’s also a 15-millimeter rear stabilizer bar, sport tuned dampers (in the rear and front), and higher front and rear spring rates. Both Elantra GTs feature a six-spend manual transmission standard. On the base-level model the optional automatic transmission is a six-speed. The GT Sport gets a seven-speed dual-clutch. Both cost an extra $1,000. The Elantra GT also features larger front and rear brakes. The Elantra GT starts at $19,350 and the GT Sport bases at $23,250.

If the above reads like gibberish, that’s okay. The only thing you need to know is this: the Elantra GT Sport’s additions do make a difference in daily driving. The beefier engine and readily available torque — combined with minimal turbo lag — make it easier to pass traffic on the highway or pull out into a busy intersection. The improved suspension system gives the car a smoother ride and allows drivers to throw it around every now and again.

And throw it around you will, because the Elantra GT Sport really is a fun car to drive. It gets off the line in a hurry and is able to weave in and out of traffic thanks to its small size. Shifts in the six-speed manual transmission, which our tester came equipped with, are smooth and the clutch engagement point is perfectly tuned. That being said, the Elantra GT Sport is no hot hatch. It gets off the line quickly, but 0 to 60 mph doesn’t exactly happen in the blink of an eye. While there are no official figures from Hyundai, other reviews have the time at anywhere from 6.5 seconds to 7.2 seconds. Shifts are smooth, but throws are on the long side. The steering is also a bit numb, although it is decently weighted. And while the upgraded suspension system is nice, the Elantra GT Sport quickly hits its grip limits when pushed hard through corners. While the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is not a true hot hatch, it’s still plenty fun to drive and is more than deserving of its “Sport” moniker.

Hyundai deserves to be praised for making an Elantra hatchback that’s fun to drive. The automaker also deserves praise for the Elantra GT Sport’s design. Gone is the rental car-chic look of the previous model. In its place is a design taken straight from Europe, as in the Europe-only Hyundai i30. The result is a South Korean hatchback that looks every bit as good as its European and Japanese competition.

The 2018 Elantra GT Sport is lower, wider, and longer than its predecessor. The Sport trim features a few class-exclusive exterior add-ons, including full LED headlights and taillights, and 18-inch alloy wheels. No, you won’t turn heads while driving this car. However, its elegant design means you won’t be embarrassed to be seen driving it either. If there’s one complaint we have about the hatchback’s look, it’s that there’s not enough paint colors available. Our tester came in Summit Gray, which is perhaps the best option. That’s not saying much when you only have six choices to pick from, though.

Hyundai also completely redid the Elantra GT’s interior. All models now feature a standard 8.0-inch floating infotainment touchscreen that comes complete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The touchscreen is easy to control thanks to its size and the fact that Hyundai’s designers went old school and decided to incorporate buttons and knobs into its design. Other standard features on the Sport model include leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, heated front seats, alloy pedals, and a 4.2-inch TFT display that sits in the middle of the gauge cluster. Standard safety tech and driver’s aids include rear-cross traffic alert, blind spot detection, and lane change assist. That lean list of standard safety tech and driver’s aids is the lone blemish on Elantra GT Sport’s otherwise stellar list of standard features.

There is only one options package available, the Tech Package. It costs $3,850 and adds navigation, a wireless charging pad, Hyundai’s Blue Link connected vehicle system, and a sunroof. The package also adds more safety technology and driver’s aids. Radar cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, high beam assist, and driver attention alert are all included in the Tech Package. Our tester did not feature this options package because it’s only available on Elantra GT Sport’s equipped with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All told that combo adds almost an extra $5,000 onto the price tag of the car. Our tester sticker at $24,260, and its price tag would have been a hair under $30,000 had the Tech Package and accompanying seven-speed DCT been included. While extra safety features would have been nice, it’s hard to justify the cost of the package.

Had Hyundai included nicer seats in the Tech Package then we might reconsider our stance. It’s not that the Elantra GT Sport’s seats are unlivable. They are supportive and comfortable enough, although we did find ourselves feeling a bit stiff after longer journeys. The backseat is comfortable and roomy enough with good headroom, but with three adults it’d be a tight squeeze. When it comes to cargo, the hatchback features 24.9 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats upright, a number that balloons to 55.1 cubic feet when they’re folded. This is more storage space than the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mazda3, Ford Focus, and the Honda Fit.

Like the exterior, the Elantra GT Sport’s cabin is sharply designed, although not to the point where you think you’re in a luxury car as there’s a bit too much plastic present. The ride can also be a bit loud at times, especially when you get up to highway speeds. The sport-tuned suspension also makes for a bit of a rougher ride.

The 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is the type of car more automakers should be building. It’s fun to drive, affordable, and easy on the eyes. Could it use more power, more standard safety tech, and less plastic? Sure. But when it comes to value, it’s hard to top what Hyundai’s offering. If you’re in the market for a compact car that’s fun to drive, stylish, and features a wealth of standard safety features, we recommend checking out the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport.