Hyundai and its sister brand Kia have been renowned over the years for providing good, stylish cars that are well equipped and good value for money. They had iPod connectivity long before many of their rivals and offered extensive warranties and maintenance plans that ensured owners could budget for years.
What they were not great at was engine technology and performance. They lagged behind rivals regarding diesels and only relatively recently adopted the age-old concept of the turbocharger. So imagine my surprise when I pulled out of a junction wrestling with the steering wheel as I experienced torque steer in the new Hyundai Elantra Sport. Torque steer, I tell you!
It is a good and a bad thing. It’s good as it shows that Hyundai has decided to add a bit of performance and driver involvement to its good, but run-of-the-mill sedan.
It’s bad in that it still exists and for all the engineering might of the Korean car maker, they could not reduce it.
But this is the Elantra Sport. It has a sporty body kit and 225/45 17-inch alloy wheels.
It also has thick padded sports seats, in red. Hyundai is going after a new breed of customer, one it has neglected for years. But the company is neglecting those with a passion for performance no more, because this is the start of things to come.
It recently revealed its first N-Performance model, the i30 N, which is under consideration for SA if the price is right. But pricing is not Hyundai SA’s best feature. Hyundai in Korea feels that it has reached the point where it can compete head-on with the European manufacturers. It is a policy that has elicited some criticism in Europe but the brand is strong.
In SA with its badge loyalty and aspirational purchasing, Hyundai does well but still has to compete on value for money and pricing. Paying nearly 400 grand for an Elantra, even one that is involving to drive and features 150kW and 265Nm, is therefore a bit of an ask.
An i30 N will have to take on the mighty VW Golf GTi so you can imagine how hard Hyundai SA is having to try to negotiate with Korea on that one.
Not only does Elantra’s Sport mean turbocharging, but also a dual clutch gearbox. In urban traffic it is a smooth unit with nothing to whine about, but push it harder and it hesitates occasionally between changes. Given that this is an Elantra, it’s probably not a problem for most.
That is the thing about the model. Hyundai is not exactly making a song and dance about the fact that it has a performance Elantra. I suspect you probably did not even know. So I did not treat it as the modern equivalent of the old VW Jetta VR6. I got an idea of what it can do but mostly loved sitting in those extremely comfortable seats enjoying the peace and quiet. And it is quiet.
My experience of the latest-generation Elantra is that Hyundai has gone way beyond its rivals when it comes to a peaceful cabin. There is almost no noise intrusion from outside traffic, the wind or anything else. You could be in a top-end executive machine. The only real noise coming into the cabin is that of the low-profile tyres.
That quiet cabin is even more impressive because while we had it on test, the rubber seal beside one of the rear passenger seats came undone.
It was an unusual flaw for Hyundai models in our experience, but a flaw nonetheless.
The rest of the interior is spacious, comfortable and up there with rivals. The latest touchscreen infotainment system is easy to use and has clear icons, which ensures you are less distracted than some.
The multifunction steering wheel is well laid out and adds to an overall interior quality that is rather good.
The suspension is a little harder but this is a sportier version of the range so of course we expected that.
If the Elantra Sport is a sign of what the company is really working on when it comes to performance vehicles then it’s a good start. Hyundai might be a little late to the party, but at least it has arrived.
Fast Facts: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
Engine: 1591cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 150kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 265Nm from 1500 to 4500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch
0-100km/h: 7.7-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 210km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 7.9l/100km (achieved combined)
Price: From R399 999