Hyundai wants you to believe they’re selling you a budget Jetta GLI with the 2017 Elantra Sport. They’re not. But although their fresh-out-of-the-oven compact sports sedan may not yet be as focused as its direct German competitor, it doesn’t stop this hot Elantra from being a fun little car, and a very affordable one at that.
Don’t let the boring name fool you, this is Hyundai’s bargain-basement performance sedan, one with a 201 horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine and a stick. And it may have just beaten the Ford Fiesta ST as the most performance you can get for your dollar. No joke.
(Full disclosure: Hyundai had the car washed and filled with a full tank of gas for me to drive for a week. On the morning of April 1st, I got tricked by a mix of snow and water, causing the car to hydroplane into a curb, damaging the front left wheel and heavily bending a tie-rod. No, this was not some sort of April Fools’ joke. Hyundai Canada: I sincerely apologize for breaking your press car. This is why there are no fancy pictures in the review this time.)
The Elantra always felt like a flimsy, cheaply built small car. But for the past decade or so, Hyundai’s been going through what many in the industry have called the Hyundai curve, where the Korean carmaker has been improving exponentially, making huge leaps forward in build quality, reliability, refinement, and efficiency. The Elantra has been instrumental in this rapid growth, with over ten million sold worldwide since it was first introduced in 1990.
Today, the sixth-generation Elantra is no longer “not bad for a Hyundai,” but a downright excellent little car, one I wouldn’t be ashamed to recommend to my own mother. Built on an all-new, innovative Superstructure platform that’s more solid than a rock, boasting attractive styling thanks to former Audi design boss Peter Schreyer’s vision, offering build quality that would put anything Japanese to shame, and simply giving consumers a lot of car for their money, the Hyundai Elantra can finally be counted amongst the best compacts out there.
The timing is therefore perfect for Hyundai to dish out a hot-rod version of this car. Thanks to more power from the Veloster’s 1.6-liter turbo four, a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and subtle, yet distinguishable aesthetic touches inside and out, the Elantra Sport competes directly with other front-wheel-drive sport compacts such as the Volkswagen GTI/Jetta GLI, the Ford Fiesta ST, and the upcoming Honda Civic Si.
But clearly, Hyundai still isn’t a brand that evokes performance like any of those do. Good as it is, it’s the underdog in this class.
The Elantra Sport matters a lot for enthusiasts like you and me. It’s proof that there’s still hope for cheap, cool, fun cars in this age of the boring crossover.
With the arrival of super hot hatchbacks like the Focus RS, Golf R, and upcoming Civic Type R, there seems to be fewer new sporty compacts that are actually cheap. The Elantra Sport is a good reminder that you can get fun small car thrills without spending close to $40,000.
Unless you look very closely, it’s rather hard to distinguish an Elantra Sport from a regular one. There’s a larger front grille with subtle red turbo badging incorporated into it, and a significantly more aggressive front bumper. But that’s pretty much it.
Hardcore performance geeks will spot the upgraded 12-inch rotors hidden behind a new set of 18-wheels, which are exclusive to the Sport. From the rear, the only giveaway that this Elantra means serious business is the dual exhaust pipes housed within a revised rear bumper.
Even so, this is a real sleeper, and sleepers are cool. It also looks properly attractive in Electric Blue, the color of my tester.
Power in the Elantra Sport is claimed at 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque from the 1.6-liter turbo. That’s 54 horsepower more than a standard Elantra. The extra go-juice is sent to the front-wheels via either a six-speed manual like in the one I had, or Hyundai’s very own seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Actually, after Volkswagen, Hyundai is the only carmaker to offer a dual-clutch option in this segment.
Of course, the stick is the one you want. The turbo-manual combo will get the Elantra Sport to 60 mph in a claimed 6.4 seconds. That’s 0.5 seconds slower than a manual-equipped Golf GTI, but 0.2 seconds quicker than a Jetta GLI. In comparison, a base manual Civic LX hatch pulls the same stunt in 6.5 seconds.
Let that one sink in for a minute.
Still, that’s quick enough, don’t you find? I mean, the Elantra’s up there, punching in the same ring as the best of them. So as far as power goes, Hyundai’s little sport sedan delivers.
And that little four-banger sure knows how to round up a solid punch. You’ll need to keep that turbo spooling though, because everything happens between 3,000 and 6,000 RPM, where the engine suddenly runs out of puff. There’s absolutely no point in ringing this engine all the way to its 7,000 RPM redline, because all it’ll do is make your ears bleed.
The Elantra Sport’s standout feature really is its innovative new chassis, and the way it gobbles up road imperfections—basically all of Montreal where I live—as if they were cream-filled cupcakes, even with a sport-tuned suspension.
Hyundai’s been bragging about how they’re the only carmaker to manufacture their own steel. And they’ve went through great lengths to reinforce the Elantra with plenty of the stuff, as well as almost 400 feet of structural adhesives to tightly bind its chassis stampings together.
The end-result: Jesus Christ, this thing feels solid. The Elantra’s road composure is excellent on any surface.
Drive over a pot-hole or crack in the tarmac and the little Hyundai just soaks it up, as if it’s gliding right over them. Very much like a Volkswagen, the suspension setup is compliant and smooth, perfectly suited for daily driving. And I’d know, because not only did I review both the Golf R, and the GTI on Clavey’s Corner prior to this, my shooter Myle and I also had a Jetta GLI lying around during the time we had the Elantra. In fact, the original plan was to pit these two cars in a head-to-head comparo at Sanair Super Speedway, until I went along and screwed things up. (You’ll see a test of the GLI soon.)
Even the Civic didn’t feel this buttoned down over the rough stuff. If anything, the Elantra Sport can be compared to the Golf R with its fancy adaptive dampers as far as ride quality goes.
The Elantra’s handling is also quite excellent; it has no problem attacking corners quickly. That’s because unlike the standard Elantra, which uses a torsion-beam rear axle, the Sport gets a multilink rear suspension which makes a hell of a lot more sense for this sort of car.
There’s also an overall feeling of lightness in the way the Elantra drives, with almost seamless clutch takeup, solid, firm brakes, quick steering and sharp turn-in. Overall, the car is a blast to put through its paces and carries speed effortlessly.
There are a few. That manual shifter doesn’t feel like it’s connected to anything. The lever itself looks cool and feels great in the palm of your hand thanks to a Golf-like ball, but the action itself is a bit long and sloppy. It’s also not as crisp or mechanical as in a Civic or a Mazda 3. There’s just no feeling that you’re actually shifting into anything.
Then there’s the way this car sounds. I’m happy Hyundai didn’t go down the artificial sound symposer lane, what you hear in this car is the actual engine. Sadly though, that turbo four doesn’t sound particularly sporty. The Elantra makes a lot of noise, but that’s about all it does: be noisy.
Finally, the car desperately needs a limited-slip differential. More often than not, when I tried to apply power when coming out of a bend, the car would plow forward, furiously spinning its front wheels, and acting up furiously as if I was being tugged forward by a bunch of frantic horses. Good as it is, it’s far from the GTI, or Fiesta ST’s out-of-corner grip.
Actually, the Elantra is so smooth to daily drive, you’d think you were sitting inside a little Audi. The cabin is quiet and well put together. The Sport also features cool touches such as red stitching on the shifter boot and seats. And the flat bottom steering wheel gets the red treatment as well. The leather sports seats look good while being comfortable and supportive, and there’s excellent visibility all around the car.
When you stop to think about it, this is essentially a Hyundai Elantra, a sensible compact sedan that comes with a competitively sized trunk and enough rear leg and head room to carry around your kids, or your bros. Finally, the Elantra Sport doesn’t require premium fuel to churn out its 200 ponies, and will run on regular pump gas. Awesome!
The Elantra Sport is very fun to drive pretty much all the time, and it offers enough performance and dynamic charm to stick a big fat grin on your face.
Now, the car still needs a bit more work for it to be a true Civic Si hunter. Its electric power steering, very much like the sloppy shifter, sends absolutely no feedback to the driver. Granted, this is usually the case with these systems, even in a Golf GTI you get very little actual feedback from the front wheels, but at least in a GTI, or even in a Jetta GLI, there’s heft in the wheel, making them feel SPORTY. Unfortunately, the Elantra’s steering feels just as light as in the normal, not-sporty-at all version.
Then, there’s the way the rear suspension is set up. Multilink rear systems give the driver more control and feel for what the car is doing. Experienced drivers can use this extra control to play around with the car’s chassis by lifting off the throttle during hard cornering to correct the car’s line. In a front-wheel-drive car, this minimizes understeer, allowing the car to corner faster.
In the Elantra’s case, you can do that alright, but to a certain extent. Sadly, there’s something not quite right about the way the rear suspension was set up. It’s not confidence inspiring, especially under hard braking, where the car quibbles and bobs, as if the rear of the car wants to move to the front. It more or less scares you instead of motivating you to push harder.
Don’t blame the chassis for this. If anything, the Elantra’s chassis is too good for the way this suspension was calibrated. It simply feels like the engineers didn’t spend enough time working this out. Hyundai, call the dude that works on the Genesis cars, Albert Biermann. Have him work on the Elantra Sport. I’m sure he’ll do miracles with this thing, because there’s serious potential here.
You, me, kids, weekend warriors who look for the cheapest way to blow the doors off a Civic Si at the local drag strip. Or common Elantra buyers that simply want a bit more oomph from their Korean compact. People who like fun and long-ass warranties, together.
The beauty with the Elantra Sport is that it’s really cheap (more on that later), so it appeals as much to the hardcore enthusiast looking for an affordable sporty driving experience as it does to the everyday driver who simply wants a fully loaded compact without ruining their budget.
All of it. All the value. That’s what the Hyundai Elantra Sport does best. Get this: the “base” model starts at $21,650.
That’s a 201-horsepower, beautifully styled and well put together sport compact that does the 0-60 sprint almost as quickly as a manual Golf GTI, and is more comfortable to daily drive than a Honda Accord, all for under 22 grand. That’s fuckin’ cheap.
It also comes loaded. The only thing my tester was missing was automatic climate control. But the car still comes standard with a heated steering wheel (Canada only) and heated leather seats, A/C, a power sunroof, blind-spot monitoring, and Android Auto/Apple Carplay connectivity.
Add all the bells and whistles to your Elantra Sport, such as the dual clutch seven-speed transmission and the Premium package, which adds automatic climate control, navigation, and an Infinity 8-speaker premium sound system, and you’re only spending $25,995 for your Hyundai. That’s a lot for very little.
In comparison, a Ford Fiesta ST kicks off at $21,140, but is slower off the line than the Elantra Sport at 6.7 seconds. The Fiesta is also a much tinier car and less spacious overall.
Then, there’s the Nissan Sentra SR turbo, which sits just under the almighty Nismo. I still haven’t tested that one, but the base Nissan Sentra is so lackluster that car will have a hell of a time proving to me it’s any good. (Then again, who could’ve expected a performance Elantra to be this decent?)
Finally, there’s the overachieving Honda Civic LX hatch. Indeed, it’s cheaper than the Elantra Sport at $19,700 and accelerates almost just as quickly. But it’s still a base Civic, so it doesn’t get a sunroof, and still runs on normal Civic suspension and brakes, meaning it doesn’t handle anywhere near as well as the Hyundai.
Also, the Elantra is a lot prettier than the Civic.
Hyundai has definitely gone a long way with their little compact, and it feels great to see them actually kicking ass with this thing. The value alone makes it worth considering, even over beloved rivals like the Fiesta ST. This thing is a real sleeper, worthy of respect among performance car fans even if a few issues keep it from being the leader of the pack.
At the end of the day, it’s your dollar that does the talking, and at that price, you can’t go wrong with the Elantra Sport.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com