Can Hyundai’s sport-tuned Elantra stand with Honda’s latest in a line of brilliant Si sedans?

– Detroit, Michigan

The “hot hatch” game circa 2017 offers far more impressive performance than ever, with riotously quick combatants like the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, etc.

In fact, the sheer power and expense in that top rank of tuned compacts has opened up a fuller secondary class of warmed up versions of mainstream small cars. The Honda Civic Si, newly redesigned for 2017, now resides here. And while the Si has, of course, traditional rivals like the VW GTI, Hyundai has a surprisingly tight competitor as well: the Elantra Sport.

Both the Sport and the Si rock small-displacement turbocharged engines, and match up really nicely if you glance at the spec sheet and pricing. But which of the two best blends anytime thrills with everyday liveability? Let’s find out.

Powertrain

2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Honda: The Civic Si uses a tuned version of the turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that you can find in the mainstream Civic, here making 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, and connected to the only transmission available, a slick six-speed manual. The engine spins to life and up to redline really quickly, but without much torque steer on dry roads. Even with very similar outputs, it immediately feels quicker than the Elantra, in no small part, I’m sure, because of the far more enthusiastic exhaust note.

I do my damnedest not to over-estimate my enthusiasm for the engine because the Honda has a manual while the Hyundai is equipped with the optional automatic. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that clutch and gearlever action is nearly perfect.

Hyundai: The Elantra Sport makes a little bit more torque, 195 lb-ft, and a little less horsepower, 201, from its slightly larger 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder engine. Power delivery is far smoother in this car than the Si, with the tradeoff being a less-immediate throttle response. And where the Si is unafraid to go for a slightly raucous, pointed exhaust note, the Sport offers a quiet, droning emission from its tailpipe, even with the throttle wide open.

The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic doesn’t suit what I’m looking for in a sporty sedan very well, though it’s painless in daily driving situations. Hyundai does offer a six-speed manual of its own – and I’ve driven an Elantra so equipped. While I like the manual/Sport combination better, it doesn’t touch the Civic’s stick shift for driving pleasure. It’s worth mentioning that if you really want an automatic transmission, Honda doesn’t offer one in the Civic Si.

Advantage: Honda Civic Si

Ride and Handling

2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Honda: The all-season rubber (Goodyear Eagle Sport 235/40R18) equipped on the Si is less aggressive than the Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 (225/40R/18) tires on the Sport, even though they’re a little wider. This showed out on the slightly wet streets of Detroit, as the Civic squealed a little more in the same corners than did the Elantra. (Honda will equip your Si with dedicated summer tires for an extra $200, which might even this out.)

Suspension response to multiple corners was light years faster and more fluid in the Si than the Sport. This car thrives on quick changes of direction, where its fellow merely executes them. What’s more, even with the drive mode set to Sport, the Honda doesn’t punish its driver over broken roads or the occasional pothole. That balance of great ride quality with exceptional suspension response makes the Civic a really liveable performance car.

The helical limited slip differential is a huge differentiator in this category, too, allowing the Si punch coming out of corners that the Elantra is hard-pressed to match.

Hyundai: Just like the Civic, the Elantra has big 18-inch wheels that I expected to make the car a little crashy on the horrible road surfaces around our office. And just like the Civic, I was wrong here. Ride quality is excellent, and as I discussed with the tires, grip is quite powerful.

But the Hyundai isn’t particularly joyful when being thrown from turn to turn. The suspension soaks up impacts and keeps the Elantra on a steady trajectory, but feels heavy and slow compared to the Honda setup.

Advantage: Honda Civic Si

Styling

2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Honda: The Si takes the already slightly polarizing looks of the 10th generation Civic, and turns the volume up. The 18-inch wheels fill out the wells nicely, and the wide lip spoiler leaves no doubt about the fact that this is the “sporty” version of the car. I think the sharply creased styling is kind of cool and Japanese, but there’s no question that some people don’t… eh… get it.

Hyundai: Here we have a modern, clean sedan profile, with smoother detailing and what I can safely say is a much more universal appeal. At least, there’s less here for a buyer to find “weird.” The sportiness is telegraphed a bit more quietly with the Elantra Sport, but the bigger wheels (18-inchers here, too), updated front fascia, and rear diffuser do give the car a little edge. It’s always hard to guess what people will find attractive, but the Sport certainly has the more grown-up appeal.

Advantage: Hyundai Elantra Sport

Interior and Practicality

2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Honda: One of the “functions” of a warmed-up model is to excite the driver. If you buy that, you’ll probably be more intrigued with the Civic Si cabin, than with the duller, more mainstream Elantra. The Honda’s much more aggressive bucket seats alone speak to this, though if you don’t fit in them well, they might kill a few deals.

On the other practical fronts – space, ergonomics, fuel economy – Honda nearly runs the table (only the goofy volume controls let it down). Add to that class-leading fuel economy – don’t front on 38 miles per gallon highway – a bigger trunk, and more interior volume, and this category gets pretty easy to call.

Hyundai: The Elantra Sport feels a generation away from the Civic in terms of interior design and refinement. That doesn’t mean the cabin is a bad place to spend time – it’s comfortable, feature rich, and offers leather seats to trump the Honda’s cloth. But neither the controls nor the styling do much to encourage or support quick corners.

Advantage: Honda Civic Si

Price

2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Honda: Pricing is very close: You’ll spend around $25,000 for roughly equivalent examples of these cars. I think it’s important that the money spent on Civic Si goes in larger measure to things you want on a performance car: that limited-slip diff, racing-style seats, a better exhaust, and more sophisticated suspension.

There are a few convenience items here, too. Honda gives you two more speakers (10) and 450 watts of power for the stereo, and the very handy Lane Watch camera on the side mirror.

Hyundai: Standout features for Elantra Sport include a larger infotainment screen (eight- vs. seven-inches), and the aforementioned leather seats and available automatic transmission. According to the handy “5-Year Cost To Own” calculator, the Elantra Sport should have lower running costs than the Civic Si, too (the Honda hasn’t been officially rated yet, but Sport is class-leading when measured against a Civic Touring).

But Hyundai’s ultimate trump card may still be its amazing warranty: 10 years or 10,000 miles on the powertrain, and 5 years or 50,000 miles for the vehicle, handily best Honda’s assurances of 5 years / 60k miles powertrain and 3 years / 36k vehicle.

Advantage: Hyundai Elantra Sport

The Verdict

2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
2017 Honda Civic Si vs. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Hyundai has tuned its very nice Elantra into a competent, warmed-up sedan with the Sport model. But everything about the car still feels oriented towards daily drivers more than enthusiast thrill seekers. Honda, meanwhile, has created yet another accessible driver’s car with its latest iteration of Si. Not only does the Civic take you from apex to apex more quickly than the Hyundai, but it does so with more visceral feeling and higher levels of feedback. While the gap between Elantra Sport and Civic Si is smaller than I predicted, there’s no question which vehicle I’d sooner put in my garage.

Winner: Honda Civic Si

 

  2017 HONDA CIVIC SI 2017 HYUNDAI ELANTRA SPORT
ENGINE Turbocharged 1.5-Liter I4 Turbocharged 1.6-Liter I4
OUTPUT 205 Horsepower / 192 Pound-Feet 201 Horsepower / 195 Pound-Feet
TRANSMISSION 6-Speed Manual 7-Speed DCT
FUEL ECONOMY 28 City / 38 Highway / 32 Combined 26 City / 33 Highway / 29 Combined
DRIVE TYPE Front-Wheel Drive Front-Wheel Drive
WEIGHT 2,906 Pounds 3,000 Pounds (est.)
SEATING 5 5
CARGO CAPACITY 14.7 Cubic Feet 14.4 Cubic Feet
BASE PRICE $23,900 $22,750
AS-TESTED PRICE $24,775 $26,110


Photos:
James Bradbury / Motor1.com

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