Hyundai was aware of this from the outset. The product plan includes the Sport model you see here, intended to inject some life into what is otherwise a rather milquetoast car. On paper, everything looks good and all of the right boxes are checked, including more power and a tighter suspension. Hyundai was clear that this is far more than just an appearance package like the previous generation's Sport trim.
As such, the new Elantra Sport is fitted with a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged engine mated to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual clutch automatic. A revised suspension replaces the standard torsion-beam rear axle with a fully independent multi-link rear setup, paired with bigger brakes, wheels, and tires. Other accoutrements, like sport seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, are also included. Check, check, check.
The Elantra Sport with a manual transmission starts at $21,650 before destination and, sitting just below the top-of-the-range Limited model, comes very well equipped for the price. Heated leather seats are standard, as are HID headlights, keyless entry and ignition, and a seven-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That's a lot of equipment for a car in this size and price range.
The only option on both the manual and paddle-shifted DCT model (that one starts at $22,750) is the $2,400 Premium Package. It adds an extra inch to the display, navigation, an eight-speaker Infinity sound system, Hyundai's Blue Link connectivity, a sunroof, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, dual automatic climate control with an auto defogger, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and a compass.
Lots of checks in lots of boxes at a reasonable price point and a long warranty has been Hyundai's modus operandi for a while now, and that's fine for most of its models. It's the case with the non-Sport Elantra, which is packed with features but otherwise makes us shrug. The Sport may not be a revolution, but it is a lot of fun to drive.
Hyundai hosted media at the Tire Rack test track to show off the Elantra Sport's autocross skills. And those skills turn out to be good and consistent. In turns, there is mild understeer but nothing out of the ordinary for a front-wheel-drive sedan. Body roll is present in a predictable, stable way, and the front seats do an admirable job of keeping you locked in place. The engine feels strong throughout the rev range, aided by the 195 pound-feet of torque that peaks early, at 1,500 rpm. It won't blow your socks off, but it will put a smile on your face. And for a small-displacement four-cylinder, the engine sounds pretty good - sporty note without droning.
On the roads outside the Tire Rack's South Bend, Indiana, headquarters, the Elantra Sport feels more composed than previous sport-themed Hyundais. In the past, Korean cars with performance intentions had suspensions that were stiff and punishing. That's not the case here. The Elantra Sport does a good job of telegraphing the road surface without causing back pain. It's a nice balance between fun and comfortable, which seems well suited to this car's mission.
Unfortunately, all the work in the suspension doesn't translate to the steering. While the rack is quick enough and weighted well, there is next to no feedback. It feels like there's a disconnect between the tires on the road and the inputs through your hands. There are lots of possible causes, from the electric power steering to the all-season Hankook Ventus S1 Noble² tires, but the result is a wheel that doesn't inspire harder charging.
The same is true of the clutch pedal on the manual transmission. While we're glad it's available, the light clutch didn't translate much feel. The same goes for the shifter. Just be glad that Hyundai is still offering a three-pedal setup. The manual isn't great, but it's not horrible either.
Actually, that's also true of the DCT, though we were only given the opportunity to drive it on the road. Shifts are quick, but it's no Volkswagen DSG. It's a fine transmission and an improvement over the version that resides underneath the Hyundai Veloster, but Hyundai is still lagging behind the best-in-class dual-clutches.
Aside from being the best-driving version of the Elantra, the Sport is also the best looking version. This trim, in addition to the larger 18-inch wheels, adds unique front and rear fascias and some new side skirts. The front has LED daytime running lights with a grille unique to the Sport and a red "turbo" badge. Out back, the handsome LED taillights add amber turn signals. Overall, the design is athletic without being over-the-top. It looks good and is unlikely to offend.
Inside, the Elantra Sport comes only in black with red stitching. The materials are the same or similar to what's found in other trim levels, which is a good thing. All of the buttons and switches feel good to the touch, and the design, like the exterior, is handsome and conservative.
The standard Elantra is a perfectly adequate sedan that packs a lot but fails to leave a lasting impression. The Sport goes a long way towards injecting some life into the car, though it's not perfect. While the Elantra Sport undercuts cars like the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen GTI on price, it can't quite match those two on the performance front. Hyundai sees this as more of a Mazda3 or non-Si Honda Civic alternative, and on that front it makes more sense. While the Hyundai isn't the best performer in the segment, it's far from the worst, and worth a look if you're shopping for something that's reasonably fun, affordable, and well-equipped.