Hyundai Elantra qualifies as true sports sedan

 Gallery

If the early travelers across “Death Valley” had driven an Elantra Sport instead of Conestoga wagons, this national park with some of the most varied landscape formations on the planet might have a different name today.

Our drive through Death Valley was an ideal locale for the 2018 Sport variant to come to life. The drive was highlighted by long stretches of open two-lane twisty tarmac, with undulating elevation changes and beauty at every bend in the road.

The five-passenger compact sedan is affordable (with an entry price that starts at $21,650) and shockingly good for its price; the Sport offers model-specific chassis and equipment upgrades, as well as an improved powertrain paired with performance-oriented handling dynamics. With the Sport model’s arrival, Hyundai now offers an Elantra for every type of driving personality.

Providing its enthusiastic go power is Hyundai’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder direct-injected and turbocharged engine, which produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. Not simply a trim package, the new model boasts an additional 54 hp and 63 lb.-ft. of torque over the standard Elantra.

This engine is paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined when shifted through the manual transmission and 26/33/29 with the automatic.

We drove both automatic and manual transmission versions, and would be hard-pressed to chose a favorite. While the manual gearbox is dreamy to shift, we liked the quick and mannered response from the paddles on the automatic transmission. Our favorite drive feature is the aggressive note that comes when pushing the throttle, as a result of muffler tuning.

To enhance to its spirited performance, the Elantra Sport receives bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels, a model-exclusive multi-link rear suspension, higher spring and damper rates, and enhanced steering tuning; upgraded 12.0-in. ventilated front disc brakes and 10.3-in. solid rear discs bring it all to a stop.

From every angle, Hyundai’s fun runner garners attention — thanks to the cadre of sporty visual cues that include standard HID headlights and LED daytime running lights, a unique grille and bumper fascia up front; door-handle approach lights, sport side sill extensions, and side mirrors with turn-signal indicators; and chrome twin-tip exhaust outlets, sport rear fascia with diffuser, and LED taillights out back.

Inside the well-designed cockpit are a 3.5-inch TFT cluster display, carbon-fiber-looking trim and alloy pedals, leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel and shift knob, unique heated leather front seats with more aggressive bolstering, red contrast stitching, and a black headliner.

Additional convenience is provided by proximity key and push-button start, as well as a standard hands-free Smart trunk and rearview camera with dynamic guidelines; infotainment technology includes AM/FM/HD/SiriusXM via 7-inch-display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. An available Premium Package adds an 8-inch navigation system, eight-speaker Infinity premium audio, Blue Link connectivity, power sunroof, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, dual automatic temperature control with auto defogger, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass.

The 2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport with the six-speed manual transmission starts at $21,650; automatic transmission versions start at $22,750, with destination at $835. The Premium Package ($2,400) adds amenities and more driver aids.

Despite the statistic that 50 percent of Elantra buyers are female, the compact was the official car and sponsor of the NFL, and had two spots in the 2016 Super Bowl; that’s a big-dollar commitment from this Korean auto company as it strives to raise awareness of its affordable quality with high-profile celebrity endorsements.

Backing that quality promise, Hyundai offers America’s best warranty, with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty; of note, Hyundai has been rated number one in customer loyalty for the last seven years.