Christopher Little

Fully Independent: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

With the launch of the all-new Elantra, Hyundai had a stiffer and lighter platform to build on. That paid great dividends in the handling department. And a host of technology and features, including Apple Car Play and Android Auto, give Hyundai’s #1 selling vehicle and upmarket feel. But Hyundai’s efficiency-conscious 2.0L and eco-minded 1.6T just didn’t excite.

The concept is simple and replicated throughout the segment. Take your compact sedan, throw in a more powerful engine, slightly stiffen the suspension, and give it some visual attitude. The result often appeals well to the enthusiast crowd. Just look at the Honda Civic Si and VW Jetta GLI for proof. At the media launch, Hyundai made mention of a more athletic Elantra. They focused on the development of an all-new rear suspension. Later in the evening, after sampling the Elantra Eco, I asked an engineer when they might use a dual-clutch in a sportier situation. Wait and see, he said. Wait we did and see we have. The 2017 Elantra Sport is Hyundai’s best sporty car yet.

The Elantra Sport differentiates itself visually with its darkened front grille, more aggressive front and rear fascias, and unique side skirts. The larger, multi-spoke wheels and unique LED running lights are also telltale signs that this particular Elantra packs some extra punch.  Inside, the Elantra Sport’s unique faux carbon-fiber trim is a subtle hint at it’s unique. The red accent stitching on the flat-bottom steering wheel, well-bolstered sport seats, and shift boot is a not-so-subtle reminder. The standard Elantra is a very good start and these revised touchpoints make a big impact on spending time in the car. One odd note, the speedometer changes its spacing after 120 mph, opting to cram the last 40 mph of readouts into less space than the rest. Once you notice it, it feels like a cheap attempt at getting a larger number on the dial.

Engineers stripped the Elantra of its torsion beam rear axle in favor of an independent multi-link setup. Like the Elantra Limited, 4-wheel disc brakes are standard, but the front rotors are enlarged for better performance. The Sport’s tires are also no wider than the Limited, but it rides on one inch larger wheels. These changes were necessitated by the Elantra Sport’s 1.6L turbocharged engine and optional 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. A healthy 201 hp and 195 lb-ft torque propel this Elantra forward with verve.  The extra 50 horsepower is a massive improvement, but it’s the additional 63 lb-ft torque over the Elantra Limited that makes the biggest difference. Peak torque arrives at just 1500 RPM, meaning the Sport feels punchy right off the line.

Our tester came with the optional seven-speed DCT in place of the standard six-speed manual. It’s a great transmission. However, it doesn’t always make the snappiest gear changes, especially when using the paddles. Sometimes it feels like it’s trying to act too much like there’s a torque converter in there somewhere. The vast majority of the time, snappy shifts help you forget the odd miscue, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I would have more fun with a 3rd pedal.

The new engine and transmission introduce some excitement into the Elantra’s experience, but it’s the all-new suspension and revised steering that seals the deal. The Elantra Sport grips unlike any other car in its class. It doesn’t feel like a front-drive platform, even in the tightest of corners. It’s worlds better than the Veloster Turbo. The stiffer chassis and fully-independent rear suspension pay huge dividends. The Elantra is planted and composed in all situations. The well-weighted steering and endless corner grip bring back the fun in highway on-ramps and twisting back roads. The ride over hard pavement is noticeably firmer than other Elantra models, but the Sport isn’t doesn’t get unsettled.

Consider the Elantra Sport one of the most surprising cars of 2017. The Sport makeover takes the very sensible and practical Elantra to a whole new level of involvement. Even more, the Sport costs less than a full-loaded Elantra Limited! With an extra dose of power and an all-new suspension setup, it has the performance to back up its nameplate. The tweaked styling and interior appointments complete the change. If you’ve thought about Jetta GLI or Honda Civic Si, definitely add the Elantra Sport into your considerations.

-Christopher Little

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
Premium Package $2,400
Carpeted Floor Mats $125
Destination Charges $835
As Tested MSRP $26,110

First Drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra
Quick Spin: 2017 Hyundai Elantra

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