Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport is an almost complete surprise. For years, the Korean automaker has been content to leave its formidable, strong-selling compact sedan well enough alone when it comes to adding anything that might resemble high-performance hardware, watching politely from the sidelines as Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen armed their affordable commuter cars for the stoplight wars.

This is a vehicle that offers the complete package

That all changes for the current model year, which sees a refresh of the Elantra introduce the all-new Sport model and its turbocharged flair for fun. Whereas lesser models of the sedan stick to the established playbook of comfort, features, and style for less than what you’d pay elsewhere, Hyundai has blessed the Elantra Sport with a forced-induction drivetrain lifted from the Veloster Turbo, and revamped its chassis to help ensure that its driving dynamics match the promise of its advertised output.

That last sentence underscores what makes the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport such an effective implementation of the quick-and-nimble small car template. This is a vehicle that offers the complete package, rather than simply amping up torque, stiffening the springs, and calling it a day. Contrasted against both recent efforts from Nissan (the Sentra SR Turbo / NISMO) and older sport compact denizens, (the Volkswagen Jetta GLI), the Elantra Sport handsomely shows off the benefits of this comprehensive approach.

It starts under the hood, where the Hyundai Elantra Sport offers a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder unit that’s good for 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are substantially higher than what you will find in the base Elantra’s standard 2.0-liter, 147 horse mill, and while the Sport maintains the entry-level car’s six-speed manual gearbox, it replaces the six-speed autobox with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual as optional equipment.

If one were to judge the Elantra Sport exclusively with a stopwatch, there would be some disappointment: the car takes 7.5 seconds to reach 100 km/h, a figure that keeps it out of the “serious” sport sedan conversation and safely distant from more muscular (read: more expensive) compact pocket rockets. To rely on the numbers alone, however, ignores the vast improvement in drivability that the Sport’s turbo motor brings with it. Unlike the less-powerful Sentra NISMO, Hyundai’s four-cylinder shifts smoothly, doesn’t complain about being revved outside of its low rpm comfort zone (where most of its torque is generated), and offers a shifter feel that makes you want to reach for the next cog. In fact I often found myself moving the transmission between third and second simply so I could tap into the swell of power more effectively, rather than dumping it into a higher ratio for cruising purposes.

Fuel efficiency didn’t seem to suffer despite my bad behaviour, with the car delivering an observed 15 L/100 km in mixed driving that made heavy use of the lower end of the gearbox.

Having a strong heart doesn’t do a car any good if it’s paired with two – or four – left feet. It was with this in mind that Hyundai upgraded the Elantra Sport’s rear suspension from the plain vanilla torsion bar design found on all other versions of the vehicle to a multi-link setup that ensures that there won’t be any half-stepping out on the dance floor. The Sport pairs its revised geometry with more robust springs and shocks, as well as 18-inch wheels wrapped in genuine summer rubber, and quicker steering. Even with the winter tires installed on my mid-February tester the Elantra Sport felt planted and stable at all times, without sacrificing smoothness or comfort even over Montreal’s deplorably maintained roads – something that the larger and more cumbersome Jetta GLI has never been able to accomplish.

Hyundai has priced the Elantra Sport at an attainable $24,999, a sticker that’s substantially lower than next-step-up fare like the Subaru WRX and the Ford Focus ST. On top of its lively personality the Sport also offers visual cues to its insouciance, including dual exhaust tips, more aggressive front and rear bumper treatments, a rear spoiler, side skirts, and its own unique rim design. HID headlights and LED taillights are also along for the ride, as is a flat-bottom steering wheel, a special gauge cluster, and sport seats up front.

If you want to upgrade to navigation, automatic climate control, and a louder stereo system you’ll have to fork out another $2,500 for the Tech trim level, but I can’t really see why anyone would. Despite losing out on some of the regular Elantra’s luxuries (such as rear heated seats), the level of gear the Sport does provide is impressive for its price, and hits a sweet spot between value and performance.

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In fact, we recently found that though the Elantra Sport is priced closer to a Sentra SR Turbo, it offers many of the sportier visual cues offered by the more expensive Sentra NISMO.

That the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport straddles the line between inexpensive and fun so effortlessly masks the attention to detail that went into its engineering and design. Quick enough to be entertaining, inexpensive enough to be realistic for a wide spectrum of compact car buyers, and still just as practical and reliable as a garden-variety Elantra, the Sport fills a hole left by the previous-generation Honda Civic Si – only it does a better job all-around. At least until the latter returns to the Canadian market, the Hyundai Elantra Sport is the sub-$30k small sedan to beat for anyone who wants to inject a little adrenaline into their daily commute.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport MT
Engine Displacement: 1.6L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 201 hp
Peak Torque: 195 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 10.7/9.4/7.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 407 L
2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport MT
Base Price $24,999
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $26,794
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.9
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
9 Value