I bought a "base" Elantra Sport and have almost 6000 miles on it. Its comfortable, economical and rather fun to drive. After rebates, I paid under $18,000 for a car that listed at $22.860. A base GTI has an MSRP of $26,415 (+$3555) A base Civic Si is $24,775 (+1915).
Maybe I'm failing to see how you justify the Elantra Sport as a direct competitor to either of these cars. A Jetta GLI at OVER $28K is the more similar car (sedan vs sedan) in the Volkswagen line AND the Jetta SE at $21715 is closer in price, but gives up a lot in terms of wheels, brakes and suspension to the Elantra, not to mention about 50 horsepower.
As with Honda, the EX-T is more closely aligned to the Elantra Sport when it comes to price; at $22,375. It's no Si Either, is it? 17" wheels, and 174HP (and base Civic brakes and suspension) are not quite in line with the "Sport".
It's pretty simple--the only car in the market that offers the "bang-for-the-buck" performance-wise might be the FiST, and as an autocrosser it wins. As a daily--driver, I'll take the Hyundai and its 5/60 Bumper-to-bumper coverage and 5/100 powertrain coverage over ANY of the aforementioned cars. Oh, wait, I just did.
I love my car. I am getting better than anticipated fuel economy, quick enough for me, handles well for me. I do want to upgrade when I replace my ES. Hopefully a N division variant. For now I will enjoy my ES and hope those that bought the others enjoy theirs. I want for nothing with my car. My dream car is a Porsche 718 S with all the performance goodies. I will not let that dream ruin my love of my ES nor will I let others opinions of it ruin it either. I do not feel cheated for buying it nor do I desire the others that it is compared to. I would have bought one if I did. Let's enjoy our ES's to the fullest and let that be that.
Regarding the statement (in the referenced review)..."1.6-liter engine in its happy zone above 4000 rpm". I would only go above 4K rpm (in most if not all cars) when purposefully driving the car hard. So why is this a bad thing?