The saying “good from far but far from good” used to apply to most Hyundai products. Their low prices and plentiful features grabbed your attention, but they were found wanting in terms of driving dynamics and overall execution. Now that Hyundai has well and truly moved beyond that reputation, the automaker is turning its attention to projects beyond its mainstream lineup, such as the nascent Genesis luxury brand and sporty cars like the Elantra Sport reviewed here.
Hyundai’s few past attempts at sportiness, including the Veloster Turbo and the now defunct Genesis coupe, weren’t nearly as good as this Elantra. It’s the brand’s best performance car to date—the title shared with the slightly more upscale and cargo-friendly Elantra GT Sport hatchback. It’s not, however, one we expect the Sport will hold onto for long, as the company soon will have the new Veloster N (along with other N models) and a new BMW 3-series competitor from the Genesis luxury brand.
For now, the Sport is a high-water mark. The transformation from regular Elantra-dom includes a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four—replacing a 147-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder—with either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, as well as a multilink rear suspension stepping in for a torsion-beam setup. Spring and damper firmness also is increased at all four corners, and the anti-roll bars are thickened for flatter, more precise handling. Hyundai also fits the Sport with larger 12.0-inch front brake rotors, fiddles with the electric power steering, and shortens the final-drive ratio. Cosmetic upgrades are few: front sport seats with debossed “sport” lettering, a flat-bottom steering wheel, a black headliner, specific 18-inch wheels, and a subtle body kit.
Based on these specs, the Elantra Sport makes a case for consideration alongside sport-compact veterans such as Honda’s Civic Si and Volkswagen’s Golf GTI. Our manual-transmission test car scooted to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, stuck to our skidpad at an impressive 0.91 g, and stopped from 70 mph in 161 feet. Those numbers are neck and neck with the Civic Si sedan’s—well, the previous-generation Honda Civic Si’s. We have yet to test a 2017 Si sedan, but the two-door Si edges the Hyundai to 60 mph by 0.3 second, outgrips it, and outbrakes it. The more powerful VW GTI is a less fair comparison, being 0.7 second quicker to 60 mph and just as sticky as the new Civic.