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Hyunda Elantra Sport

Sporty Hyundai sedan ups the fun factor of an already great car

By Jim Bray
May 4, 2017

It drives like a Volkswagen Jetta GLI, and it feels like a German car in its construction. But it's not German - it's from South Korea, proving once more that the "traditional" automakers had better be taking the Hyundai/Kia twins very seriously lest they end up on the government dole.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

The car under discussion here is the Hyundai Elantra Sport, the winner of the Best New Sport/Performance car from AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year awards - an annual fall TestFest that also resulted in the more "pedestrian" Elantra winning its category as well. Quite a feat for a company whose cars used to be the butts of many automotive jokes (though that was a long time ago now!).

This means I have a certain amount of egg on my face - never a good thing when you have a beard!

I thought at the time that the Ford Focus RS should have won the Sport/Performance category because it was outrageously sporty - whereas my short seat time in the Elantra Sport saw me writing that, while I loved the car, "Hyundai should have entered it into a less sporting category, where I think it would have done very well." I haven't had any more seat time in the Ford since then, but through a trick of fate and scheduling I got the better part of two weeks with the Elantra Sport a couple of weeks ago and really, really didn't want to bring it back.

Yep, it's an absolute blast to drive, feels like it's carved out of a single block of metal - and at an at-tested price of about $25,000 CAD it undercuts the Focus RS by nearly 50 per cent. That's a heckuva discount for a car that, while it has less power and torque and fewer wheels driven than the Ford (fwd vs. awd), is nearly as much fun and a lot more stealthy if you're interested in avoiding any "Imperial entanglements."

I love this car! I would buy this car! I would buy this car tomorrow if I didn't have a nearly mint sports wagon in my garage already.

So I was wrong and the folks at Hyundai should feel free to toss more eggs at my face.

Other current Elantras (which are also excellent cars) get their motivation from a two litre normally aspirated four cylinder, Atkinson cycle engine that puts out a decent - for its market niche - 147/132 hp/torque. The Sport version, on the other hand, shows just how much the automotive market has changed in the past 10 years or so: time was that a sport model would have a bigger engine, but that strategy appears to have been pushed aside in favour of turbocharging, and that means the Elantra Sport's engine is smaller than the base one!

Quite a bit smaller, too: it's a 1.6 litre unit that manages to crank out a lovely 201/195 hp/torque (and the torque is available from a very low 1,500 rpm), which puts it in the same league as such sporty cars as the wonderful Toyota 86 (nee Scion FR-S) coupe, which isn't nearly as practical as the Elantra sedan (though it's rear wheel drive), or the upcoming Honda Civic SI sedan and coupe, which (if they're like the rest of the current Civic family) won't be nearly as nice to live with.

Add to the Elantra mix a few sporty touches led by a nice six speed manual transmission - the first Hyundai I've driven in ages that had a stick - and you have a fantastic every day driver for those who lean toward the enthusiast side of the driving ledger.

All for 25 grand! You can option it up, via the Sport Tech package and its $2,500 premium, and for that extra expenditure, you'll get automatic HVAC, a better audio system, rear parking sensors and a power driver's seat with memory. I'd probably spend the extra because I like those features, but I must also admit the lack of them didn't do anything to lessen my enjoyment of the car as it was configured.

You can also option the Elantra up via a dual clutch automatic transmission, with paddle shifters. The stick is definitely preferable, but if you have to go the automatic route a dual clutch is the way to do it. I haven't driven this particular one, which is a seven speed unit, but if it's as good as the one Hyundai put into the Ioniq hybrid, it'll be just fine. Even if it isn't, it'll still beat the pants off of a continuously variable transmission, a type of autobox that usually reduces the driving enjoyment substantially, which would be a pretty silly thing to do to a sporty car.

The Sport model builds on what's already a very rigid Elantra chassis (regular Elantras still feel like they're carved out of that single block of steel), with torsional rigidity up by 29.5 per cent. It also gets an independent, multi-link rear suspension and that helps contribute to the car's relatively cat-like handling. The suspension is nice and tight overall, without being jarring, and it helps make the Elantra Sport a relative blast to toss into some curves.

The sporty Elantra also gets a black chrome grille with "Turbo" badging, HID headlights with unique black inner housing and horizontal mounted LED daytime running lights. There are also more aggressive side sill extensions and a sporty butt with unique LED taillights, twin chrome tip exhaust outlets, and a rear spoiler (though rather than spoiling the rear the little lip sets it off nicely).

The car wears 18 inch alloy wheels with Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 Ultra high performance all-season tires and, as one would expect, there are disc brakes with ABS (etc.) all around.

Inside the handsome cabin is a heated, flat-bottomed steering wheel, a Sport instrument cluster featuring red needles, sport leather seats with more aggressive bolstering than on more "staid" Elantras, red contrast stitching, and alloy pedals.

One thing - or set of things - you can't get on the Elantra Sport is the kind of driver aids that often drive me nuts if the carmaker doesn't let you shut them off (and to be fair, more and more of these are "shutoffable"). I'm talking about stuff like Adaptive Cruise Control, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist and the like. You can get these on other Elantras, so I guess Hyundai assumes that anyone who'd buy the Sport knows how to drive already and doesn't need a bunch of computers and sensors sitting on his/her/its shoulders. Can you see the big grin on my face?

I was surprised to find that the current Elantra's centre stack LCD screen is mounted a tad far away for my stubby little arms. I was especially surprised because Hyundai's design head - a man named Peter Schreyer, who they hired away from the Volkswagen group - was also the person behind my sport wagon in which I can reach absolutely everything I need to with the sweep of my right arm.

This is a quibble, however, and wouldn't prevent me from plunking down my after-tax income were I in the car market today.  

Another quibble I had was with the Bluetooth system for pairing my phone. Oh, it paired as easily as it does usually in Hyundai products, but after that it wouldn't let me stream media from the phone to the car - despite showing that it was connected and ready to go. It's the sort of issue I usually only have with Hondas, though at least with them it attempts to play my files (badly) rather than just ignoring me in a manner reminiscent of my kids.

That's a bigger deal to me than the LCD placement, but it's probably something that could be sorted out at the dealer, or by throwing my phone against a wall and getting a new one. It certainly didn't keep me from loving the Elantra Sport.

So I was definitely wrong about the Elantra Sport not deserving its TestFest category win. While it may not be as powerful or as much of an in your face brawler as the Ford Focus RS I thought at the time should have won, it gives you a more subtle (it doesn't fart loudly, for example) but still extremely enjoyable driving experience. I also like its interior better than the RS' and, perhaps the best reason to choose it, it's pretty hard to beat the fun-to-price factor.

Sounds like a real winner to me! Well done, Hyundai. Again.

Copyright 2017 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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