It's no Focus ST fighter, but the new Hyundai Elantra Sport has enough in the way of suspension and engine upgrades to make it a very entertaining daily driver.
Slick-looking exterior design tweaks
Impressive manual transmission
Advanced safety features not available
Sunroof part of a pricey options package
Steering lacks feedback
2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
For 2017, Hyundai has given its best-selling sedan, the Elantra, a complete makeover. But the Korean manufacturer saved the best for last with the introduction of a model where the "Sport" name is a bit more than skin deep.
Although it remains somewhat of a generic-looking sedan, there are a few notable changes that separate the Sport trim from more mundane Elantras.
Up front, the fascia is more aggressive-looking. It sports a unique grille, horizontal LED running lights and model-specific, standard HID high/low headlights. Along the sides, Sport models are set apart with prominent lower sill extensions and standard 18-inch alloys shod in ultra high performance, all season, Hankook Ventus S1 Noble tires.
In back, the differences include LED taillights with their own signature shape. Lower down, a unique rear diffuser features passenger-side dual chrome exhaust outlets.
Model differences inside include unique door trim panels; standard leather seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob and a leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel are all trimmed with red stitching. The aggressively-bolstered heated front sport seats face a sport instrument cluster with center TFT display, while alloy pedals, a black headliner, and a proximity key with push-button start are also standard.
The soft touch upper dash is nice enough, but the hard plastic lower dash and door panels plus various other trim bits are decidedly low rent when compared to either the Mazda Mazda3 or the Volkswagen Golf.
The infotainment system is built around a standard 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The optional Premium Package substitutes an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation and an 8-speaker Infinity audio system. A tilt and slide sunroof, dual automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and Hyundai's Blue Link connectivity system are also included in the package.
Under the hood
The 2016 Elantra Sport's 173 horsepower, 2.0-liter, normally aspirated inline-4 only brought an additional 28 horsepower to the table. For 2017, more plebian Elantras get a boost in horsepower to 147, while the Elantra Sport receives a 1.6-liter direct injection turbo shared with the Veloster and Sonata that, in this Elantra, produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. That's an increase of 54 horsepower, while the additional 63 lb-ft of torque is available between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm – a very useful range for around-town driving.
Two transmissions are available: a standard 6-speed manual or optional 7-speed dual clutch that also includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
EPA estimates for models equipped with a 6-speed manual are 22/30/25 city/highway/combined mpg and 26/33/29 city/highway/combined when equipped with the 7-speed dual clutch automatic. Our own observed fuel economy was 23.6 miles per gallon, which actually bested EPA estimates, in some very spirited (what would you expect) around town driving.
Chassis and suspension
In addition to more power under the hood, the Sport model dumps the simple rear torsion beam suspension found in the rest of the Elantra lineup. Here you'll find a more sophisticated multi-link setup. Hyundai has also added a larger front stabilizer bar, a rear stabilizer bar, and higher spring and damper rates all around. The steering ratio is also quicker, while larger front brake rotors and model-specific 18-inch alloy wheels are also fitted.
Sharing a number of upgrades with the rest of the Elantra lineup, the Sport also features a more rigid chassis. It's manufactured using 53 percent advanced high-strength steel, compared to 21 percent for the outgoing model. How the body is assembled also differs from the outgoing model. For the 2016 model year, the body of the Elantra featured approximately 10 feet of glue bead, while nearly 394 feet of adhesives is used in constructing the latest one.
On the road
Those changes make the latest Sport the most entertaining Elantra we've ever driven. Point it straight down the road and the new suspension offers a firm yet forgiving ride over rough pavement that's well controlled. Hit the accelerator and there's no apparent turbo lag. The brake pedal offers a lot of feedback and there's a nice initial bite to the pads and it's easy to modulate the brakes when stopping. Furthermore, the manual transmission is especially involving, with nice short throws and a slick action.
On the other hand, for a sporty model we found there to be quite a bit of body lean in corners. In addition, while the steering is improved over more mundane Elantras that often feel artificially weighted, the one found on the Sport still doesn't offer much in the way of feedback to the driver.
The fact is that the Elantra Sport doesn't come close to the Ford Focus ST – unless the difference in price matters and you're comparing the list of standard features. If price does matter, you should also consider the fact that the Sport can't match the performance and handling of a Mazda Mazda3.
In addition to those features previously mentioned, standard equipment includes power windows (with driver's auto-down), locks and outside mirrors; air conditioning, automatic headlights, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, dual USB ports, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and heated outside mirrors.
There's only one option offered. The Sport Premium Package, priced at $2,400, includes a larger 8-inch touchscreen, navigation, Infinity audio system, power sunroof, dual automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Hyundai's Blue Link connectivity system, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.
Advanced active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights are not available on the Elantra Sport.
2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport prices
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport sedan, including an $835 destination charge, starts at $22,485 for the 6-speed manual and can top out at over $26,000 for a fully optioned-and-accessorized example equipped with the 7-speed dual clutch automatic.
Our Black Noir Pearl 6-speed manual tester had a base price of $21.650. It also came with the Sport Premium Package and a set of $125 front and rear floor mats. Adding its $835 destination fee brought the total MSRP to $25,010.
The Bottom Line
We found many things to like about the latest Elantra Sport. It has a smooth ride, a responsive engine, and a slick 6-speed manual transmission.
On the other hand, not only can't it touch the Focus ST, its overall handling also falls well short of Mazda's Mazda3.
But buyers looking for a compact sedan that offers a lot of bang for the buck that's a pleasant and fun daily driver will find the Elantra Sport to be a step up from the likes of softly-sprung compacts such as the Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, and Toyota Corolla.