ANN ARBOR, MI – Americans are flocking to CUVs like never before, but Hyundai rightly notes those tall, bulky vehicles typically aren’t all that fun-to-drive.

That’s why it’s promoting its next-generation Elantra GT as a marriage of the kind of utility a CUV provides (or maybe better) and the athleticism inherent in a low-riding, lighter, compact hatchback.

“Cargo capacity is larger than a lot of the entry(-level), smaller CUVs,” Mike Evanoff, manager-product planning for Hyundai Motor America, says at an Elantra GT drive here.

Maybe not “a lot” of them, but as he points out the Elantra GT has 55.1 cu.-ft. (1.6 cu.-m) of cargo volume with its rear seats folded down, well beyond the Toyota C-HR’s 36.4 cu.-ft. (1.0 cu.-m) and edging out the Mazda CX-3, Chevy Trax and Jeep Renegade.

So ample cargo capacity is good; Evanoff says research shows compact-hatch owners actually use that utility more than CUV buyers, but that alone won’t stop the stampede to CUVs.

That’s why Hyundai has boosted the GT’s offerings with the new-generation ’18 model, going beyond a single grade and introducing the Elantra GT Sport alongside the base GT. The Sport boasts Hyundai’s 1.6L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cyl. making 201 hp. While maximum output doesn’t come on until 6,000 rpm, the mill’s 195 lb.-ft. (264-Nm) of torque is available throughout the heart of the rev range, from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm, giving it the go-go character expected from a hot hatch.

Making the GT Sport extra fun is fast gear changes from Hyundai’s 7-speed DCT, the upgrade transmission for the 1.6L (don’t worry purists; you can still get a manual).

On specs, the GT Sport is more of a very-warm than hot hatch as it falls somewhere in the middle of the competitive set on output. It tops the new Honda Civic hatchback’s Sport Touring grade’s 180 hp, as well as the Mazda3 Grand Touring hatch’s 184 hp, but is shy of the 250-hp Ford Focus ST and the 210-hp Volkswagen Golf GTI. Both the Focus ST and GTI, which also outdo the GT Sport on torque, employ 2.0L turbocharged and DI fours.

The closest compact competition looks to be a non-hatch, the coupe-and-sedan-only Civic Si, making 205 hp and 192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm) of torque from its 1.5L turbo four.

We experienced the GT Sport briefly in San Diego in July, but get more extensive seat time here in late August and come away impressed. While there aren’t competitive models to test head to head at either location, the GT Sport feels every bit as light and maneuverable through the  corners and as fast off the line as the competitive set, the exception being the Golf GTI, still the gold standard for the hot-hatch sector.

Standard paddles with the Elantra Sport’s DCT allow lower gears to be held longer. Common to many Hyundais, the transmission upshifts faster than we’d like, so we manually knock it down a gear or two for improved acceleration up hills.