In 2003, Hyundai released a GT version of the Elantra amid a major advertising campaign. It came with a stiffer suspension, fog lights, leather seats, alloy wheels, and a big red GT badge on the back. But it was hardly a grand tourer; neither the Elantra GT nor the brand were ready for prime time, and the model was gone after 2006. My, my, what a difference 13 years make; today, the Elantra is one of the best-selling compacts in a very crowded field, and a mild facelift for 2017 is likely to make it even more popular.
And while the current Elantra can hold its own against big names like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Ford Focus, it doesn’t really do performance — even if it already brought back the GT trim a few years back. For practical performance, buyers have long flocked to the Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, or the Honda Civic Si, and ignored the Korean upstart. But that may change very soon, or at least as soon as the 2017 Elantra Sport hits dealerships later this year.
For the first time ever, Hyundai seems to have given some serious thought to affordable performance, and if the car lives up to the hype, there could be a new contender in the compact segment. And don’t let the somewhat buttoned-down look fool you, the Elantra Sport has the potential to be a lot of car for the money.
Unveiled this week in Korea as the identical home-market Avante Sport, the Elantra Sport benefits from a number of upgrades that will take the car from practical to truly fun-to-drive. The rear torsion-bar suspension has been replaced with a more complex — and more responsive — multi-link design to help the car in the corners. Power comes from the 1.6-liter turbocharged inline four already found in the Veloster Turbo, which will be good for 200 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. Considering that the new Elantra weighs in at about 2,700 pounds with a manual transmission, that should be plenty of power to make the car feel quick.
Backing up the 1.6 is your choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. On the outside, there are redesigned front and rear fascias, and larger wheels. Inside, there’s a D-shaped steering wheel and heavily bolstered seats, all with red accent stitching. In Korea, the car has an optional “Extreme Package,” consisting of heavy-duty shocks, springs, and an anti-roll bar; there’s no word on whether or not Hyundai will offer it here, but considering the stiff competition, we think it would be wise to.
So 13 years later, Hyundai is taking another pass at a sporty Elantra, and from here, it looks like it could actually pay off for the brand. In terms of design and quality, it’s grown exponentially since then, and if it can figure out performance (the establishment of its go-fast N-Division is a good sign), then it could be a serious contender in every segment it competes in. Either way, we can’t wait to get our hands on one to find out.