2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport first drive: close encounter of a turbocharged kind

November 8, 2016

Outside of Vegas, an alien-themed cathouse provides the only Kodak moments for a hundred miles or more.

Honest, honey--we're just here for the pictures! Yep, that's how we'll sell it on social media. And at home.

The weird, fleshy offshoot of capitalism gives us reason, at least, to pull to the side of the road in the new Hyundai Elantra Sport, and pause. With its turbo-4, tightened suspension, and sporty shoes, it's a close encounter of an altogether different kind.

Alien Cathouse brothel--Photo credit: Michael Harley

Alien Cathouse brothel--Photo credit: Michael Harley

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Past the awkward teenager stage in its life, Hyundai is now known for building stylish, reliable, high-quality vehicles. One place it hasn't really made its move is in the athletic department.

Yes, we know about the Veloster Turbo and the Genesis Coupe. We're talking mainstream here. The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport tackles the question of wooing enthusiasts in a four-door form.

Can it grab the attention of buyers seeking a fun-to-drive car? Should it?

What is it?

The Sport trim slots between the Eco and Limited models in the Elantra lineup. Hyundai applies new front and rear end looks, side sill extensions, dual exhaust pipes, and a rear spoiler. Inside, the Elantra Sport adopts a flat-bottom steering wheel, a different instrument cluster with red needles, along with alloy pedals.

The Elantra Sport isn't just an appearance package. It's powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 with 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque sent to the front wheels through either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Beyond that, the brakes are larger, shocks are firmer, and the rear suspension now features a multi-link setup instead of the torsion-beam rear found on the rest of the lineup.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

What's really like?

Like the rest of the Elantra range, the Sport is a stylish, understated four-door—except that it's sharper where it needs to be. From the attractive 18-inch wheels to the taillights with European-looking amber turn signals, and that little Turbo badge on the grille, it's not too over the top.

Slide inside and wrap your hands around the flat-bottomed steering wheel. The Sport is comfortable, and the front seat side bolsters hit you in just the right places. The manual shift lever wouldn't look out of place in a Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

Then you'll be brought to reality that this is at its heart still an Elantra, for better and worse. The seat bottoms are too short, the door pulls feel like cheap plastic, and the door uppers and door arm rests are both hard, with far too little padding for elbows.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Willing to rev

In a few miles it's easy to ignore the little things. The Elantra Sport wakes up, willing to rev, obviously more interested in speed than the standard sedan. There's a bit of turbo lag, but it picks up quickly and pulls hard to redline. It revs pretty sweetly, too. Hyundai doesn't pipe in any artificial sounds into the cabin. 

The dual-clutch transmission is acceptable for daily driving, and tuned far better than the same transmission that's in the Elantra Eco model, which feels lazy on 1-2 and 2-3 shifts. If you're an enthusiast, you'll want to choose the 6-speed manual, a sweet little gearbox with clean, smooth throws.

READ: Where good cars end and bad cars begin: The automotive 'Mendoza Line'

The larger stabilizer bars, higher spring rates, uprated dampers, and multi-link rear suspension setup all give the Elantra Sport a firmer, more connected and controlled feel than the base car has. It feels planted at speed, able to take more power and an even firmer suspension tune.

The powertrain and driving experience aren't backed up by the brakes. When cold, they feel wooden and there's little to give you confidence. After a few hard stops they begin to fade and feel squishy.

Heaps of value

Entertaining to drive and good-looking, the Elantra Sport brings the usual Hyundai heap of value to the table, including its superlative 5/50 warranty.

Priced from $22,485 the Elantra Sport comes well equipped with xenon headlights, a proximity key, and a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A Premium Package with navigation, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimmer rearview mirror,  moonroof, lane departure warning system, and Infinity-branded audio system costs $2,400.

Add that, and the Elantra Sport still undercuts the VW Jetta GLI, which starts at $28,000 without options. The Elantra Sport won't win any weekend autocross, nor are you likely to find it at a local car meet, but it is a fun daily driver spends its hardware budget in wise ways.

How you spend your time and money at Nevada's alien outposts is your business.

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