2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosts face off in a battle of turbocharged C-segment sedans
As real as the SUV movement is, we still get a lot of queries from friends who want to buy a new car on one condition: it has to be a sedan. When they throw performance and value for money – two contradicting characteristics – into that wish list, our go-to car is often the Honda Civic 1.5L VTEC Turbo. It’s hard not to recommend it given how well it blends the Civic’s age-old versatility with the 10th-gen’s newfound force-inducted panache. But things aren’t as clear-cut as they used to be.
Of late, we’ve been hearing many voices rallying behind the Hyundai Elantra Sport 1.6L Turbo whenever the similarly turbocharged Civic is mentioned. And there’s strong substance to the Hyundai’s K-Pop chorus.
Packing 201bhp and 265Nm of twist, the range-topping Elantra extracts 30bhp and 45Nm more from an engine that’s merely 93cc bigger than Honda’s VTEC Turbo mill. The overall package is marginally cheaper too. But the Japanese segment leader isn’t one to be beaten so easily by such numbers.
Admittedly, Hyundai has really hit the sweet spot with its turbocharged and direct-injected T-GDI engine. It’s powerful when stressed and economical when it isn’t. More importantly, it feels incredibly refined by industry standards thanks in part to the accompanying 7-speed dual-clutch transmission which delivers swift and engaging gear shifts on the go. The feel here is more natural than the CVT-driven Civic, but to call the Elantra a better driver’s car overall would be jumping the gun.
It’s a closer contest in truth because the Civic makes up for its CVT, which really isn’t that bad to begin with, with better steering and brakes. Hyundai says the Elantra Turbo gets bigger rotors than the naturally aspirated model (16 inches vs 15), but it still doesn’t feel quite as optimised for the car’s heady output. We’ll give it the benefit of the doubt given the thousands of miles other enthusiastic journos clocked on our BMW M4-esque coloured tester, but there’s still a slight disconnect in steering response reminiscent of less exciting Korean cars of the past. Dynamically then, the Civic just feels like a better engineered product from the ground up. It does set the basis for TopGear’s 2017 Car of the Year, the Civic Type R, after all.
Driveability aside, the Elantra does a commendable job of matching the Civic’s high levels of comfort and NVH insulation. Both are quiet and nicely damped with passengers in mind. However, the Civic’s seats are cosier than the Elantra’s. The finish is more tasteful as well – the Elantra’s alarming red leather upholstery is truly an acquired taste. There’s more space in the back of the Honda too. But we’re still bummed by the Civic’s lack of foldable rear seats, which is somewhat shocking by current industry standards.
Onto equipment comparisons and the Civic and Elantra find themselves on a level playing field yet again. Both cars are endowed with keyless entry and ignition, electric driver seats, touchscreen head units hooked up to reverse cameras and dual zone air-conditioning with rear vents. The Elantra’s ‘Smart Trunk’ system, which pops the boot lid open upon detecting the key, is a neat feature the Civic lacks, but we think Honda’s remote engine start is a cooler party trick. Being able to pre-condition the cabin is rather useful in our climate as well.
All things considered, the Hyundai Elantra Sport definitely deserves some applause for putting up a spirited fight against the Civic Turbo in all key departments. It’s a competitive product offering a wealth of performance and kit for its price. But so does the Civic, which ultimately edges ahead with a more mature delivery of its take on modern styling and force-inducted driveability.
Disagree if you may but one thing is for sure: the number of turbocharged Asian sedans capable of rivalling the continental likes of the Volkswagen Jetta and Ford Focus in terms of performance has just doubled.
HONDA CIVIC TURBO
Engine: 1,498cc, 4-cylinder turbo, 171bhp, 220Nm
Performance: 0-100kph in 8.2 secs, 200kph
- Easily the more polished car of the two. Overcomes common CVT misconceptions to deliver a rather engaging drive.
HYUNDAI ELANTRA SPORT
Engine: 1,591cc, 4-cylinder turbo, 201bhp, 265Nm
Economy: 7.0L/100km, 163g/km CO2
- Turbocharged powertrain is one of the best we’ve had from Hyundai. Overall look and feel could use some work, though
Hyundai Elantra Sport