by Frank A. Aukofer

Hyundai crowns its compact car lineup with an exciting new high performance model, the 2017 Elantra Sport, which is destined for stardom—especially with enthusiasts of modest means.

The Sport joins three other Elantra versions introduced earlier: the entry-level SE, economy-oriented Eco and luxury-outfitted Limited. Though not the least nor most expensive, the new Sport overshadows its siblings with capabilities unmatched by them and other compacts.

The most expensive Sport sells for around $9,000 less than the current average price of a new car. It comfortably carries four people—five if that unfortunate doesn’t mind a perch in the middle of the back seat.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

There are two versions. With a six-speed manual gearbox, the base price is $22,485. Add $1,100 for the dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. The automatic delivers the better fuel economy: an EPA city/highway/combined rating of 26/33/29 mpg, compared to the manual’s rating of 22/30/25 mpg.

Enthusiasts likely will save the $1,100 and opt for the delightful manual, one of the best anywhere. The clutch engagement is smooth and progressive, with no hint of grabbing, and the shift linkage is so slick and easy you don’t mind shifting in heavy traffic. In fact, the gears engage almost by thought control so you barely notice doing it.

Hyundai product people project that 30% to 40% of Sport buyers will choose the manual gearbox, way higher than almost anything on the U.S. market. Germany’s BMW formerly sold manuals in that range, but has since moved mostly to automatics.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

The Sport gets its zest from a turbocharged 201-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine as in Hyundai’s sporty Veloster three-door hatchback. The company did not provide acceleration times but the guesstimate here is less than seven seconds to 60 mph.

Hyundai introduced the Sport in Las Vegas during the gigantic Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show, an annual exhibition of custom vehicles and aftermarket parts that overflows the city’s convention complex with exhibits and humanity.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

The locale provided automotive journalists with an opportunity to drive the Sport for 280 miles on lightly traveled highways in sparsely populated areas of Nevada and California’s Death Valley.

The Sport proved itself more than proficient on those roads, most of which were not in top condition. It cruised lazily at 90 miles an hour, and easily absorbed road undulations and imperfections.

In a couple of bursts, the Sport was steady and solidly planted at three-digit speeds up to 120 mph. It could have gone faster but that was judged enough. In Germany, it would compete easily on areas of the autobahn that have no speed limits.

Credit a stiffer body structure, now constructed with 53% high strength steel and 394 feet of structural adhesives, compared to 10 feet in the 2016 Elantra.

The Sport also features a sophisticated multi-link independent rear suspension system, a notable upgrade from the other Elantra models, which use a rear torsion-beam system. With the new suspension and steering tuned for handling and steady straight-line cruising, the Sport can handle any road-going task.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

It also is uncommonly well equipped, even in its base version. The $22,485 model comes with pushbutton starting, leather upholstery, well bolstered and heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels with performance all-season tires, cruise control, audio system with SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto controlled through a seven-inch center screen, air conditioning, a flat-bottom leather covered sport steering wheel, and alloy pedals with rubber inserts.

Only a few items betray the Sport’s competitive price. The front seats use manual adjustments; power is not available. There’s no spare wheel—an air pump substitutes—and the trunk lid has exposed C-hinges that could damage contents in the roomy trunk.

The test car came with a $2,400 premium option package that included blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change mitigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, premium audio system, hands-free trunk opening, garage door opener, compass and auto-dimming inside mirror.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

From the outside, the Sport is distinguished from other Elantra models by a unique grille, high-intensity headlights with LED daytime running lights, side door sill extensions, aerodynamic rear deck, dual exhaust outlets and LED taillights.

In an extremely competitive segment with the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, Elantra sales have diminished through the first three-quarters of 2016. The new Sport, along with the other new Elantra models, each of which has its own charm, should give the brand a shot of adrenaline.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

Specifications    

  • Model: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:6-liter four cylinder, turbocharged 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,064 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,485.
  • Price as tested: $24,885.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Hyundai.