2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport Review and Road Test

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

We have a look at Korea’s GTI

Words by: Adam Allen

Korea’s GTI huh? Explain.

Since Volkswagen invented the hot hatch genre in 1976, countless manufacturers have stepped over themselves to cash in on this segment- some of the results have sparkled while others have landed with a thud. Hyundai has watched the battle unfold from the sidelines until now, ostensibly to be sure it was good and ready before joining the fray. Fans and patrons of this part of the market are a notoriously fickle bunch and will relentlessly lambaste a product that isn’t the real deal or that simply feels like nothing more than a mildly warmed over version of the economy car on which its based. While the Elantra Sport is a sedan and not a hatchback (Only European buyers will be offered this drivetrain in the hatchback body style of the Elantra GT, for now) it builds upon the tried and true formula of what makes cars like the VW GTI, Focus ST and upcoming Civic Si such great fun to drive. Instead of gaping air intakes and garish styling flourishes the Elantra Sport takes its cue from the GTI with subtle red accents inside the headlight assembly and a general low key approach to distance itself from lesser Elantras. If understatement can work for the Germans, surely it will pay dividends to the plucky Hyundai engineers who conceived this car, right?

Not if it doesn’t have the performance chops, it won’t.

Yes, but with the Elantra Sport it has become abundantly clear that Hyundai is taking the sports car thing seriously. This approach is from the ground up, starting with the tires. They’re shod with low profile Hankook W-rated tires. Hyundai turfed the rear twist beam axle for a much more dynamically rewarding independent setup. And in a surprise move from a company that typically doesn’t pander to the enthusiast crowd, it will be offered with an honest to goodness 6-speed manual gearbox as was the case with our tester. Happily, we can report that the gearbox is a good one- the shifter moves from gate to gate with delightful precision and certainly much better than anything we’ve encountered previously in a Hyundai product (a 7-speed dual clutch will be optional, but trust us, you want the manual.) The whole package is built on Hyundai’s so called Superstructure which is fundamentally rigid and stubbornly resistant to twisting and bending. That gave the engineers enough latitude to tune the suspension appropriately to impart sprightly handling with appreciably precise body motions. That leaves the engine, and it too has been puffed up for the spiciest of Elantra flavors. It’s a 1.6 litre turbo four and it makes 201 horsepower and 195 pounds feet of torque. The lump supplies more than enough grunt for daily driving and if you keep your foot in it, it can pile on the speed with a voracity we’re not used to from Hyundai. For the pragmatists who still like to have fun now and then, it can still be efficient- we recorded 9.9 L/100km while in our care and we’re not exactly shy with the throttle.

That’s all well and good, but can it really take on the GTI and Co.?

If you the measuring stick by which you judge the Elantra Sport consists of the usual suspects like the GTI and the others who play in this sandbox, you might be disappointed. Those cars have more power for starters, but they also have a dynamic proficiency and finesse that the Hyundai lacks. Keep in mind that this bunch of cars has been at the game much longer than Hyundai, so some years need to go by before we can really size up Hyundai’s impact in this class. And just because the Elantra Sport would most likely not be able to keep up with these guys on a racetrack, it would be a much different story in the real world fraught with speed limits and varying levels of skill from their drivers. It certainly wouldn’t embarrass itself as the numbers might suggest. Another thing to remember is the Elantra Sport’s price of admission. At $24,999 its about $5,000 cheaper than VW’s GTI starting price and its much better equipped to boot.

Does the interior get as much love as the oily bits?

Hyundai didn’t forget to throw some upgrades on the interior, but the spotlight here has obviously been focused on the go-fast hardware. That said, drivers will enthusiastically welcome the wonderfully shaped steering wheel exclusive to the Elantra Sport which manages the feat of looking great while feeling equally so in the hands. There’s some subtle red contrasting stitching on the heated leather seats and Hyundai’s corporate 7” touchscreen infotainment system (with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay included) displays its intuitive menus crisply while still demonstrating overall excellence.

What might go wrong?

As is the case with everything in life, nailing perfection on a first attempt is unlikely, and so does the story go with the Elantra Sport. It’s an undeniably strong first effort into this closely scrutinized and competitive segment yet there is work to be done. The wonderfully sculpted tiller is connected to the front wheels in terms that could best be described as vague- we’d love to see a little more steering feel and accuracy that would allow the Elantra Sport more bite on turn-in when negotiating twisting tarmac. Speaking of making the car a bit pointier, we wish for a little more attitude from the exhaust. You do hear the occasional pop and burble, but its more set up for commuting than social irresponsibility. The last complaint we’ll make will be done cautiously and we direct it at the suspension. It’s rare these days to ask for a little more stiffness because most cars severely overdo it in this area, and we’d hate to see the Elantra Sport’s comfortable ride degrade to the point of annoyance- but a little more sharpness in the suspension should pay dividends in giving the car greater enthusiasm for being chucked into a bend.

Should I buy an Elantra Sport?

Never mind the enthusiast crowd- if any type of Elantra is on your shopping list, we can save you the time of testing each trim level and just go for the Sport. It offers the exhaustive list of standard equipment the others do but with a significant power boost. The bespoke rear suspension on its own does wonders to help with stability and don’t negatively affect ride quality. The Elantra Sport is one of the most compelling choices if it’s affordable speed you’re after. However, if it is a GTI fighter you seek, you’ll need to turn to the aftermarket to bring the Elantra Sport levels of power and handling up to the levels of the class leaders. Hyundai’s dynamics continue to get better with each passing model year, and when they eventually figure out how to set up a world challenging suspension, we should see Koreas GTI ascend to be mentioned in the same company as, well, the original GTI. This car has loads of potential and could one day be mentioned in the same company with some of the greatest sports compact cars available.


 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport — Specifications

  • Price as tested: $24,999
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front wheel drive
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Engine:  1.6 litre turbocharged inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  201 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 195 @ 1,500 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,338 kg (2,950 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 9.9L/100km (24 mpg)