Because a little more spice makes everything nice.

– South Bend, Indiana

There are sports cars and there are sporty cars, and it’s in that latter group where you’ll find Hyundai’s new, aptly named Elantra Sport. It’s not intended to be a full-on performance offering, instead finding a middle ground between your everyday compact car and, say, something like a Volkswagen GTI or Subaru WRX. Think of this as more of a Nissan Sentra SR Turbo-level competitor. Except better. Way better.

Hyundai’s mission is to create an Elantra with sporting credentials that go beyond a couple of badges and some ground effects. The Sport has a new rear suspension, bigger stabilizer bars, higher spring and damper rates, a new steering ratio, larger brakes, and perhaps most importantly, a new engine. All of that hides behind a new front fascia, side sill extensions, and 18-inch wheels. And because none of this changes the standard Elantra’s qualities of being quiet, comfortable, and nicely equipped, what we have here is a car that’s plenty good to begin with, with an extra helping of fun.

 

 

Pros

  • The Sport uses Hyundai’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque – healthy gains of 54 hp and 63 lb-ft compared to a standard Elantra. There’s a new exhaust, too, with a surprisingly robust sound. It lacks the snap, crackle, and popping of the Fiat 500 Abarth, to be sure, but the Sport certainly asserts itself as the most vocally talented Elantra. Despite some minor lag off the line, the turbo engine is peppy and responsive, with lots of mid-range thrust. That came into important play during my test of the Sport, which was limited to runs around an autocross course set up at the Tire Rack facility in South Bend, Indiana. I mostly left the car in second gear; at no point was there a lack of available power for quick acceleration toward the next corner.
  • The handling is way better than the standard Elantra, even if the baseline is just an okay-driving car. Credit the new multi-link rear suspension for better back-end behavior, not to mention front and rear springs that are 14- and 22-percent stiffer, respectively. Damping rates are 30-percent higher at all four corners, and the 225/40R18 Hankook Ventus tires offer better grip than the smaller stock tires, even if the car is still prone to understeer when pushed hard into a corner.
  • All of the Sport’s visual upgrades look cohesive and attractive – none of this appears bolted on. The larger wheels give the Elantra a better stance, and the small tweaks to the front fascia are more attractive than what’s offered on the base car. All in, the Sport updo makes for a very handsome Elantra – in no way boy-racer, but with a lot more flair than your average Hyundai.
  • It’s a pleasant car to live with, too. The interior is the same as every other Elantra, save the flat-bottom steering wheel (I still don’t really know why this is a thing for non-race car applications) and red accent stitching. This is a quiet, well-appointed cabin, with standard features like heated leather seats, pushbutton start, and a seven-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Only one option pack is available, which adds an eight-inch display with navigation and a premium audio system. It’s priced right, too – $21,650 on the base end, or as much as $25,985 with the DCT, Premium Package, and $835 for destination.

Cons

  • You can get either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and I’m honestly not sure which is better. The manual shifter has a vague action, and coupled with a light clutch, it’s not super pleasant to use. The DCT seems to work fine enough, though I wasn’t able to drive it for a long period of time. Neither transmission option really conjures up positive emotions.
  • The steering ratio is improved slightly, from 14.0:1 in the base car to 13.7:1 in the Sport, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Hyundai’s typically numb steering feel is very much present in the Sport, with a big dead spot on-center and not a lot of weight or feedback while turning. Pleasant and peppy as this Elantra Sport is, I’d still rather toss a Mazda3 around an autocross circuit. I’ll probably feel the same way in everyday driving, too – I’ll get back to you after I can get a more thorough test of the Sport, and one that doesn’t just involve lots of autocross time and a few laps around the Tire Rack headquarters.

Competitors

 

Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com

2017 HYUNDAI ELANTRA SPORT

Engine Turbocharged 1.6-Liter I4
Output 201 Horsepower / 195 Pound-Feet
Transmission 7-Speed DCT
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive
Weight 3,000 Pounds (est.)
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 14.4 Cubic Feet
Base Price $21,650
As-Tested Price $25,985

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