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by David Zalstein

It was only July when the Honda Civic VTi-S outshone both the Skoda Octavia Ambition and Hyundai Elantra Active. Here though, we have just two rivals going head-to-head: the 2016 Honda Civic RS and 2017 Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo. And, based on their most recent individual reviews – the Civic RS scoring 8/10 from Mike Costello, the Elantra SR Turbo scoring the same from Matt Campbell – this has the potential to be a rather close-fought little battle.

The cars

Intended to be the sportiest 10th-generation Honda Civic sedan model currently available, the 2016 Honda Civic RS is sharply styled and sharply packaged.

In a notable departure for the Japanese brand, it also teams a familiar front-wheel-drive layout with a brand-new turbocharged engine.

Fresh for the upcoming model year, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo too – as its name suggests – incorporates a turbocharged engine.

Also front-wheel drive, the SR Turbo sits atop the all-new sixth-generation Elantra range, with the South Korean car maker claiming the more aggressive-looking variant genuinely sports some ‘hot’ potential. We shall see…

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The Plan

Despite both cars wearing ‘sporty’ badges – RS for the Honda and SR for the Hyundai – neither is a hard-core circuit weapon. Hence, while our 200km-plus road loop comprises plenty of curves and challenging bends (as well as urban and highway stretches), this test will be confined to public roads rather than a race track.

We’re also not going it alone. For this particular twin test, we’ve called in Australian racing driver, and friend of CarAdvice, Emily Duggan.

Previously competing in the Kumho Tyre Australian V8 Touring Car series, Emily spends most of her time racing her own 1998 Hyundai Excel – named Katie – in the Excel Cup. She’s also helped us out before, taking part in our Abarth 595C v Volkswagen Polo GTI comparison.

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Price and features

As we said at the start, this is one comparison that could go down to the wire. And starting with price and features, it’s easy to see why.

Priced from $31,790 (before on-road costs), the 2016 Honda Civic RS is exclusively available with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), paired to steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

It rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels, and standard equipment includes keyless entry and push-button start, automatic LED headlights and daytime running lights, LED fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats with an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat and black leather-appointed upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a three-mode rear-view camera, a ‘LaneWatch’ blind-spot monitoring camera, and front and rear parking sensors.

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Additional goodies consist of an electric sunroof, electric parking brake with automatic brake hold, hill-start assist, rear privacy glass, a 10-speaker premium stereo, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, DAB+ digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Cruise control with speed limiter is standard, although, radar-controlled adaptive cruise, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and satellite navigation, as well as automatic emergency braking (AEB), a road-departure mitigation system, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist, are reserved for the $33,590 flagship VTi-LX model.

Safety is addressed, however, with six airbags, two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and tyre pressure monitoring.

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Available with a choice of two transmissions, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo starts at $28,990 (before on-road costs) for the six-speed manual, and $31,290 (before on-road costs) for the seven-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic transmission, with paddle shifters, tested here.

It too comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as keyless entry and push-button start, automatic HID bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated front sports bucket seats with a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and black leather-appointed upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors.

Additionally, the Hyundai comes with an electric sunroof, hill-start assist, cruise control, a six-speaker stereo, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

And while the Elantra SR Turbo trades the Civic RS’s electric parking brake for an ‘old fashioned’ manual hand brake, the Hyundai pips the Honda with its standard auto-dimming rear-view mirror, blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist, height-adjustable front passenger seat, heated power wing mirrors, rear air vents, and ‘Smart Boot’ hands-free boot-opening feature.

Although the Elantra doesn’t offer the Civic’s tyre pressure monitoring system, the former matches the latter with six airbags and two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points. Plus, the Hyundai is the only one of the pair to boast a five-star ANCAP safety rating (the Civic RS is yet to be tested).

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Cabins and practicality

Regardless of which car gets your vote – or your cash – your daily commute will see you immersed in a largely dark cabin.

Crack open the Civic’s heavier, ‘stickier’ doors and you’re welcomed by a wider array of more premium-feeling materials than in the Elantra, with scattered silver highlights breaking up the predominantly black interior.

High quality touch points, such as the leather-wrapped gear lever and multifunction steering wheel, are joined by subtle grey stitching seen throughout the cabin, while the driver’s instruments feature a digital speedometer housed within a digital representation of an analogue tachometer.

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Up front, the Civic’s softly padded seats are vastly comfortable at first sit, and can be lowered well into the floor. They are short on bolstering, though, as well as lumbar support – the latter particularly a killer for long drives.

Although some might view the Civic RS’s interior as more ‘refined’, the Elantra SR Turbo’s feels the sportier of the two, thanks largely to its leather-wrapped, flat-bottom multifunction sports steering wheel, red stitching highlights, alloy sports pedals and kick plates, and black headliner.

The Hyundai is home to harder, scratchier, plastics and trims, and its floor-mounted boot and fuel flap releases do it no favours. However, its firmer, ‘Sport’-stamped seats are better bolstered, and more bucketed and supportive. Annoyingly though, the seats can’t be lowered enough – particularly frustrating for taller folk.

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Drivers are provided clear and simple instruments, comprising an analogue speedometer and tachometer, as well as a central digital speed readout.

Storage is a funny one in the Honda, as, while the physical space for ‘stuff’ exists, the layout is more than a little ergonomically ‘clunky’.

Oddly-shaped door pockets will accommodate larger drink bottles, but can prove somewhat limiting. A shallow, semi-enclosed centre console bin has a slidable armrest that tops two independent cup holders (one removable) and a USB input. There’s also a flat, rubber-lined shelf, forward of the gear lever, with a cut out designed to allow cables to run down to another storage shelf below, housing one USB and one HDMI input, as well as a 12-volt outlet.

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Frustratingly, in a bid to keep the Civic’s centre stack relatively uncluttered, key climate controls can only be accessed via a sub-menu on the central touchscreen – itself fiddly and unintuitive – and although the Honda’s indicator and wiper stalks are better damped than the Hyundai’s, the RS’s steering wheel controls are far ‘clickier’ than those in the SR Turbo.

Relying on a simpler combination of two rotary dials, 10 buttons, and its own stand-alone digital display, the Hyundai’s climate controls are easier to use and quicker to become familiar with, while its central touchscreen is ahead of the Honda’s in terms of general usability.

Storage in the Elantra too is more ‘conventional’.

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There are two rubber-lined cup holders between driver and front passenger, a lidded cubby at the base of the centre stack – housing one AUX and one USB input, a cigarette lighter, and a 12-volt outlet – a slideable lid atop an amply-sized centre console bin containing a second USB input, and a roof-mounted sunglasses holder.

Pleasingly, both cars feature adjustable seat belt heights, rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheels, and 60:40 split-fold rear seats. Sadly, while the Civic scores automatic up/down power windows for all four doors, only the Elantra’s driver’s window can offer the same.

Moving to the back seats and, again, things are closely fought.

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With wider rear door apertures slightly aiding ingress and egress into and out of the Elantra, the Civic wins back ground with its basic but comfortable rear bench providing more physical seat base (outboard) to passengers than the Hyundai’s more firmly padded rear seats.

Although both cars offer impressive rear legroom for small sedans, it’s the Honda that wins for outright space behind the front seats. The Japanese car further pips its South Korean rival – even if just by a nose – in the toe-room stakes too.

Head-room is fairly evenly matched, with both cars offering reasonable clearance for those six-foot and below. Any taller, though, and you may struggle in the back of either car.

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That said, only the Elantra, with its flat floor, makes three across the second row easily achievable – the Civic’s notable rear floor hump limiting middle-seat practicality.

Rear seat occupants in the Hyundai are bestowed adequate rear door pockets, one netted map pocket, a fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders, and those previously mentioned rear air vents.

Those in the back of the Honda also receive compact rear door pockets, one map pocket, and a fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders. However, in the Civic, the armrest flaccidly rests on the middle seat – rather than holding a more useful and comfortable square position such as that in the Elantra. The Civic’s lack of rear air vents could also be a plausible deal breaker for some buyers.

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Continuing back, and it’s the Honda Civic RS that wins the boot war against the Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo – 517 litres with the rear seats up, versus 458L.

Access to the Honda’s vast rear end does require negotiating a slightly taller load lip, but it is more spacious than the Hyundai’s – despite actually measuring fractionally smaller at its narrowest point.

Oddly, neither boot is home to any ‘handy for shopping’ luggage hooks, and, although both conceal under-floor, space-saver spare wheels, both also still employ outdated, and less-than-ideal, gooseneck hinges.

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Dropping the rear seats in either car requires an identical two-step process – pulling boot-mounted releases first, then manually dropping seats forward from inside the cabin. However, a clever addition of carpet in the Honda reduces the introduced seat-base lip. Handy.

On the road

Sat side-by-side, particularly in these two hues – Cosmic Blue for the Civic, Blazing Yellow for the Elantra (a $495 mica paint option) – it’s obvious which brand is going for the sportier image.

With its body kit, silver and red ‘SR’ badging, ‘Turbo’ front grille badge, silver grille and front bumper accents, black front lip and rear diffuser, integrated boot-lip spoiler, and twin chrome-tipped exhaust, the 4570mm long, 1800mm wide Hyundai is doing its best to catch eyes.

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Measuring in 74mm longer and 1mm narrower than the Elantra SR Turbo, the Civic RS is more understated – despite its sharper and more angular lines, and that plastered on rear wing.

Unique to its siblings, though, the Civic RS does feature a piano-black grille, piano-black B- and C-pillar garnishes, dark-chrome door handles, and, of course, a silver and red ‘RS’ tailgate badge.

As we said at the start, both these ‘sporting sedans’ – as opposed to genuine sports sedans – are powered by turbocharged engines.

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Under the bonnet of the Honda lies a turbocharged 1.5-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine, with 127kW of power at 5500rpm and 220Nm of torque between 1700-5500rpm. Without the aid of any engine stop/start technology, Honda claims the powerplant will drink 6.0 litres of 91-octane unleaded fuel every 100km (on the combined cycle).

Bringing more poke to the fight, the Hyundai is spurred on by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, with 150kW of power at 6000rpm and 265Nm of torque between 1500-4500rpm. Also sans any engine stop/start technology, Hyundai claims the turbocharged Elantra will use 7.2L of 91-octane unleaded fuel every 100km (on the combined cycle).

Underneath, both cars feature MacPherson struts up front, and multi-link independent rear suspension (IRS) out back.

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The Honda rides on 215mm-wide, 50-aspect Bridgestone Turanza tyres, with 282mm ventilated discs up front, and 260mm solid discs out back.

The Hyundai’s standard Hankook Ventus tyres are 225mm wide and 45-aspect, and encircle 305mm ventilated front discs and 262mm solid rears.

Based on official tare weight figures, at 1385kg, the Elantra SR Turbo is up 54kg on the 1331kg Civic RS. And, while both models share an identical 1563mm rear track, the Hyundai has a fractionally wider front track.

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Making our way out of town and onto the highway, again, it quickly becomes evident which car has been set up, from the outset, to be sportier in nature.

Around town, the Honda impresses with its quiet cabin, supple and compliant ride, and easy manoeuvrability.

The CVT is mostly unobtrusive, and Honda’s ‘Motion Adaptive’ electric power steering, while light in terms of weight as well as feedback, is quick, if a little lacking in engagement.

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Over the same terrain, the Hyundai can’t quite match the Honda for cabin hush, though, its locally-tuned suspension – albeit firmer – is impeccably well resolved, while being almost as pliant as the Civic’s over potholes, speed humps, and the like.

The Elantra’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is a vastly improved unit to the one initially launched in the 2015 Series II Hyundai Veloster SR Turbo – the same model the Elantra SR Turbo’s revised engine is sourced from.

And, while weightier than the Honda’s, the Hyundai’s motor-driven power steering is just as responsive, yet far more communicative.

On completion of our highway run, the Civic averages 5.1L/100km to the Elantra’s 5.2L/100km. Still nothing in it.

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Off the highway and into the hills, this is the chance for us, and Emily, to drive the cars back-to-back through a variety of corners, and over a range of sealed surfaces.

Jumping out after her first back-to-back, Emily says, “I started in the Hyundai, but as soon as I drove the Honda, you can completely tell the difference.”

“The Honda just glides through corners, where the Hyundai you more have to ‘manoeuvre’. And, even though I like having to work for it on the race track, for everyday driving, some people don’t want that.”

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With its combination of light, consistent, and accurate steering, a softer yet generally well composed ride, and overall comfort, the Honda Civic RS feels amply accomplished out on a twisty backroad… provided you keep enthusiasm in check, that is.

Teaming weightier steering with a firmer ride and more cabin noise, the Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo might fall fractionally short of the Civic RS when driving sedately, but up the pace, and it quickly becomes apparent that the Honda can’t quite keep up with the more exuberant Hyundai.

“Racing my Excel, I already had a love for Hyundais, so I was hoping the Elantra SR Turbo was going to be good,” Emily says.

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“You have to work for it a bit, you’ve got to push it, you’ve got to drive it a bit more, but even though it feels firmer on the road, it’s stuck there. You’ve got stability and manoeuvrability.

“In the Hyundai, when you’re going through a corner, you have to work for the rewards. So, if you go through a corner at say 60km/h, you’re not really working for it. But if you want to go through it at say 100km/h, you’ve got to work for it, but it’ll do it.

“The Honda is really nice, but the Hyundai is so much more entertaining.”

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Although the Civic certainly has reasonable levels of dynamism, its light steering is short on feedback, making for a disconnected, less involving, driving experience.

Its softer set up means the car rides really well the majority of the time, however, it also equates to more roll and lean. And along with having a rear end that doesn’t mind coming out when pushing hard through corners, the Civic isn’t the biggest fan of mid-corner ruts and corrugations – the only road imperfections to notably upset the ride.

Response from either alloy sports pedal is short of immediate, but while the brake delivers progressive and measured retardation when depressed, the throttle isn’t helped by being attached to an engine that feels far smaller than the 93cc that actually separates the Honda’s turbocharged engine from the Hyundai’s.

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Working in partnership with a now overly excitable CVT unit, the combination means even moderate speed increases result in revs jumping from just below 1500rpm, to up around 2500-3000rpm. And once the engine is delivering some decent surge from 3000rpm and beyond, the sound is not a pleasant one.

By contrast, the more firmly sprung Elantra SR Turbo is more secure, planted, and stable, more capable and agile, far more confidence inspiring when pushing on through corners, and simply, more fun. Its heavier steering also brings with it more involvement, engagement, and communication.

Over the same mid-corner ruts and corrugations the Civic didn’t enjoy, the Elantra is unfazed – even if you still very much feel them from inside the cabin – maintaining better compliance and composure through these types of harsher imperfections. The Hyundai also has grippier tyres, and firmer and more responsive pedals than the Honda.

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With the Elantra’s turbocharged engine offering 45Nm more torque than the Civic’s, and from 200rpm lower in the rev range, the Hyundai’s seven-speed DCT gearbox has less work to do than the Honda’s CVT.

The gutsier and 23kW more powerful 1.6-litre engine is happy coasting along at close to 1800rpm, and when you do need to up the speed, there’s enough low-rpm urge between 1800-2500rpm to all but negate the need for any drastic gear changes.

Even compared with the regular Veloster SR Turbo, the Elantra SR Turbo’s retuned engine works better, feels stronger and more responsive, and has greater flexibility and elasticity in its power delivery. And, measured against the Civic’s high-revving 1.5-litre, it also sounds better at higher rpm.

The Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo may not quite be ‘hot’ in terms of outright performance, but, compared with the Honda Civic RS, it’s definitely on the warmer side than the more ‘tepid’ Honda.

With our hills run in the books, the fuel consumption fight wraps up neck-and-neck – the Civic averaging 7.4L/100km, the Elantra 7.6L/100km.

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Warranty and servicing

With both cars recommended for scheduled services every 10,000km or 12 months (whichever comes first), it’s the Honda that works out to be $333.00 dearer than the Hyundai to service over the first three years of ownership – totals coming to $1110.00 and $777.00, respectively.

The highly competitive South Korean brand also takes the cake for aftersales, with the Elantra SR Turbo covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with one-year roadside assist, versus the Civic RS’s standard three-year/100,000km warranty with no road-side assist attached. (An available ‘Honda Warranty Plus’ upgrade does boost coverage to five-years/140,000km and adds five years road-side assist, however, that option comes at a cost of $998.)

Emily’s pick

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Using the metaphor of the Honda as someone dancing a waltz and the Hyundai as a hip-hop dancer, Emily reveals her final choice.

“I’m going to pick the Hyundai for three reasons,” Emily says.

“First, the interior. In the Honda, it’s like I’m in my own separate cabin. It’s got a beautiful seating position, but the layout really excludes the front passenger, where the Hyundai feels more open.

“Secondly, I’m a driver who likes to work, so I’m going to go for the car that rewards you when you work for it.

“And thirdly, I do not like the sound of the Honda’s engine and transmission. It just doesn’t sound good.”

Not completely besotted by the Elantra, Emily adds, “However, one downside of the Hyundai, for me, is its slightly thicker A-pillar, which is more noticeable and occasionally annoying than the Honda’s.

“Realistically, it’s not something that’s going to affect me, but it is a minus.”

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Verdict

We knew from the start, this was going to be close. And it is indeed that. But, when you have two highly capable and competitively specced and priced cars, it’s important to look at their intended role and purpose.

So, it all really depends on what you want out of your car, and what you want your car to be.

If you’re after a largely comfortable (bar the shortfall in lumbar support), adequately powerful, easy to drive small sedan with a huge boot, some sporty details, and a more mature overall persona, the 2016 Honda Civic RS is a high-quality proposition worth considering.

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In this test, however, we’re talking about sporty, warm-to-hot sedans. And, if legitimate performance, stacks of ability, and an entertaining, engaging small sedan is what you’re looking for, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo is hard to beat.

Apart from being the sort of car that can put a smile on your face by the time you get home from work, the Hyundai is also more affordable to purchase and service than the Honda, and offers key highlights above its rival – namely a five-star ANCAP safety rating, rear air vents, blind-spot monitoring and lane-change assist, and a better warranty.

Moreover, if you’re keen on a cheeky ‘sleeper’ that could more than upset a few established sports car names, save even more coin and opt for the manual. You’ll have a blast. Provided, of course, you don’t mind stirring your own cogs…

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Honda Civic RS and 2017 Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo images by Tom Fraser.



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Honda Civic RS v Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo comparison
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