My perception of the Hyundai Elantra has never really amounted to very much. Just another mildly boring sedan for older folks, or those security-obsessed oddballs that prefer a boot over the eminently more practical hatch body of the i30.
But that’s exactly why ‘perceptions’ can sometimes be dangerously off the mark. Mind you, you can still get a bog-standard (and boring) entry-level Elantra Go from just $21,490 plus on-roads. And by all accounts it’s a practical, well-equipped daily for those fiscally prudent buyers who place little aesthetic value on their personal mobility.
However, if you can stretch the budget to just $28,990 (plus on-roads), there’s an entirely more satisfying proposition on the table. One that will even add a little petrol-headed pleasure to your daily drive. It’s called the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport, which is not only guaranteed to surprise you, but also put a smile on your face as you scurry past more powerful cars in the peak-hour stampede.
Essentially, the new Sport replaces the previously badged SR (Turbo) model – meaning under the bonnet you’ve got a factory-fettled 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine making a thoroughly respectable 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque. It’s enough to elevate an ordinary car into a properly warm offering that’s guaranteed to inject some genuine excitement into the commute.
I'm not quite sure why the powers that be at Hyundai would choose to change the badge, though, because I’d argue the old SR moniker carried considerably more weight on the street than the generically dull ‘Sport’ moniker of this new version. But that’s just me, and others may have an entirely different view.
From any angle it’s a sharp-looking thing, which sets it apart from the standard Elantra fare; though, even in base-model guise, it’s much improved over the previous design. We particularly like the Alfa-esque rear light assembly and those twin exhaust tips, which somehow look better than those on some high-priced Euro kit.
There’s proper sporty intent on show here thanks to a tasteful body kit with integrated rear spoiler and deep-set grille, which some might describe as ‘gaping’ rather than aggressive. Either way, it works well with the Sport’s sharply-raked windscreen and coupe-style tapering roof line. The result is a low-slung stance that’s ultimately capped off by its triangular headlight assembly with full LEDs, and multi-spoke 18-inch alloys wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. So far, so good then.
The good news continues inside, with the Sport (and Sport Premium) getting a host of sporty styling touches that not only look the business, but are also entirely useful for those looking for that little bit more go from their daily driver.
Highlights include the flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with contrasting red stitching matching that on the heavily bolstered (and well cushioned) front seats, which offer good cornering support from hip to shoulder.
There’s a stack of standard kit, as we’ve come to expect from Hyundai, especially in its top-shelf variants, like aluminium pedals, 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus power-folding side mirrors.
You also get an eight-speaker Infinity audio system with DAB+ digital radio, dual-zone climate control with ionizer and rear vents, along with keyless entry and push-button start.
Our Elantra Sport Premium with seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (from $33,990 plus on-road costs) also adds paddle shifters and selectable drive modes, as well as higher-end features like 10-way power seat adjustment for the driver’s seat with lumbar support, a height-adjustable front passenger seat, wireless phone charging pad, heated front seats, electrochromatic rear-view mirror and front parking sensors.
While our tester came with grey upholstery, you can option overtly loud red leather for just $295, but only if you choose Polar White (solid colour), Fluid Metal and Phantom Black – both optional metallic colours that add $495.
The Sport and Sport Premium also get Hyundai’s SmartSense advanced driver assistance pack, which adds a suite of the latest active safety systems including camera-based autonomous emergency braking (city/urban), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, and driver-attention warning.
Unlike the related DCT-equipped i30 N Line, however, the Elantra Sport models miss out on Interurban AEB functionality and pedestrian detection due to the lack of radar sensor, which also means there’s no adaptive cruise control. The upside is that manual versions of the Elantra get AEB while manual i30s don’t even offer it as an option, and the Elantra gets blind-spot monitoring while the i30 N Line misses out.
For those buyers that don’t count themselves as genuine motoring enthusiasts, but still want a bit more under the bonnet, this spiced-up Elantra is definitely the way to go. It’s especially relevant for those who prefer an auto over a manual – the only transmission currently available in Hyundai’s bona-fide hot hatch, the i30 N.
Mind you, there’s plenty of competition in this segment, including the $28,990 Ford Focus ST-Line hatch with a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol making 134kW and 240Nm via an eight-speed auto, and $32,290 Honda Civic RS hatch using a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo with 127kW and 220Nm. Plus, the $31,740 Holden Astra RS-V hatch gets the same 1.6-litre displacement from a four-cylinder turbo putting out a slightly less 147kW, but significantly more torque with 300Nm through a six-speed auto.
Mazda joins the fight, too, with its $33,490 Mazda 3 G25 Evolve armed with a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol engine producing 139kW and 252Nm through a six-speed automatic. Toyota also enters the fray with the $30,370 Corolla ZR using a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol developing 125kW and 200Nm of torque via CVT.
Closer to home, there’s a rival cousin in the $31,990 Kia Cerato GT that uses the same 1.6-litre turbo-four drivetrain for two grand less and a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty to boot.
No question it’s an awfully crowded niche segment, but we’d argue the Elantra Sport stands apart with the most power on tap, and arguably the most complete package of everyday usability, practicality and general excitement for those behind the wheel.
At first glance, the Elantra looks like it could be a liftback, but it’s actually a standard four-door sedan with a regular boot and 458L of cargo space available, or 63L more than the i30 hatch, at least, behind the rear seats. The i30’s hatch body obviously allows for easier loading when the rear seats are folded flat.
Right from the get-go, this feels a little bit more special than the standard Elantra. The driving position is nicely snug in between those bolsters and it's low-set for that sporty ambience.
Hit the starter button and there’s a noticeable lift in tempo and a subtle growl from the turbo four. It’s just enough to let you know that there’s a little more poke if you need it, but above that I can't say the exhaust note is anything special, though there's a bit of a snarl when the revs build.
Better still, there’s little if any turbo lag with this set-up, even from low-speed throttle applications in traffic, and it’s no different when the road ahead frees up and you get to give it a bootful. It’s that wide torque band that you’ll really start to appreciate here.
Hyundai’s engineers have also gone to work on its in-house dual-clutch transmission, too, because I don’t recall it ever being as sharp or responsive as it is on this latest Elantra. It's so good that I found myself continually knocking the shift lever over into manual mode and giving it a good solid flogging at every opportunity.
And, it’s not just the surprisingly linear power delivery that we like. The other major controls, such as steering, braking and, of course, the transmission, seem to be in perfect sync with the engine’s sporty character.
Mark my words, folks, this new Elantra Sport is at the warm end of the small hatch and sedan segment. That's not surprising, given the fact it’s an i30 chassis underneath, but with the added ingredient of locally tuned suspension and steering work.
The steering is again nicely calibrated for a linear feel, with a quick-enough ratio to be properly sporty. It’s the same with the suspension. The dampers are slightly softer than those on the previous SR version for what is genuinely superb roadholding, and seemingly without any trade-off in ride comfort or the way this sporty little number handles corners.
In fact, it’s even better than that, with all manner of bumps, broken road (even coarse chip) and potholes barely registering a beat for those inside the cabin. Put that down to a very good chassis and that local tuning and calibration successfully cushioning said bumps.
There’s also bucket loads of grip on offer from those Michelin Pilot Sport tyres generating a pointy turn-in, while the rear end sticks as well to allow you to get on the throttle early out of corners. It might sound like I’m reviewing a hot hatch here, but that’s the thing with this car – it’s a little warmer than I expected. Not perfect, though.
When you do decide to have a bit of a punt in your Elantra Sport Premium, it can get a bit floaty over undulating terrain, but again, you need to be pushing hard in Sport mode for that characteristic to emerge. And let’s not forget, this is a warm sports sedan, so ride comfort and everyday drivability are surely where the engineering skews rather than straight-out performance. But then the Elantra Sport Premium makes a pretty good case for both. And, frankly, I like the design more so than the Cerato.
It might be two-and-a-half grand more than the regular Elantra Sport, but the extra kit in the Sport Premium is worth twice that, and for me it makes the most sense, especially if it doubles as the family chariot on weekends.
Hyundai has built a thoroughly good thing in the new Elantra Sport model.
2019 Hyundai Sport Premium Specifications Snapshot
Price: $31,490/$33,990 (6MT/7DCT)
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power: 150kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 265Nm at 1500–4500rpm
Spare wheel: Space saver
Boot volume: 458L
Fuel consumption real-world average: 7.3L/100km
Fuel tank capacity: 50L
ANCAP safety rating: 5-star
Key features: 18-inch alloys, 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, auto headlights, electric folding heated side mirrors, wireless charging, DAB Digital radio, eight-speaker premium audio, full suite of active safety features