On Autos: Hyundai adds dose of sport to humble economy sedan

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The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport provides an extra jolt of driving enjoyment in a relatively affordable economy car. (Brady Holt/The Current)

There are lots of cars these days with “Sport” in their names. Sometimes “Sport” means “flashy-looking.” Sometimes it’s used as a diminutive, to indicate a smaller vehicle or the base model with the fewest options.

On the redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport compact economy sedan, the word actually refers to concrete mechanical upgrades that transform the ordinary Elantra’s dull driving experience. Priced from $22,395, the Sport costs roughly $3,000 more than the most comparably equipped non-sporting model.

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport has a spacious and functional interior. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The primary upgrade is the engine. The base Elantra has a fairly noisy and not terribly powerful four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission. The Elantra Sport, meanwhile, has a turbocharged engine that boosts horsepower to 201, and it offers the choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, a technology that promises faster shifts and greater efficiency.

The tested Elantra Sport came with the manual transmission, which provided enjoyable slick shifts and a gentle clutch that wasn’t too annoying in city traffic. The engine delivers strong acceleration, but it’s not so powerful that it feels out of place in urban commuting, and it stays genteelly quiet.

The EPA estimates a pretty dismal 25 mpg in mixed driving with the manual transmission, but a weeklong test resulted in a reassuring 37 mpg average in a tank that included mainly highway driving. With the automatic transmission, it’s rated for 29 mpg in mixed driving — not great for a compact car, but acceptable given its healthy horsepower.

A few cosmetic details separate the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport from base Elantra sedans, including a different grille and rear bumper; larger wheels; and a subtle body kit. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The Sport model also includes a stiffer suspension and revised steering system for improved agility over the base Elantra. These changes are less transformative than the turbo engine, but driving enthusiasts will appreciate the upgrade nonetheless.

Overall, don’t think of the Elantra Sport as an all-out performance car like the pricier Ford Focus ST or even the Honda Civic Si. Rather, its upgrades are enough to make the Elantra a potentially appealing alternative to competing compact cars that are already fun to drive in their base forms — entry-level versions of the Focus and Civic, along with the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf. Compared to those models, the Elantra Sport delivers extra horsepower and above-average interior space, along with quietly classy styling and long warranty coverage.

If you’d like a powerful engine in your compact economy car but prefer a generally low-key flavor, the Elantra Sport delivers an extra boost without being over the top.