The new Hyundai Elantra GT casts a similar silhouette as previous models but now boasts a more tailored, cleaner look and lots of enhancements.

Despite the similar name, the Elantra GT is not the hatchback version of the popular Elantra sedan. The Elantra GT brings a European-influenced design inside and out, and focuses on agile handling.

The current version of the GT offers two engines, and we recently rented an example of each from Hyundai to examine at the CR Auto Test Center.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT rear

The base engine is a 2.0-liter that brings 161 horsepower, and 28 mpg overall, based on estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. That marks a decrease in power and a slight increase in fuel economy over the sole engine offered in the previous generation.

Starting at $20,350 with a six-speed automatic transmission, the base model is a nice, solid package with competitive equipment levels for the price.

That price puts it on par with the laudable Subaru Impreza hatchback and Volkswagen Golf, and it undercuts the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback.

From the tasteful, restrained styling to the mannered performance, the Elantra GT exudes a European flair. Testers found the handling to be precise and composed. The base version, shown here in black, will represent the bulk of sales volume, which is understandable given its price. But the car really shines in its Sport trim.

The uplevel Elantra GT Sport starts at $24,350 and gets a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The rear suspension is more sophisticated, and the brakes are larger than in the base version. This upgraded hardware combination creates a much more entertaining car to drive.

Quick, direct shifting adds to the driving engagement, though we noted some hesitation when starting from a rolling stop. Generally speaking, this gearbox has less low-speed jerkiness than we’ve experienced in other dual-clutch transmissions. Ultimately, we think the turbo is best experienced with a manual transmission.

The staff lauded the handling, describing the car as fun to drive, but we found the ride to be rather stiff. It doesn't pull off the dynamic balance as well as the VW Golf, which handles very well but also has a comfortable ride. While the sound from the turbo engine at full song could be invigorating, it could also become a bit gruff at times.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT interior

The common denominator between our sample cars was the well-finished cabin, with an attractive, uncluttered design and intuitive controls. A central “floating” screen is used for the infotainment system, putting the display high for easy reading.

This position enables the dash vents to be mounted at a comfortable height. The GT Sport benefits from stylish, contrasting accents that give the interior some welcome flair.

The front seats are comfortable for the class, with six-way adjustments standard on both models. The Sport's seats were clearly better, with leather upholstery and power adjustments, including for lumbar. With either seat, right knee space is limited by the center console.

The back seat is hospitable for adults, with ample head and legroom. Cargo space is larger than you might expect, leading us to debate its appeal as an alternative to a subcompact SUV. Fold the backseat down and a bicycle can be loaded without removing a wheel.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT front

The Elantra GT will appeal to small-car buyers seeking extra panache. The Sport trim, in particular, can be optioned with a slew of features that wouldn't be out of place on a prestige-branded car.

The pricey Tech Package for the Sport brings a ton of comfort and convenience items, such as a panoramic sunroof, navigation, ventilated seats, a premium audio system, and a wireless phone charger.

This option brings forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist—key safety features that are not offered on the non-Sport model. Blind-spot detection is optional on the Elantra GT and standard on the Elantra GT Sport.

To be clear, the GT, even in the Sport trim, is not meant to be a “hot hatch” in the mold of the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen GTI. It competes most closely with the Mazda3 hatchback.

Granted, it’s a small subsegment of the compact-car category, but the Elantra GT brings some welcomed heat. It's an engaging, practical, and affordable choice.

Read the complete Hyundai Elantra GT road test.