Is the benchmark capable of staving off the newcomer from Hyundai?
Hyundai introduced its all-new Elantra N this week, a sports sedan with angular styling, loads of handling upgrades, and lots of go to match the show. The timing is good because Volkswagen's latest Jetta GLI hasn't arrived yet, nor has Honda's hotly-anticipated Civic Si. It may seem a little unfair to compare the current Civic Si to the Elantra N, but the spritely little Honda is still one of our favorite daily driver toys and one of the best ways to get into a fun car that won't break the bank. While we patiently wait for the new model, let's see how the current one compares.
The Honda Civic Si has a big brother in the form of the Type R, and much of the reason that some people don't like it is the aggressive styling. The new one will be more pared-back, but the current Si is still a nicely balanced mix of sportiness and class. Black accents on the front and rear fascias are balanced by a hood intake vent and rear spoiler. It comes with 18-inch wheels standard while 19s can be optioned on.
With the Hyundai, you get 19s as standard, wrapped in Michelin rubber. Like the Honda, black accents and a rear wing feature, but the angular lines on the profile, massive exhaust tips, and parametric grille design make the Elantra N stand out more. Personally, we prefer the clean look of the Honda, but we'll wait for an in-person look before giving a final verdict on this one.
The Honda Civic Si is not quite a "hot" offering but more a "warm" one. It's powered by a 1.5-liter turbo-four generating a respectable 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. This car doesn't care though - it has a better drive than the VW Jetta GLI and is sharper thanks to a front-wheel-drive system with a limited-slip differential. Adaptive dampers help keep the ride amenable too.
The Elantra N is more powerful but also places a strong focus on driver enjoyment. However, while the Honda is manual only, the Elantra comes with a choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The front wheels are powered here too, again with the aid of an e-LSD. A Hyundai first is seen in the integrated drive axle that is similar to those used on WRC cars too, so this thing will definitely handle well too.
However, when you break down the figures, the Civic Si is left for dead. The Elantra N gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot that develops 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. The power figure can also be temporarily boosted to 286 thanks to a button that activates "N Grin Shift". As a result, the Elantra N posts a 0-62 time of 5.3 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph. The Civic is certainly lagging behind here, promising a 0-60 time of under 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 137 mph. That said, the Civic Si is set to get more power and even better handling when the new one comes out, so maybe don't make a decision just yet.
Again, we'll start with the Civic Si. This car features a system that beeps as you approach the red line (don't worry, you can turn it off). You also get rather plush bucket seats, a set of alloy pedals, and a few red accents. The infotainment display is a seven-inch touchscreen, but it is a little laggy - expect that to be improved with the 2022 model.
In the Hyundai, you get racier buckets but they still look very comfy. We also like the inclusion of a manual handbrake, rather than an electronic one, and although Hyundai hasn't released the sizing of the infotainment display or the driver cluster, both digital units are certainly larger and newer than those in the Civic. You also get a lap timer, an adaptive exhaust, and gauges for torque, oil and coolant temps, and boost pressure. If you want to feel like you're in a racecar, this will be the better option.
At this stage, we can only repeat the pricing of the Civic Si back to you. It costs a nice round $25,000 before any additional charges or options, which is all but guaranteed to undercut the price of the Hyundai. However, we'll reserve comment until we have an exact figure for the Elantra. Keep in mind too that the Civic is aging and its replacement will likely see a price bump. Even so, it's unlikely that the Civic Si will have the power to keep up with the Elantra N, nor will it have as many advanced features. But it will almost definitely remain the purest affordable sports sedan to drive, and for that reason, we refuse to give a final answer.
With that in mind, the Elantra N looks like it'll blow our doors off when it arrives and will offer something for everyone by being available with a choice of gearboxes. Compared to the current Civic Si, it's unstoppable, but we look forward to seeing Honda's 2022 response.