First Look

2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport First Look Review: Taking A Stab Right At The VW GLI

Does Hyundai have what it takes to enter the performance sedan game?

Just this week, Hyundai released its brand new Elantra Sport. This all new model will take Hyundai into a territory that it has never been before: the small sporty sedan segment. This segment is seriously lacking at the moment, as cars like the Nissan Sentra SE-R and Honda Civic Si are long gone. Only the Volkswagen GLI offers more than 200 horsepower and cars like the Focus and Fiesta ST are only offered as hatchbacks. Hyundai doesn't have a lot of competition here, but we aren't convinced that the Hyundai Elantra Sport will win over enthusiasts.

Looking at the specs, it seems like Hyundai has made all of the right decisions with the Elantra Sport. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine produces 200 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. This is a fair bit more than the regular Elantra's 2.0-liter 174 horsepower non-turbo engine. Buyers will have the choice of a seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shifters or a six-speed manual transmission. With just a 2,700 pound curb weight, there really isn't much to complain about with the Elantra Sport. Even the interior and exterior have been given a bit of a sporty flavor to let you know that you haven't bought a basic Elantra. Everything sounds good so far, but we still aren't convinced.

The 1.6-liter engine in the Elantra Sport is the same unit found in the Veloster Turbo. For some reason, the Veloster gets one horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque more than the new Elantra. Having driven both the manual and dual-clutch version of the Veloster, it is clear that Hyundai will need to make some big changes if it really wants to compete with cars like the Volkswagen GLI, Civic Si, or even the Fiesta ST. The Hyundai Veloster's 201 horsepower may only be nine less than the much heavier GLI or GTI, but you would never know by driving it. The Volkswagen twins feel severely underrated in power and the Hyundai doesn't deliver nearly the same driving enjoyment.

We would love to get the Hyundai and Volkswagen cars on the dyno, because the difference in real-world perception of speed is enormous. Assuming that the Hyundai really does produce around 200 horsepower, it wouldn't surprise us if the Volkswagens were closer to the 250 horsepower range. For some reason, the acceleration in the Veloster just didn't feel nearly as quick. We know that the Elantra Sport will be a different car, but it will have the same drivetrain as the Veloster, so how different can they really be? Speed was far from the only fault with the Veloster as well. The dual-clutch transmission felt like it was several years behind VW's unit and the manual wasn't much better.

Companies like Honda have managed to capture the sporty gear-shift of the S2000 in normal models like the Civic Si. However, Hyundai's manual really doesn't inspire you as much as you would think a manual should. Even the steering doesn't feel as good as Honda's or Volkswagen's. When you drive a Civic Si or GTI, you get the feeling that you're in something special. In the Veloster Turbo, we may as well have been driving a Sorento. Despite our trepidation, we are actually really excited for the Elantra Sport. For average consumers, the car will be a great way to get something sporty on a reasonable budget.

We hope that Hyundai has made some changes since the last time we drove a Veloster Turbo. The Elantra Sport has great potential if Hyundai can fix a few things including: better feel from the manual transmission or quicker shifts from the DCT, a nicer engine note, better steering feel, more torque lower down in the RPM range, and less wheel hop off the line. We hope to hop behind the wheel of the Elantra Sport when it reaches show rooms, and we will keep you informed whether this car has what it takes to be a player in the performance sedan game or if our suspicions turn out to be correct.

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Hyundai Elantra
Starting MSRP
$17,000
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