First Drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra & Tucson Sport

First Drive: 2017 Hyundai Elantra & Tucson Sport

Hyundai’s Elantra has been the company’s stalwart model, one of the first advocates of the Korean marque to be made available locally in the early 1990s. It has always been a reliable, value for money proposition with many of the first generation buyers swearing by its steely disposition.

It is with this outlook that the previous generation scooped the coveted SA Car of the Year title in 2012, thanks to a comprehensive list of standard equipment, good build quality and a palatable pricing point that made the Toyota Corolla of that era decidedly overpriced and underequipped in contrast.

Now the sixth generation has been launched and, once again, it looks to have the Japanese sales leader firmly in its cross-hairs, while also adding some zeal to the range in the form of the turbocharged Sport derivative. We drove this particular model at the media launch and came away suitably impressed by its performance, build quality and high levels of specification.

Styling wise, the model has adopted the Fluidic sculpture 2.0 design language that can be seen across other recent models in the stable and, while it might not be as swoopy as the outgoing model, the Sport variant adds extended side sills, a boot lid lip, dual exhausts and 17-inch alloys to the mix. It is still not what you would deem sporty, but rather tidy in execution.

Cabin appointments are upmarket with softer touch materials and a touchscreen infotainment screen replete with navigation, similar to the one we first encountered in the superb Creta crossover. It all comes together in an unassuming, high quality cabin further elevated by the red trim on the flat-bottomed steering wheel, seats and door inserts. Overall space is good and matches its rivals, including the fairly good, if a little small boot with its 470-litre volume.

The range includes a 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine with 94kW and 154Nm, a 2.0-litre normally aspirated variant making 115kW and 195Nm, while the 1.6-litre turbo flagship (TGDI) that we drove at the launch puts out 150kW and 265Nm. The latter comes exclusively with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The 1.6-litre Executive comes with a six-speed manual, while the 2.0-litre Elite is paired to a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Performance is fairly brisk in a manner not far removed from that of the Veloster turbo; however the transmission seems more intuitive than in its quirky sibling. Damping is slightly firmer than the outgoing model, while the steering has improved from the horrendous setup of its predecessor, which lacked feel.

Overall, the new Elantra seems to have taken all the hallmarks that made its predecessor such a compelling package and added some much needed zest in the form of the new turbo engine, while the multi-link rear suspension brings some sophistication and better dynamics.

To assess the latter, we were let loose on the Red Star Raceway and I was impressed by the manner in which the rear feels better connected to the rest of the car. The torsion beam setup of its predecessor meant corner tugging was not the model’s forte, but that seems to have been remedied as the new model relishes being driven hard.

In fact, this could be a precursor to what the i30 N Sport, Hyundai’s first model from its performance arm, is likely to be. It will be the first time that the Korean marque takes direct aim at the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and that prospect has us keen to see how it stacks up.

Back to the Elantra, though, and I feel it is better everywhere compared to the segment leader, the Corolla, on a par with the Mazda3 on perceived quality, and it easily outshines rivals in the performance stakes. The Ford Focus has the best chassis of the lot, while the VW Jetta’s materials and superior DSG gearbox are still its mainstays, but the Elantra is snapping at its heels this time around.

It is priced from R299 900 to R399 900, which is about R20 000 cheaper than the outgoing model with a fairly plusher cabin and better equipment.

While at the launch we also got to grips with the locally homologated Tucson Sport, which will be the flagship model of the range. The local outfit has created the Sport with a new visage in the form of a body kit that includes an extended front valance, splitter, flared side sills and black 18-inch alloy wheels, while the rear has an extended rear valance now replete with quad exhausts. In the metal, it is all tastefully done without looking garish or after-market and should appeal to those buyers who find the styling of the regular models a bit too demure.

This new Sport model is squared directly at the VW Tiguan R-Line, which continues to cause a stir in the segment. Under the bonnet of the Tucson Sport is a similar 1.6-litre turbo unit to that in the Elantra Sport and in this application makes 154kW and 265Nm exclusively through a six-speed manual.

Performance is sprightly, while the new exhaust has a cheeky note at low revs, but I was a little disappointed with the clutch uptake, which requires one to dial up some revs to pull off cleanly and not stall, which happened on a few occasions.

At R499 000 it is well priced, but I am not certain it has done enough to challenge the VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI Highline that will, granted, set you back R568 400 with the R-Line package but offers far superior performance. – Lerato Matebese