CARS.COM — The 2017 Honda Civic Si has grabbed more of the headlines lately, being newer and having the flashier name. But the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport is no slouch, either — our editors have driven it on the track and on the street before, and it’s one of our favorite performance bargains.
These two match up very closely on price ($24,995 for the Civic Si on summer tires, $25,985 for the Elantra Sport with Premium Package) and on the spec sheet. Both have turbocharged four-cylinder engines — the Civic Si’s 1.5-liter makes 205 horsepower and 192 pounds-feet of torque, the Elantra Sport’s 1.6-liter makes 201 hp and 195 pounds-feet of torque. Each also offers a six-speed manual.
With so much in common, the big question becomes, how are they different? And being the only person on staff to have driven both to this point, I get to answer those questions. Here are five ways:
1. Row, Row, Row Your Own … or Don’t
The Elantra Sport does offer a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as a $1100 option, but the Civic Si is only offered with the aforementioned six-speed manual. So, if you’re not a fan of shifting your own gears, there’s only one option here.
I thoroughly enjoyed the manuals in both of these sedans. The Elantra Sport has one of the easiest manuals to drive right out of the gate that I’ve run into with a light pedal but clear catch point and easy-to-find gates. It’s by far the best manual from Hyundai that I’ve ever experienced.
There are significant upgrades to the Elantra Sport’s suspension. It gets an independent rear suspension, which replaces the semi-independent torsion beam found in regular models. These changes give the Elantra Sport a stiffer ride, but not a harsh one — I found it comfortable in a variety of scenarios and street conditions, and when pushed, it was up to the task of keeping the car balanced and fairly neutral.
The Civic Si goes above and beyond, though, with an adaptive two-mode suspension that uses a valve to either soften the shocks or make them extra-firm in Sport mode. While in regular mode, it’s softer than the Elantra Sport; but flip the switch and it gets taut, as well. This level of customization gives the Civic Si and edge here for me. And speaking of Sport mode …
3. Where’s the Sport Mode?
This mode is included on automatic-equipped versions of the Elantra Sport but not on the manual, and I would have welcomed it to get some more aggressive throttle mapping. These two engines make very close to the same power, but the Civic Si is approximately 100 pounds lighter and felt like it had more acceleration, especially coming out of turns. The Elantra Sport was harder to keep in the power: Once you get up in the rev range, it has some kick but falls flat in mid-rpm, straight-line acceleration compared to the Civic Si.
4. Just Talk to Me
Steering feedback was also strangely lacking in the Elantra Sport. Driving the Elantra Sport reminded me of that one friend who’s in your group text but never really responds to anything. Trying to make plans is hard without hearing back from people; it’s the same thing with steering — there needs to be some sense through the steering wheel of what the rest of the car is doing. I need more from you, Steve! I mean, Elantra Sport.
The Civic Si comes with a variable steering ratio that offers more feel and, thus, made me more confident driving it harder. It’s a shame because the Elantra Sport’s suspension really is good in these situations
5. New-School Is Not Always Better
We’ve railed against the Civic before for this, but when you put it head-to-head with another competitor that does it well, it just makes you upset again — that center console is a mess. I get what Honda was going for: minimalistic, put all the controls in the screen and make one spot for the driver to access. Our other editors have decried the absence of volume and tuning knobs, but what really irked me is the burying of the climate controls.
There’s no way to raise or lower the fan or change its positioning other than to go into the screen. Hyundai’s old-fashioned solution is much preferred, and it lets you get the air flowing about 30 seconds earlier than it does in the Civic Si, which during the hot summer months is a big difference in sweatiness.
The Civic Si is the sharper performer of the two, though the Elantra Sport is no slouch in that department. The Hyundai just lacks some of the sharpness of the Honda — it needs better steering and a more aggressive throttle setup to really compete in the performance categories.
However, it may be the easier of the two to live with because the Honda’s control systems make me want to punch things sometimes. Would I still take the Civic Si? Yes, but that’s because I put a premium on drivability. For those who want fun-to-drive and something easy to live with, there’s a place for the 2017 Elantra Sport in your garage.
Editor’s note: This story was updated July 7, 2017, to reflect that the Elantra Sport offers an available seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.