The South African obsession with hot hatches is nothing new. For decades Golf GTI has outsold the ‘regular’ Golf. In recent years the ratio has climbed as high as 55:45 % in favour of the GTI hoonigans – that’s the highest anywhere in the world. As a result, the conventional family sedan has seen leans times, being overlooked in favour of the extra verve and brawny physiques of hot hatch alternatives. But what if you combined the two? A rakish three-box sedan with boy-racer biff, something in the line of the legendary Toyota Corolla RSI 20v and Nissan Sentra STI of two decades ago? Well, it’s the Koreans who are rekindling this thought-to-be-forgotten formula. Take a look at the Hyundai Elantra’s multi-spoke 17-inch wheels, the twin-pipe exhaust outlets and faux rear diffuser, the long aero-honed (just 0.27 drag Cd) bonnet feeding down to the low brow and wide front piano-black airdam with sculpted LED daytime running lights either side. All allude to its quasi-sporting credentials.
Climb inside and the interior follows an entirely different modus operandi. There’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel with blood-red stitching and red leather seats emblazoned with ‘Sport’ but they aren’t full-on buckets and they’re brilliantly supportive and comfy. While the faux carbonfibre garnish is pretty naf, especially as you know it’s definitely not real carbonfibre and therefore something from the Auto Style catalogue, it too doesn’t deter from the completely ordered, user-friendly cabin. You climb in and the 8-inch touchscreen with sat-nav is nothing particularly revolutionary but it’s familiar and, here comes a cliché, I apologise – ‘everything falls perfectly to hand.’ It’s at this point the bright red Turbo emblems affixed front and rear take on supreme significance.
Traditionally Hyundais measured up just fine on paper but suffered with a deficiency of low-down torque from their naturally aspirated engines. Since the introduction of turbocharged GDI engines three years ago, all that’s changed, and effectively a second-generation iteration of that engine in the Elantra Sport is nothing short of revelatory. Armed with 150kW/265Nm it’s got MkV Golf GTI power and torque from 1600cc. The fire in its belly means a sprint from standstill to 100kph in just 7.7sec and our testing suggests that’s a totally repeatable figure; while the top speed of 210kph is perhaps even a little on the conservative side. Cough, cough…, we may or may not have bettered that on a cold Western Cape morning, the intercooled, turbocharged mil no doubt responding well to the dense air. Even without the environmental assistance it’s the most powerful four-door sedan in its class and at its particular price point.
So it’s more than quick enough for a Korean, but just how competent is it when the road gets twisty? The answer, much like the whole package so far, is overwhelmingly positive. Hyundai were putting the final touches on their N high-performance brand at the Nurburgring 24 Hour race last month with the i30 (which most likely won’t reach South Africa due to the high costs involved), but this Elantra Sport could more than qualify as a pseudo-N performance car. There’s multi-link rear suspension that’s setup on the firm side but never to the point that it’s too abrasive over challenging surfaces. It’s pliant, assured and, most importantly, relays a wealth of information to the driver via the chassis. The steering feels pretty basic and natural, not blighted by its active Flex steering system. Just like its everything-falls-to-hand ethos – it goes, rides and steers with ease and confidence.
Then you factor in the massive 450-litre boot, space for three full-size adults in the rear, brilliant Hyundai warranty and service, and the traditionally strong resale value of the previous Elantra; it streaks ahead in the all-things-considered stakes. In many respects to drive and to live with it puts me in mind of the venerable MkV Golf GTI, a car those in the know rate as one of the best GTIs ever.
The only let down for Hyundai is its two-pedal transmission, which they claim is a dual-clutch but it just can’t compare to a VW DSG. Up-changes lack crispness and down-changes happen in geological time whether executed with the paddles or not. Now just imagine they’d been brave enough to fit a lighter, simpler, cost-effective six-speed manual?
Nevertheless, lethargic cog-swapper aside, the new Elantra Sport is a great car – a car that takes quality and refinement to a new stratosphere over its predecessor – the selfsame car that was deemed worthy of Wesbank/SAGMJ Car of the Year title in 2012. If this one isn’t at least in the running, never mind the front-runner for the 2017 title, it’ll only be because a few ballot boxes went missing.
In a nutshell
Speed, agility, usability, comfort, quality and technology – it’s the Full Monty for less than R400k.
Sloppy gearbox, not quite as economical as the Europeans.
- Engine: 1591cc, 4-cylinder, turbo
- Power: 150kW@6000rpm, 265Nm@1500-4500rpm
- Performance: 0-100km/h 7.7secs, top speed 210kph
- Tyres: 17-inch alloys, 225/45
- Economy: 7.9l/100km
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
- CO2 emissions: 164g/km
- Price: R399 900
Audi A3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI auto
This compact sedan from Audi is a real ripper to drive, but the Korean is more powerful, cheaper and better equipped for the money.
0-100kph 6.8secs, top speed 250kph, power 140kW/320Nm, Price R465 500
Ford Fusion 2.0T Trend
The Fusion (essentially a Mondeo from Britain) is one of the most underrated cars in the world. It’s limousine big, only pipped by the Hyundai on price. 0-100kph 8.7secs, top speed 230kph, power 149kW/300Nm, Price R433 900