Hyundai Elantra Sport — Big gain in performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Manufacturers are starting to give small car buyers a choice of powertrains. As an example it’s something that both Nissan and Hyundai have done for the 2017 model year. The standard Nissan Sentra gets a 1.8-liter, 130 horsepower engine while the Hyundai Elantra comes with a 2.0-liter making 147 horsepower. They both display excellent mileage and are adequate for the job assigned. The uptick is better.

Nissan answered the call with an extra 64 horses in a new SR Turbo model. And Hyundai has done the same with the Elantra, creating the Sport trim with a peppy 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque mated to either a smooth six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. That's 54 more horses along with a state-of-the art transmission.

So what difference does it really make? Let's use the ubiquitous 0-to 60 mph stats. The standard engine according to published numbers can finish it off in 8.9 seconds. The Sport, on the other hand, is capable of reaching 60 in a rather startling 6.3 seconds. It feels better and tends to give drivers a new appreciation of the car even though it comes with the same interior and the exterior styling — with a few tweaks here and there — as the standard top-line Limited model.

Also found on the Sport are 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, sport-tuned steering, bigger brakes, special front and rear fascias, xenon headlights and a few interior touches such as alloy pedals and a black headliner.

Those who live and die — “automotively” speaking — by mileage numbers may want to stick with the standard 2.0-liter. But actually in the broad scheme of things there isn't that much difference considering the upgraded performance. The standard 2.0-liter is rated at 28 mph city, 37-highway and 32-overall. The 201-horsepower engine with the automatic transmission comes in at 26/33/29, both using less costly regular gas. For those who feel mileage is king of every hill, the Elantra can also be purchased with an Eco 1.4-liter engine that delivers 32/40/35.

Without a doubt the more powerful 4-banger is more rewarding and more confidence-inspiring than the 2.0-liter especially in those pesky driving situations like passing on a two-lane road and merging into 70 mph traffic. In addition, the suspension and steering tuning give the Elantra Sport more "sportiness" on the twists and turns of back-road America.

And for good measure, Hyundai has produced an exhaust note that denotes performance. Hyundai wanted to ensure that the car’s audio signature added an unmistakable snarl to match its performance bona fides. The muffler tuning puts the Elantra Sport’s exhaust note at the maximum threshold for pass-by sound requirements. You won't mistake the Sport for a sports car, but if you drive a regular Elantra and the Sport back-to-back you will discover a difference — exhaust note and all.

Upscale standard features on the Sport (as well as the Limited) include push-button ignition, dual-zone climate control, three-stage heated front seats, rearview camera, plenty of safety equipment and hands free trunk access.

The Premium Package that can be purchased for $2,400 with either the Sport or Limited includes high-intensity discharge headlights with dynamic bending light, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, smart cruise control, lane keep assist, and an integrated memory system for the driver's seat and outside mirrors.

Elantra has a more mature styling posture for 2017 featuring crisp lines and near-perfect proportions; more conservative and refined. And the hexagonal grille that defines most of Hyundai's new products fits well.

The attractive styling touches are carried over to the interior with an upscale look highlighted by quality materials — although there are still areas of hard plastic. At the same time we found the Elantra very user friendly with actual dials and buttons for the audio and climate system. Imagine if you will a 2017 sedan with actual tuning and volume knobs? How last decade — and how convenient!

We found the front seats supportive, and there is near-mid-sized sedan room for rear-seat passengers. The trunk has a very useable 14.4 cubic feet of space and the rear seats fold down for cargo hauling.

For the record, the Elantra sedan comes in four trim levels — SE, Eco, Limited and Sport — starting at $17,985. Our Sport test model carried a bottom line without options of $23,585 including destination charge. With the Premium Package and carpeted floor mats, the price came to $26,110. And don't forget, Hyundai still provides a 10-year, 100,000 mile drivetrain warranty and a 5-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Base price: $23,585; as driven, $26,110
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 201 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 195 pound-feet @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inchesLength: 179.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,131 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 26 city, 33 highway, 29 combined
0-60: 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Nissan Sentra SR Turbo, Honda Civic turbo, Ford Focus ST

The Good
• Excellent performance from turbocharged engine
• Quiet, composed ride
• New stylish exterior design

The Bad
• Gas mileage suffers with extra HP

The Ugly
• Overall stylish interior still has too much hard plastic