I honestly can’t remember the last time we had a controversy this strong in our office. When Hyundai launched the new Elantra for model year 2017, almost everybody on our editorial team agreed that it’s a fantastic little economy car. Fast forward a few months and the punchy Elantra Sport (reviewed here) arrived, and we thought it was very good as well. This past summer, the Honda Civic Si showed its face in our garage, and promptly divided the team into two very separate categories; the prevailing of which insists that the Honda is the better car. I set out to prove my colleagues wrong, and borrowed this 2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport to either further solidify my point, or concede and declare the Honda a winner.
Firstly, the Elantra Sport is just a better-looking vehicle than the Civic, period. In the right colours, the Civic (reviewed here) looks sharp, but the design is very polarizing and it’s always quite literally in your face. The Elantra on the other hand, is handsome in a more inoffensive way. Perhaps not this one, in “Blazing Yellow” with a carbon-fiber trunk-lid lip spoiler and roof spoiler; but it still looks great and garnered many compliments during its week with us. The 18” alloys look great, even when dressed with meaty winter tires on our specific tester.
The 1.6L turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder in the Elantra Sport offers 201 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and 195 lb-ft. of torque at 1,500RPM. We noticed a distinctive amount of turbo lag in lower RPMs, but it does come right alive around the 4,000RPM mark and pulls confidently right up to the redline. The powerband is definitely effective, but a bit on the dull side. From a powertrain standpoint, I’ll say that the Civic does nothing better than the Elantra Sport.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is available, but this test vehicle arrived with the six-speed manual. This is the one to have, and it’s a joy to shift. The last Hyundai Genesis Coupé had a rather dismal shifter, with what felt like cardboard bushings and a less-than-satisfying overall feel. The Elantra Sport’s shifter is weighted nicely and falls into the gates effortlessly. The clutch is very much on the light side, but is easy to get used to and driving the car quickly becomes second nature.
So, this Elantra has a fun motor and a great transmission, combined with a great chassis. All is well? Well, almost – there is no limited-slip differential, and that is one huge omission on Hyundai’s part that immediately will make certain buyers gravitate to the Civic Si. Will you really miss the LSD in everyday driving? It very much depends on your driving style, and I personally would want one. Even still, the overall chassis balance on the Elantra makes it boatloads of fun to drive and a genuinely competent dance partner on the back roads. It’s worth mentioning that the four-door Elantra is on a completely different platform than the five-door Elantra GT (reviewed here), and as such it has unique characteristics that differentiate it significantly.
Front-drive has its limitations, but in this segment at the price point, it’s really all you can get. The Subaru WRX (reviewed here) comes with all-wheel-drive starts at $29,995, but at that price you get a very basic model. Plus, the WRX is a very good car, but not everyone wants the lack of refinement or the rally-inspired feel it comes with. The Elantra feels great, and though the steering is very much on the light side, it’s predictable and the car goes where it’s pointed. A multilink rear suspension replaces the standard Elantra’s torsion beam setup, and helps the car hold its own through the curves. Oh yeah, unlike the Civic, it still has a real mechanical handbrake too!
When equipped with the manual gearbox, the Elantra Sport is rated for 10.7L/100km in the city and 7.8L/100km highway, operating happily on regular 87-octane fuel. In comparison, the Civic Si does far better at 8.4L/100km city and 6.2L/100km highway, though recommends premium for optimal performance. With either car, mileage will vary depending on how spiritedly the cars are driven, but from our real-world testing, the Civic edged out the Elantra in everyday driving.
I vastly prefer the Hyundai’s interior layout to the Civic’s. The infotainment system is easier to use, it’s more visually appealing, and there are physical buttons for common controls such as a volume knob. The CarPlay integration on the Elantra is great as well, and the Infinity stereo sounds decent even when streaming audio via Bluetooth. The seats are comfortable enough with plenty of support, but we didn’t find them any better or worse than the ones in the Civic Si. The overall package easily surpasses the more powerful Ford Focus ST (reviewed here), a car in which I could not remain comfortable for any period of time.
The Elantra itself starts at $15,999, but stepping up to the turbocharged Sport will set you back at least $24,999. Equipped with the manual transmission (as it should be), the highly optioned Sport Tech is $27,499. Notable features in this upgrade include an 8” touchscreen with navigation and smartphone connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 315W eight-speaker Infinity stereo, and an auto-dimming mirror. Keep in mind, this is fully loaded, and is still cheaper than the $28,590 Civic Si sedan.
The problem lies in the very specific personalities of these two cars, which are quite different. Both are turbocharged four-cylinders with plenty of personality, handle well, and are built on very good platforms. Here’s the thing – the Civic Si is a toned-down version of the phenomenal Type R (reviewed here) and offers a lot of the advantages this year’s hottest hatch boasts. The Elantra Sport is a version of the regular Elantra that has been cranked up a few notches. From a strictly performance point of view, it’s just not enough.
As a daily driver with plenty of pep, personality and comfort, the 2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport is a winner. If you skip the yellow and opt for a more conservative colour, it flies under the radar, looks elegant, and is very easy to live with. Even if you spend your weekends at the local autocross, the Elantra will hold its own and, depending on your driving skill, do very well. If your priority is strictly performance, and you want something more akin to a Civic Type R or a Focus RS (reviewed here) on a tighter budget, the Civic Si might be right up your alley. Whatever you choose to do, there’s no poor choice here; if it were my dollars on the line, the Hyundai would be on the driveway.