Preview: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

For a short spell not long ago, the world seemed to be engulfed in the Pokémon GO phenomenon. Those who played it were obsessed, while the rest of us watched and scratched our heads. Just as quickly as it arrived, the fad seems to have simmered into the background of social awareness, and we’ve gotten on with our lives. 

Hyundai’s engineers have dialed the fun, raspy sound of the Sport up to the legal sound limits. 

Sure, it’s still popular amongst the many remaining enthusiasts actively capturing Pokémon creatures all over the planet, but it’s a more limited, if very passionate group now, not unlike those who buy sporty and affordable compact sedans.

Hyundai is looking to capture some of those passionate motorists with their upcoming Elantra Sport sedan – a turbocharged and tuned-up version of their acclaimed big-volume-selling compact sedan. Hyundai Canada invited a small group of journalists to an event they dubbed Hyundai Fun Day, which had us driving around the countryside northwest of Toronto in search of geocaching containers – a sort of Pokémon GO for grown-ups. 

While we were provided GLS trim Elantras for our drive – a car that’s comfortable, spacious and refined in its own right – the geocache we were all eagerly searching for was the location of the two pre-production Elantra Sport models Hyundai had hidden away. In reality, they were awaiting eager drivers to flog them through a small autocross course set up at a sports complex parking lot. Toward the end of the day, after most of my colleagues had had their chance to experience Hyundai’s sporty new offering, I was finally granted seat time for approximately one minute in each of the two prototype machines on hand – during which I learned a surprising amount about the new car.

The 2017 Elantra Sport builds significantly on the already excellent, new-for-2016 Elantra. Upon first glance, it’s easy to see Hyundai has styled the Sport trim more aggressively than other Elantras. The front-end fascia is more aggressive with a unique grille treatment and the headlights are standard high- and low-beam HID units. 18-inch wheels are shod with Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 high-performance all-season rubber. It would’ve been easy to tack on ridiculous wings and spoilers, but Hyundai’s designers should be commended for showing some restraint in the design of the Elantra Sport. 

In addition to deeper side skirts and rear fascia, the Sport is also identified from the tail by the twin, chrome-tipped exhaust. That last component is important not for its appearance, but because Hyundai’s engineers have dialed the fun, raspy sound of the Sport up to the legal sound limits. Ripping around the Powerade Centre arena parking lot in Brampton, the exhaust note bounced off the nearby walls to the delight of those of us waiting for our turn behind the wheel. 

It’s not just a lot of noise without the substance to back it up either. The 147 hp 2.0L I4 engine found in the more pedestrian Elantras has been replaced by a direct-injected 1.6L turbocharged four cylinder that puts out 201 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. This is plenty to hustle the little four-door around an autocross course with considerable enthusiasm, though some turbo lag and torque steer are both evident. 

Hyundai will offer the Elantra Sport with either a six-speed manual transmission, or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Both were on hand to try and the stick-shift’s action featured reasonably short throws and a clutch/throttle combination that played well together. Where some manual transmissions aren’t worth saving, this one is and makes for an engaging driving experience. 

It is difficult to evaluate the DCT in less than 60 seconds on an autocross course since it only shifted gears once or twice in that time, but off the line it did seem to be tripped up by the turbo lag more than I noticed in the stick-shift car. 

What is evident ripping around a parking lot, is how well Hyundai has tuned the steering on the Sport. The steering ratio itself is slightly quicker (2.6 turns lock-to-lock) and the Sport is an eager handler thanks to a multi-link rear suspension set-up (versus the non-Sport’s torsion-beam axle). The front stabilizer bar is beefier at 24 mm (2 mm wider) and a 15 mm rear stabilizer bar has been added. Front and rear spring rates are increased, as are the front and rear damper rates by an impressive 30 percent. How these changes affect the handling-versus-ride trade-off will need to be reserved for real-world testing in a full review. 

Inside, the Sport offers unique heated leather seats with more assertive bolstering, a heated, flat bottom steering wheel and sport instruments. Overall it looks of high quality; fit and finish, even on the pre-production cars we drove, is very good indeed. 

Hyundai will offer two different equipment levels for the Elantra Sport. At $24,999, the standard Elantra Sport is a great value with all the aforementioned performance (and styling) upgrades over the $22,699 Elantra GLS. For $27,499, the Elantra Sport Tech adds a premium sound system and navigation, and comes in just above the Elantra Limited to round out the upper end of the Elantra range. 

One other Elantra was announced during this year’s Hyundai Fun Day and that’s a $23,999 SE trim that adds several key advanced safety features (including lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert) plus heated (front and rear) leather seating to the well-equipped GLS trim. 

Hyundai seeks sales growth in the compact car segment, despite more and more buyers leaving the party in favour of compact SUVs and crossovers. Leveraging an improving brand perception and Hyundai’s hallmark value, it’s not surprising the Elantra has enjoyed a 6.6% sales increase this year despite the segment shrinking 6.8%. By expanding the lineup with higher value offerings like the SE trim and exciting additions like the new Sport, it appears Hyundai is on the right track with the Elantra.

These new Elantra models are available later this year at dealerships, and to catch one, no Pokémon GO or geocaching app is required.

Elantra lineup welcomes both higher-value and higher-performing versions 10/17/2016 6:00:00 AM