Hyundai is known for many things – practicality, affordability, value, fun-to-drive – but performance usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the Korean auto giant.
Well, as we learned earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show with the reveal of the company’s forthcoming N performance brand, that perception is likely to change in the coming years.
I’m not here to suggest that the soon-to-arrive 2017 Elantra Sport is in any way connected to what we’ll eventually see from N, but the car does make me wonder about what’s to come because the Elantra Sport is a pretty impressive performance car.
To me it’s a small performance car done right, and what convinced me of that is not solely its performance profile, which has solid credentials, but rather the manner in which Hyundai is packaging it.
What I mean by packaging is the Sport has lots of bespoke content that isn’t available on other Elantras, and it starts under the hood where Hyundai has removed the 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle four-banger used across the rest of the range in favour of a 1.6-litre, direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque.
Same goes for the available gearboxes, where the 6-speed manual available on the base car is joined by a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). The latter is unique to the Sport.
The Sport is also loaded with unique design details that separate it from other Elantras including, among other things, a unique black chrome front grille, standard HID headlights, LED daytime running lights, dual chrome exhaust outlets, and 18-inch wheels wrapped in Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 high performance tires.
The inside is similarly treated with several unique design cues including a heated, flat-bottomed steering wheel, Sport embroidered leather and heated front seats with extra side bolstering, sport instrument cluster and alloy pedals, among other details.
Earlier this week, Hyundai Canada made two pre-production copies (one manual, one DCT) available to a small group of auto journalists for the purposes of thrashing them around a parking lot autocross course in suburban Toronto.
Because my total seat time was less than 15 minutes and didn’t include any on-road driving, my impressions are somewhat limited, but here are a few takeaways from my brief encounter.
First, the Sport’s handling feels very tight and dialed in while being driven hard. Body roll is well-controlled with minimal understeer. Good news for any front-driving car.
Once again, credit Hyundai for swapping out the stock suspension in favour of a sturdier set-up with an independent multi-link rear suspension and thicker front and rear stabilizer bars. The steering gear ratio has also been adjusted for shorter lock-to-lock and a more direct feel.
Second, the six-speed manual (I didn’t have time to drive the DCT) works beautifully with the 1.6L turbo. The clutch is smooth and easy, shifts are quick and precise and acceleration is quite responsive.
As I said, the autocross course gave me only a pinhole perspective of the car. It’s lots of fun to whip around cones in second gear, but how it performs in normal (and less spirited) driving circumstances is something I have yet to experience.
That said, the Elantra Sport feels like a winner to me.
As one of the Hyundai public relations reps said to our group, it’s not designed to be a Civic Type R or Focus RS challenger. Fair enough, but it is an intriguing option for those who are in the market for a compact car but want more performance.
For those buyers, the Elantra Sport is well worth considering, especially when Hyundai’s high-content, affordable price strategy is taken into account. As I said at the outset, in order to be successful special models need to be clearly separated from the rest of the line and Hyundai has achieved that with the Elantra Sport.
I look forward to driving it again once it arrives on the press fleet later this fall for a more thorough evaluation, but in the meantime I can say there’s a lot of car here for the money.
That value proposition, combined with its performance, ought to please potential buyers and worry the competition.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
BASE PRICE: $24,999 / 26,499 (DCT)
ENGINE: 1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 201 hp @ 6,000 rpm (est.)
TORQUE: 195 lb-ft. @ 1,500 – 4,500 rpm (est.)
CURB WEIGHT: 1,380 – 1,390 kg (manual), 1,410 –1,420 kg (DCT)
CONFIGURATION: front engine, front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual, 7-speed DCT
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 10.7 / 7.8 (manual), 8.9 / 7.0 (DCT)
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Honda Civic Touring, Nissan Sentra SR Turbo, Volkswagen Golf GTI
Photography by Lee Bailie