You might be forgiven if you didn’t know the Elantra sedan that just drove past was the all-new Sport version. For once, Hyundai is going the subtle route. No screaming Veloster-rapture boy racer visual cues here. Just a demure Sport badge in a remote corner of the grille, discrete side skirts and rear bumper diffuser, subtle offset dual-outlet exhaust and larger-than-usual 18-inch rolling stock tucked away in the wheel wells. Not a lot to get your car-spotter adrenaline pumping.
Moving Out Smartly
But depress the accelerator and the Sport’s peppy, direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbo steps out smartly. Sixty miles per hour arrives from rest in a tick over 6 seconds. There isn’t a lot of drama. Despite claimed enhancements to the sedan’s intake sound track and a less restrictive exhaust, the Elantra Sport doesn’t make a lot of commotion. Put the manual shifter in neutral and the engine is so calm and shake-free that you can barely tell it is running. Between the fast-spooling turbo and wide torque band, engine flexibility is excellent. You don’t have to rev this 1.6-liter turbo or hunt for the right gear to move out smartly. Over a variety of driving situations from around-town dashes to freeway onramp squirts to backroad blasts, the Sport feels responsive. So it’s not real picky about how fast it’s spinning. At 201 hp, it’s got more juice than a Honda Civic Sport 1.5-liter turbo (180 hp) or a Mazda 3 2.5-liter (184 hp)and nearly as much punch under the hood as a Volkswagen Golf GTI (220 hp). A shorter final-drive ratio aids acceleration as well, but also keeps the engine turning faster at cruising speeds, so EPA fuel-economy estimates–22 mpg city/30 mpg highway with the standard 6-speed manual and 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway with the optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic–take a hit.
Considering the fact that Hyundai’s not been in the sporty compact business very long, the manual shifter in our test car is one of the better efforts out there. Throws are reasonably short, gates precisely defined and action is low friction, but naturally weighted to simulate the action of a single sliding-rail direct shifter. Clutch takeup is reasonably smooth and because the engine is so flexible, not particularly sensitive to technique.
The Sport’s cabin soothes more than it excites. The standard heated Sport front buckets are on the firm side, with well bolstered bottom and back cushions. And they’re dressed well in standard leather with red accent stitching. Other dress-up items include a grippy, well-contoured flat-bottom sport steering wheel and aluminum-trimmed pedals and footrest.
In typical Hyundai fashion, the $21,650 Elantra Sport standard equipment list is long. It includes pushbutton start and a high-res 7.0 inch touchscreen infotainment screen thoughtfully angled towards the driver, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD radio plus AppleCarPlay and AndroidAuto compatibility, high-end features Honda doesn’t offer in its otherwise competitively priced Civic Sport hatchback. And it is nicely augmented by redundant hard knobs and buttons for the most commonly used infotainment and climate-control system functions. There’s plenty of stash space in a closable bin at the bottom of the center stack that’s also populated with a pair of USB ports, a 12-volt power outlet and more. About the only thing spoiling the sport sedan mood is perhaps a little too much hard gray plastic trim inside the cabin.
Moving aft, rear seat room is decent for a car of this class. Despite the sloping rear roofline, a pair of adults can sit back there comfortably as long as no one’s wearing a hat. The trunk offers an ample 14.4 cubic feet of space, large for this size sedan. That space can be effectively doubled to accommodate longer items such as skis or ladders by folding one or both of the rear seatbacks via a pair of remote latches in the trunk.
Our test car was also equipped with the $2400 Premium package—another good value. It adds navigation, a larger 8-inch screen, an 8-speaker infinity premium audio system with a subwoofer and Clari-fi Music restoration, Gen 2 Blue Link, a power sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, Homelink and blind zone and rear cross-traffic warning systems.
Parts is Parts
Not just a cosmetic appearance package as was the practice in the past, the Sport gets some serious factory parts bin help to sharpen the Elantra’s suspension, steering, braking and drivetrain reflexes. Key to the Sport’s lively demeanor is its rear suspension–upgraded from a simple torsion beam as on the base Elantra–to multilink as in a proper sport sedan. The complete Sport treatment includes an upsized front stabilizer bar and an added rear bar, plus increased spring rates front and rear and even stiffer shocks.
On the road, the Sport’s ride is firm with very little body roll in corners. Body motions are well-damped, however, the tuning leads to some choppiness on concrete highways with expansion strips. The low-profile 18-inch Hankooks, while aiding grip and abetting quick steering turn-in off-center, can be a bit unforgiving over broken pavement and sometimes transmit harsh impacts to the cabin. Road noise is also somewhat intrusive at times, especially over roads with high-aggregate content. That said, the Sport really sticks and simply goes where it’s pointed. Lots of fun on the right roads.
The steering is a smidgeon quicker than the stock Elantra and well-weighted but doesn’t offer a ton of road feedback to the driver. However, the Elantra Sport always feels stable, secure and well-planted on the highway and doesn’t require much lane-tending for the driver to keep it on its intended course. Front brakes with larger rotors add more fade-resistance.
Let’s Make a Deal
The Elantra Sport is markedly quicker stoplight to stoplight than the Mazda 3, although it can’t quite match the Mazda’s sweet ride/handling balance or synaptic steering. Perhaps not as light on its feet as the Honda Civic Sport hatchback, the Elantra Sport nevertheless has an edge in power and torque and the Hyundai’s standard leather seats and large touchscreen infotainment system outclass the Honda’s cloth seats and tiny 5-inch screen. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is still the king of compact car performance, but it’s some $5000 more expensive, even pricier when matching the Elantra Sport’s long list of standard equipment.
At the end of the day, the Elantra Sport is a nice step up from the base Elantra or many of the better compact sedans and hatches available today. And at $21,650 it’s a good value in terms of its long standard equipment list and segment-leading 10-year powertrain warranty. So go ahead—uncloak. No one needs to know you’re having so much fun driving it.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Autoweb /Ron Sessions