This is a likable car, arguably the best small Hyundai the South Korean automaker has presented to America since its laughable Excel sedan in 1990, Warren Brown writes. (Hyundai/Hyundai)

The Hyundai Elantra is no longer a cheap car in the traditional defamatory meaning of the term — inexpensive, poor materials, flimsily made.

In the 2018 GT Sport hatchback version, driven for this column, it remains relatively affordable at the fully optioned price of $29,210. But it is worth the money.

This is a likable car, arguably the best small Hyundai the South Korean automaker has presented to America since its laughable Excel sedan in 1990.

There is nothing laughable about the 2018 Elantra GT Sport, nothing cheap. It is remarkably well done. Interior pieces, for example, do more than “fit.” They flow into one another. Nothing seems happenstance.

The scarlet red exterior material of the car tested for this column blends well with the red piping and accent pieces of the interior. Someone thought about this and followed through until thought became quality in action.

Hyundai’s people at Hyundai Motor America say the 2018 Elantra GT Sport has been “fully redesigned” for 2018. That is something of a misnomer. At today’s soaring manufacturing prices and the billions in international currency being poured into future automotive technology, few vehicle companies can afford to “fully redesign” anything for a new model year’s sales.

But there are some changes. The Elantra GT Sport sells well all over Europe, and Hyundai has catered to that region in its 2018 redesign. The new Elantra GT Sport is sleeker, prettier. It seems that Hyundai has invested more in quality, finish, getting it right, making the buyer fall in love with the car.

The 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine (201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque) is familiar, as is its reliance on regular-grade fuel. A traditional six-speed manual transmission is standard on this front-wheel-drive car. But the one driven for this column was equipped with a seven-speed automatic that could be operated manually via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Note: The automatic transmission actually saves fuel — about a mile or two per gallon. Why? Some drivers pride themselves on their expertise in efficiently, manually shifting gears. The truth is that computer-enhanced automatic shifting does a better job.

The South Korean car companies have been perfecting automotive electronics and, generally, offering it at competitive or better quality and lower costs than their global rivals.

Look at the 2018 Elantra GT Sport’s optional advanced electronics: lane-keeping and high-beam assistance, driver-attention alert, cruise control with engine start-stop capability, and a wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones.

Blind-side detection and rear cross-traffic alert capabilities come as standard equipment.

I wrote many years ago that Hyundai and its South Korean partner, Kia, needed to be taken seriously on the world stage. The 2018 Elantra GT sport proves me right. Both companies are investing heavily in product improvement largely based on technology and in see-touch-feel buyer seduction. Their approach is winning customers worldwide.

Nuts & Bolts
Hyundai Elantra GT Sport

Bottom line: The 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport is perfect for a small family that doesn’t mind spending a bit more money for automotive fun. They can do it with this one and remain solvent.

Ride, acceleration and handling: All are very decent. Ride and handling are enhanced by Hyundai’s use of a multi-link, independent rear-wheel suspension in this model.

Head-turning quotient: It is attractive inside and out. Well done, Hyundai!

Body style/layout: The 2018 Elantra GT Sport is a compact, gasoline front-engine, front-wheel-drive hatchback with four side doors. Compare with these hatchbacks: Ford Focus, Mazda 3, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, Kia Forte.

Engine/transmissions: The 2018 Elantra GT Sport comes with a turbocharged, gasoline direct-injection, 1.6-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque). A six-speed manual transmission is standard. A seven-speed automatic that also can be operated manually is optional.

Capacities: Seating is for five people (two in front, three in the rear). Cargo capacity with all seats in place is 24.9 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 14 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is okay.

Mileage: I averaged 26 miles per gallon on the highway with one passenger and no cargo.

Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; stability and traction control; and side and head air bags.

Pricing: The 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport starts at $24,350. The price as tested was $29,210, including $3,975 in options (panoramic glass roof, advanced electronic safety options and the premium Infinity sound system) and an $885 inland shipping charge. Washington area Hyundai dealers say they are willing to bargain.