ONE: It looks different
Hyundai freshens its compact four-door sedan for the 2019 model year. Long a staple of the South Korean automaker, today’s sixth-generation Elantra debuted for model-year 2017 with new styling, drivetrains, and features. Its overall look mimicked that of Hyundai’s 2015-2017 Sonata midsize sedan. The ’17 redesign was more visually conservative than the 2011-2016 generation Elantra but boasted a much quieter cabin and vastly superior road manners.
Model-year ’19 sees a further evolution of the design. It again follows Sonata’s lead, with a more expressive grille and a new hood, front fenders, headlights, and wheels. Interior changes are subtler. Air vents and audio and climate controls are updated, and the storage tray below the central dashboard stack is revised. Faster infotainment system hardware promises improved response.
Note that Hyundai also offers a four-door compact hatchback as the Elantra GT; this is a distinct vehicle from the Elantra sedan, with a different body and understructure and tighter dimensions. This report covers only the Elantra sedan, which far outsells the GT in the United States.
In good news for Hyundai, Elantra holds the distinction of being the only compact car whose sales have increased. They were up 4.1 percent through September 2018, while the compact-car segment as a whole suffered a sobering 14 percent drop. That decline reflects a consumer swing in which demand for crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks has depressed sales of all cars to just 30 percent of America’s new-vehicle market.
TWO: It boosts safety features
Hyundai wisely expands availability of key driver-assist features – but perhaps not far enough. For 2019, all Elantra sedans except the SE come standard with autonomous emergency braking to automatically stop the car to prevent a frontal collision, lane-departure warning, and lane-maintaining automatic steering. Previously, these valuable aids were exclusive to Limited models and then only as part of the pricey $4,350 Ultimate Package.
Unfortunately, the Limited remains the only model available with the optional adaptive radar cruise control that can maintain a set distance from traffic ahead and pedestrian detection for the autonomous braking system. Still, we applaud Hyundai for taking a step in the right direction.
THREE: Its drivetrains are unchanged
All 2019 Elantras carry over engines and transmissions from their 2017-2018 counterparts. The SE, SEL, Value Edition, and Limited employ a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Its 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque are on the low end of the competitive set. Standard on the SE is a 6-speed manual transmission. Optional on the SE and standard otherwise is a 6-speed automatic. No Elantra with this engine is a lively performer. Acceleration around town is perfectly adequate, but highway passing and merging require flooring the gas pedal and plenty of margin as your speed builds slowly.
Eco grades retain a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 128 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. They use a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This drivetrain combination is quicker than you might expect, particularly from a stop. And absent from this dual-clutch transmission is the bogging and jerking sensation we’ve experienced in other Hyundai vehicles with this powertrain, including the Tucson compact crossover SUV.
The Sport gets a 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Our preference is the former because it’s fun to shift, and the clutch isn’t heavy. This is by far the most entertaining Sonata sedan to drive, though it’s also the only one with a curb weight over 3,000 pounds and the heft blunts acceleration, keeping it from feeling as spry as, say, the Civic Si.
Despite their cost-cutting solid-rear-axle suspensions, the non-Sport Elantras handle with confidence. Steering feel is on the lighter side, but grip is very good, with little body lean in fast turns. Even though it has hard, narrow, low-rolling-resistance tires, the Eco is remarkably nimble. Naturally, the Sport is the most adept handler of the bunch, but, again, doesn’t feel as nimble as the Si and you pay a slight premium in terms of asking price and fuel economy.
FOUR: Its fuel economy ratings are unchanged
Absent powertrain changes, the 2019 Elantra sedans with the 2.0-liter engine retain their 2018 EPA ratings. With manual transmission, the 2019 Elantra SE rates 26/36/29 mpg city/highway/combined. Automatic transmission boosts it to 29/38/33 mpg. The SEL, Value Edition, and Limited have larger tires that lowers their rating to 28/37/32 mpg. Our 2018 Limited averaged 34.1 mpg with more highway driving than city use.
EPA ratings for the 2019 Elantra Sport and Eco were unavailable in time for this review, but expect them to be unchanged from 2018. The Sport with manual transmission should rate 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined — disappointing for a compact car with this level of performance. With the dual-clutch automatic, the Sport should again rate a much better 26/33/29 mpg.
True to its mission, the 2019 Sonata Eco should continue with ratings of 32/40/35 mpg city/highway/combined. All engines use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.
FIVE: Its starting prices are higher
The 2019 Hyundai Elantra’s starting prices increase $150-$500, depending on trim level. Including Hyundai’s $885 destination fee, the SE with manual transmission starts at $17,985, the SE with automatic at $18,985, the SEL at $20,285 and the Value Edition at $21,285.
Base price for the 2019 Sonata Eco is $21,835. The Limited is priced from $23,485.
The 2019 Elantra Sport starts at $23,285 with manual transmission and at $24,385 with the dual-clutch automatic.
The only major factory option for 2019 is the Limited’s Ultimate Package. It costs $3,350, which is $1,000 less than it did on the ’18 Elantra. It includes radar cruise control, pedestrian detection for the autonomus emergency braking system, driver-seat memory, upgraded audio system, power sunroof, and imbedded GPS navigation. Previously part of this package, heated outboard rear seats have been discontinued.
For its sprightly drivetrain, surprising refinement, and higher fuel-economy ratings, our pick for best value is the Eco grade.