Many good things in life fly just under the radar. Like the other day when I went to lunch at work, and noticed a bright blue Hyundai Elantra parked out front. The color caught my eye, but I figured it was just another Elantra. Then I noticed the wheels, the slightly aggressive body styling, and the dual exhaust tips protruding from the diffuser-looking rear valance. I thought to myself, “Damn, Hyundai is really trying to make the Elantra look like a performance model.” I saw the word “Sport” displayed on the back, and the subtle “Turbo” badge on the front grill. That prompted me to get out my phone and Google the Elantra Sport over lunch. What I found out was very intriguing.
I happen to be in a stage where I’m sort of doing some early car shopping to replace my Volkswagen CC in the next year. I want to try out my options and see where I want to go with my next car, and hold out for the right deal. The Hyundai Elantra Sport really piqued my interest when I first looked into it, so I wanted to go try one out to see if it was a worthy option for me as a daily driver.
Cheap cars are tough to execute because there isn’t room for a whole lot of fluff. Most cheap cars tend to focus on one task and let all other tasks come secondary. Take the Ford Fiesta ST, it’s bat shit awesome to drive, but it’s not particularly nice inside or comfortable to drive. In the sub-$25k range, most cars need to pick and choose their battles. It’s usually only when you get something up near $30k that the compromises seem to disappear.
Hyundai has made it their crusade in the last decade to offer real value in every segment of the market they touch. You can tell when you drive their cars that their development team focuses on an ambitious checklist of features, and delivers a product that absolutely dominates any apples-to-apples comparison on paper. Every Hyundai I’ve driven has left me thinking the same thing, “It’s not perfect, but it is one hell of a value.” They’ve focused on appealing to rational buyers, and they’ve been steadily improving everything else as they go. Not a bad approach at all, especially when you consider the Hyundai of the early 2000s.
In simple terms the Hyundai Elantra Sport is like a VW Jetta GLI for the price of a Jetta Sport 1.8T. It’s a true sub-$25k car, and comes very well equipped as standard. If I do get an Elantra Sport, I plan to forego the Premium Package, but I will need one with the dual-clutch transmission. Again, this would be my daily commuter, and my girlfriend needs to be able to borrow it from time to time. I still have my Miata and my STi if I want maximum driving involvement.
With that in mind, I’m looking at this car as a fun daily commuter when I also have more serious fun cars to drive on the weekends. If you’re an enthusiast looking for your only car, I’ll say right now that I a Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Civic Si, VW GTI, VW GLI, or a WRX are better, more legit, options. But for someone in my situation, the Elantra Sport has some very real advantages.
Things I like about the Elantra Sport as a daily driver:
It makes its 201hp on regular 87 octane.
My commute is around 70 miles per day, and right now all of my cars take at least 91 octane. Regular is noticeably cheaper, adding up to a few hundred dollars per year. Most fun cars are tuned to take premium fuel, so for my purposes the Elantra’s ability to take regular is a big plus.
The Elantra Sport comes standard with the features that nickel and dime you on most other cars.
A sunroof, leather heated seats with red stitching, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, HID headlights, back up camera, satellite radio, and a proximity key are all included. It’s a genuinely nice car inside, not relatively spartan like the Civic Sport I drove recently. I’d actually have more features in a base Elantra Sport than I have now in my CC. I’ve also never owned a car with a sunroof, so that would be nice too.
It’s got a lot of space for such a small car.
I’m 5’11 and fairly hefty and I had a good amount of room in the back seat with the driver seat all the way back. The Elantra’s trunk is also quite big with lots of usable space. It’s a small car, but its design is kind of like a bubble, so there’s a lot more room than you’d expect.
The DCT transmission was more than passable
This was the big question for me, and why I wanted to go test the Elantra Sport for myself. A transmission can make or break an otherwise decent car, and Hyundai hasn’t been doing dual-clutches for that long. This definitely isn’t the best dual clutch I’ve experienced, but it’s also far from the worst. I actually liked this gearbox’s programming in D a lot better than my CC’s DSG, which takes forever to downshift when you give it throttle. The Elantra’s trans in automatic mode is a lot more responsive to the gas pedal during casual driving.
During aggressive driving, the Elantra’s DCT fires off shifts pretty crisply when you use the paddle shifters. It’s not quite instantaneous, and it doesn’t feel directly mechanical like it does in, say, an Alfa 4C, but this is a sporty economy car we’re talking about here. I’m okay if it feels like I’m pressing a button in a car like this so long as the button makes the car do what it’s being told. It didn’t leave me waiting for shifts, and it was pretty darn smooth overall. That’s all I need here, and the Elantra delivered.
I’ve also heard the manual is kind of flimsy, not crisp-shifting like in a Honda or a Mazda, so maybe the DCT is the way to go anyway.
The Elantra Sport’s chassis is extremely solid
A lot of people still seem to see Hyundais as cheap flimsy cars, but I can tell you that the sure-footedness of the Elantra Sport is impressive by all standards. It’s solid as hell on the highway at speed, and it stays tight and composed when taking corners aggressively. It doesn’t have a full high performance setup, but I think it’s an enjoyable 8/10ths car to play with on your way around everyday life. It has more than enough handling prowess to enjoy a winding road, and that’s all I’m looking for in a daily driver.
That 1.6L Turbo engine is strong and exciting
200hp is 200hp, but how an engine makes its power is all-important to the driving experience. The Elantra Sport feels turbocharged. It takes a little time for boost to build, but it’s exciting when it hits. This car has a killer mid-range, and it’s definitely fast enough to get you in trouble if you’re not careful. It’s not terribly fast by performance car standards, but it’s plenty quick to enjoy, and it has enough power to squirt itself around in traffic.
The engine has some aural presence as the revs climb. I can’t say it’s a particularly good sound, but the sound is there. Hyundai has also given the Elantra Sport a little exhaust work, so it has a nice purr from outside the cabin. Supposedly it even has some pop-pops if you rev it high, but I didn’t personally hear them. The exhaust is a nice touch, but of course it could always use a little more from the aftermarket.
I like its handsome, yet subtle swagger
The Elantra Sport speaks softly and carries a surprisingly big stick. I think the flow of the Elantra’s design is fairly pretty, especially by economy car standards, and I think the wheels and sportier body styling make the Sport the best-looking of the Elantra range. Like my initial encounter with it, most people won’t look past the fact that it’s a Hyundai Elantra, so it has some sleeper status to it. I kind of like the idea of it being my little secret on the road. It definitely won’t beat a WRX or a Civic Si, but it will make them wonder why the little blue Hyundai is able to keep up.
What would I change about the Elantra Sport?
Overall, there’s not much to improve on as a fun daily driven sedan. Hyundai has nailed every checkbox on their list for this car. My criticisms are more about how they could sharpen the car to make it much more appealing to enthusiasts, where it would be worthy to be their only car.
They haven’t fully committed to branding it as a performance model.
This is a bit gimmicky, but it does matter to many car enthusiasts. The fact that this car appears to be just an Elantra may make the Elantra Sport seem a lot more lackluster than it really is. I mean, we’ve all seen the Toyota Corolla “Sport” or even the previous generation Elantra “Sport” and those cars were a total joke. There was nothing even remotely “sport” about them. Now this new Elantra Sport comes with actual performance credentials, but it still shares the exact same name. How would anyone know it’s no longer a joke?
They should’ve called it the “Elantra Turbo” or something like that, and really put the marketing in to distinguish the car in the public eye. The fact that I never heard of it before I saw one shows that Hyundai isn’t really pushing the Elantra’s performance image to hard. Even just having another “Turbo” badge or two around the car would help some.
That said, the Elantra Sport’s lack of notoriety may work in my favor. If I do wind up getting one it won’t set off as many red flags when I go to insure it like a GTI or a WRX would.
The steering feels a bit artificial
The Elantra Sport’s steering is decent enough for what it is, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. The steering is quick and responsive enough to make the car feel lively, but there’s no sense of any connection to the road whatsoever. Steering weight increases when you put the car in sport mode, but it never really feels natural. Steering is very important in a driver-oriented sports car because people want to be able to sense the road surface through their fingertips. It’s a calibration issue, and Hyundai’s engineers need to find a way to adjust the electric power assist to let more feel come through.
The handling is held back
Hyundai’s seeming lack of commitment to making the Elantra Sport a full performance model is evident when you really push it hard. This is where the Honda Civics, both the Sport and Si, have the Hyundai beat. There’s a level of composure in the Hondas as you push harder and harder that wasn’t in the Elantra, or any other Hyundais I’ve driven. That said, Honda has had their hands in racing for many decades, whereas Hyundai just started making fun cars less than a decade ago. There is still much for Hyundai to learn in the handling department, but a limited slip differential up front, and some sharp chassis tuning would go a long way to really button this thing up.
If Hyundai made the Elantra Sport handle as well as the fun Civics, then we’d really have a 10/10 here. The Elantra Sport is fun enough for real world twisties, but I’d like to see it be autocross and track worthy.
The gearbox, while good, could be a lot sharper
If Hyundai wants to make the the Elantra Sport a proper driver’s car, then they need to tune the gearbox to respond instantly to shifts in manual mode. The aim here is to make it feel more like you’re actually shifting the gears mechanically, and not just pressing a button that tells the computer to shift. They also need to get rid of it shifting automatically when in manual mode altogether. I thought the car’s transmission worked great in normal D, but when I select sport mode and manual mode together, I want full control. No ifs, and’s or buts about it.
How’s the Elantra Sport for normal carbuyers?
As an avid car enthusiast myself, I tend to look at a car like the Elantra Sport through that lense because Hyundai has tried to touch my world with it. The truth is, the Elantra Sport should be just as appealing to normal buyers. It is essentially the best overall Elantra that Hyundai makes, and you don’t have to want to drive fast to enjoy it.
The next most powerful Elantra only has 147hp, barely enough to merge on many highways safely. Meanwhile, the Elantra Sport’s 201hp gives it ample punch to do anything it needs to on the road. It can also see MPG in the mid 30-range, according to driver’s reports on Fuelly, so the extra power doesn’t come with too much efficiency sacrifice. It’s also really nicely equipped as standard, and comfortable on the road. The Sport is hardly the bare-bones econo-box most people think of when they see an Elantra. It’s a real car at a hell of a value, whether you’re car enthusiast or not.
Dollars and sense
The Elantra Sport starts around $22,000 with the manual transmission, and just under $24,000 with the DCT equipped. That said, there seems to be a lot of deals out there if you look around, even cars being listed under $20,000. There are also good lease deals available on Elantra Sports with payments around or under $200/month. The Elantra Sport is a very affordable car, especially when you consider how good it is at pretty much everything.
As I said before, I don’t see the Elantra Sport as the option most car enthusiasts would choose as their only car, but I do see it as an excellent option for enthusiasts with multiple cars who want a fun, practical and affordable daily driver. It’s also the best Elantra for any normal carbuyer who wants the most car for the money.
The Hyundai Elantra Sport is one of the most complete cars you can buy for less than $25,000 out the door. It’s one of the few new cars out there that offers a genuine value for money on the showroom floor.
For my own considerations, I’m comparing the Elantra Sport to the Honda Civic Hatchback Sport and the Volkswagen Jetta Sport. Sidenote: It’s funny how all the cars in this diet performance car segment happened to be called “Sport.” I like how they all have genuine performance merits, but also manage to fly under the radar more than the actual performance models like the Civic Si and Jetta GLI.
Overall, I like how the Hyundai Elantra Sport comes much more well equipped than the Civic Sport at a similar price, and I think its dual clutch gearbox is more rewarding than the Honda’s CVT. Compared to the Jetta Sport, I think the Hyundai has performance merits much closer to those of the Jetta GLI, but I love that the Elantra can also still run regular gas.
Being a daily driver, whatever car I buy needs to be an effective mode of transportation first, and have driving enjoyment come as a close second. If you can agree with those priorities, then I can promise you the Elantra Sport is definitely worth a serious look.
I’m pretty blown away by how far Hyundai has come, even since the Veloster Turbo I drove a few years back. The Elantra Sport is a genuinely solid car, probably one of the most complete cars you can buy for the money, enthusiast or not.
Whether I decide to pick one of these up as a daily, or not, I’d absolutely recommend one. It’s rather quiet about its own merits, but I think that adds more than it subtracts overall. The Hyundai Elantra Sport is a serious contender.
If you didn’t already know, now you do.
MoM Score: Hyundai Elantra Sport DCT
Primary Function: Practicality: 2
Secondary Functions: Performance(2) Luxury(2) MPG(2): 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 9 /10