Let’s clear this up right away: If you’re looking for the ultimate performance Honda or Hyundai, the 2019 Civic Si and 2019 Elantra Sport aren’t your bag. Save your pennies for a Civic Type R or Veloster N, two of the best-driving sport compacts to hit the streets, since, well, ever.
They’re the A-team, if you will: lots of horsepower, lots of performance, not much coin. For those who can’t make the price leap, don’t like hatchbacks, or hate higher insurance premiums, both Honda and Hyundai offer slightly less thrilling but more efficient options. They’re less expensive, too. The Civic Si and Elantra Sport are the B-team in the two automakers’ sport compact lineups.
On some level, I feel for the engineers responsible for the Civic Si and Elantra Sport. With the 306-hp Type R and 275-hp Veloster N sitting at the top of the ladder, starting at around $30,000 and the 175-hp Civic and 147-hp Elantra nipping at their heels for $20,000 at the bottom, there’s not much daylight for these warmed-over sport compacts. Yet both manufacturers made the best of a not-great situation.
Then again, if you are in the market for affordable performance, the price jump to a Type R (starting at $37,320) or Veloster N, (starting at $27,830) may be the difference between making rent or picking up a second or third job working for Lyft or GrubHub. Given their price points—$23,645 as tested for the Elantra Sport and $25,960 for the Civic Si—both automakers have done a lot with a little.
The Honda team arguably has the stronger hand. The Civic Si sedan (also available as a coupe) benefits greatly from both ends of the Civic lineup. From the Civic Type R, the Si gets a real mechanical limited-slip front differential and a lesser version of its electronically adjusting adaptive suspension with two modes: normal and sport. From the standard Civic, the Si gets a juiced-up version of Honda’s 1.5-liter turbocharged I-4, now making 205 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, paired to a six-speed manual.
Whereas the Civic Si benefits from shared architecture with the Type R, the Elantra Sport doesn’t share anywhere near as much with the Veloster N. The Elantra GT hatchback, which has the same powertain as the Sport, also shares its more modern platform with the Veloster lineup. The Elantra Sport, on the other hand, makes do with less. Like all Elantra sedans, the Sport has an older version of the Elantra platform, with a slightly sportier suspension and drivetrain tune, “high-performance” all-season tires, and a 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 making 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. So long as you’re shopping Hyundai dealer stock, power is routed to the front wheels through a six-speed manual; for the 2020 model year and beyond, Hyundai is dropping the six-speed manual option on the Elantra Sport in favor of a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. If you want to continue to row your own gears, move along to the Elantra GT or Veloster lineup.
Despite the differences in their upbringings, the Honda and Hyundai at first glance perform pretty similarly at the test track. Aided by summer tires and its mechanical limited-slip diff, the Civic Si is consistently the quicker of the two cars. It zips from 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and through the quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at 95.5 mph, to the Elantra Sport’s 6.9 second 0–60 mph time and 15.2-second quarter mile at 92.1 mph.
The Civic out-brakes and out-turns the Elantra, too; the Honda stopped from 60 to 0 mph in 107 feet and lapped the figure eight in 25.8 seconds at an average 0.68 g. The Hyundai needed extra runoff room in the 60–0 test, stopping in 119 feet, and it lapped the figure eight in 26.8 seconds at 0.64 g average.
In addition to being quicker than the Elantra Sport, to add insult to injury the feds say the Civic Si is more efficient, too. The Honda nets an impressive 28/38/32 mpg city/highway/combined EPA rating; the Hyundai scores 22/30/25 mpg.
Even though the two cars put up respectable numbers at the test track, they both feel a bit stale in real world-testing. The Elantra initially shows the most promise. The “big” 1.6-liter engine is spunky and well tuned. The turbo spools up quickly and delivers its power smoothly throughout. Although it has an occasional tendency to hang revs, the cute little snarl and occasional pops from the back end make up for it. Its ride is a bit flinty but not harsh, and, while negotiating traffic, it’s steering is a touch too light, but progressive.
The Hyundai is, dare I say, kinda fun. Or at least it is, as long as you stay off SoCal’s famous canyon roads. When truly driven hard, the Elantra Sport starts to fall apart. The spunky engine quickly runs out of steam when pushed to redline, and the gearbox reveals itself to have long shifts that can be rubbery at times. “Doesn’t feel eager,” noted road test editor Chris Walton.
When the Hyundai is pushed hard, its handling balance is more disappointing. Despite the touch of flintiness experienced around town—which would signify stiffness and thus better control through corners—the Elantra Sport pushes back hard in bends. Hyundai’s baffling choice of an all-season tire for the Elantra Sport has a compounding effect on the car’s behavior. By midcorner, the “tires are howling and the front end washes out,” as associate online editor Duncan Brady noted. This in turn leads to a lack of both precision and feel up through the steering wheel. The Hyundai’s stability control system then attempts to pull power to mitigate this understeer, ultimately further arresting the fun.
When driven in anger, the Honda Civic Si is a more compelling car, but it isn’t without its faults, either. First, the good: The Si’s greatest strength is the fact that it shares a chassis with the Type R; its platform is composed and well balanced, and its electronically adjustable suspension (which it’s worth pointing out feels damn near the same in both normal and sport modes) helps the Civic corner flat and playfully through bends. Steering is continually well weighed and progressive, and Honda deserves major credit for fitting the Civic Si with a mechanical limited-slip diff, which really helps the car claw its way rapidly through corners.
Although it’s mildly entertaining on a winding road, the Civic’s Achilles’ heel is that it’s all a bit of boring when off a good road. It doesn’t have half the personality its big brother has. The Si’s 1.5-liter engine and six-speed manual probably deserve the bulk of the blame here.
The engine, which is shared across Honda’s lineup, is quite laggy until just over 2,000 rpm, at which point it vomits up all its power. That’d be fine, except the six-speed manual’s gear ratios are so closely spaced that it feels like you need to shift almost immediately after the car hits its powerband or you’ll run into the rev limiter. The gears are so closely spaced, that you shift twice before hitting 60 mph—at around 25 mph into second and at around 55 mph into third. At least the gearbox has short, precise throws, as is typical of a Honda.
The combo is also tricky to launch hard. “Quite a lot of violent wheel hop, but that’s what it wants. It’s that or a big bog,” said Walton.
We’ve already established that if you’re shopping for a Civic Si or Elantra Sport, you probably don’t want the ultimate performance compact that either automaker is capable of making. That probably means that some of the tangibles are important to you.
Both cars come well equipped from the factory (and neither offers option packages). Although they have the same 106.3-inch wheelbase and nearly the same length, the Honda is ever so slightly larger inside. Even so, both compacts sport adult-friendly back seats and comfortable, supportive front buckets. Both cabins are appropriately equipped for their sticker prices, with similar levels of quality. The biggest differentiator in feature set is that Hyundai’s infotainment system is far superior to Honda’s ponderous interface.
Ultimately, the finish between these two sport compacts was closer than we would have thought. Even though I fully believe that the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N are good enough to warrant the larger car payments, the Civic Si and Elantra Sport still bring a lot to the table.
Both are roomy, efficient, affordable, and relatively entertaining packages. That said, the Honda Civic Si’s superior performance at the test track and on winding roads—not to mention its impressive fuel economy score—ultimately make it the better buy and the winner of this comparison. The Civic Si may not be a Type R, but being the best of the B-team is an accomplishment on its own.
|2019 Honda Civic Si (Sedan)||2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||91.4 cu in/1,498 cc||97.1 cu in/1,591 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||205 hp @ 5,700 rpm||201 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||192 lb-ft @ 2,100 rpm||195 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.1 lb/hp||15.0 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.3-in vented disc; 11.1-in disc, ABS||12.0-in vented disc; 10.3-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 18-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 18-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||235/40R18 95Y Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2||225/40R18 88W (M+S) Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2|
|WHEELBASE||106.3 in||106.3 in|
|TRACK, F/R||60.5/61.2 in||60.8/61.4 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.8 x 70.8 x 55.5 in||181.9 x 70.9 x 56.5 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.8 ft||34.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||2,890 lb||3,020 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||60/40%||59/41%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.5/36.8 in||38.8/37.3 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.3/37.4 in||42.2/35.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.9/55.0 in||56.2/51.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||14.7 cu ft||14.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.3 sec||2.4 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.3||3.6|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 95.5 mph||15.2 sec @ 92.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||107 ft||119 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.95 g (avg)||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.8 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)||26.8 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2,300 rpm||2,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$25,960||$23,645|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||12.4 gal||14.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||28/38/32 mpg||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||120/89 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.61 lb/mile||0.78 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded regular|
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