It's true that more and more car shoppers are turning away from sedans in favor of crossovers, but that doesn't mean there's no reason to consider small cars. With affordable pricing and impressive fuel efficiency, compact sedans continue to attract value-conscious buyers who look for practicality. The Hyundai Elantra, for instance, may have seen its sales slip, but it's still an important player in the new-car market. In January of this year, its sales figures outpaced the entire Acura lineup.
For the 2019 model year, the Hyundai Elantra receives its most major update since this generation of the sedan was introduced in 2016. Though most of the mechanical underpinnings are unchanged, the Elantra has a new look on the outside and inside the cabin to help keep it fresh in the face of increasingly stiff competition.
There's no chance you'll mistake the refreshed Elantra for last year's model, what with all the triangles and sharp lines on its nose. Nearly every exterior panel is new this year, as well as the lights and wheels, and overall the car has a tidier and more sharp-edged look than its curvy predecessor. First impressions from photos of the refreshed car were not necessarily positive, but the Elantra's styling is more appealing in three dimensions in the real world. The optional LED taillights are an especially nice touch, with lightning bolt-like signatures when illuminated, while my tester's 17-inch wheels are surprisingly sporty and stylized for an otherwise affordable car.
The interior freshening is less involved, but you'll notice a tidier and smarter center stack, replete with new climate control knobs, as well as a nip-tucked instrument cluster. While my tester's two-tone cabin, with light-colored upholstery, wouldn't be my choice, this is overall a fresh-looking and well-designed car interior. Forward visibility is good and all of the controls are simple and easy to use.
The Elantra is a small sedan so don't expect to lounge out in the back seat. Most adults will be fine back there, even with the front seat adjusted so an adult driver is comfortable, but it's worth noting that, by the numbers, you get about 2 fewer inches of rear legroom than in a Honda Civic or a Volkswagen Jetta. And at 14.4 cubic feet, trunk space in this small sedan is very good for the class but, again, not quite as roomy as the Tardis-like Civic and the Nissan Sentra.
The Elantra drives well overall, with no real offensive habits. It's a little loud on the highway and the suspension isn't as well-damped as I might like, and an enthusiastic driver will note unnatural steering feel and a squishy brake pedal. Yet there's nothing about the way the Elantra drives that'll pose a problem for most people in everyday commutes or road trips.
Under the hood is a 2.0-liter inline-four engine rated for 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque: average figures even in this class, so there's not a whole lot of excitement behind the wheel. Yet the engine is mostly pretty quiet and the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly enough, both important qualities in an affordable car. There is a sport mode for the transmission, which eagerly holds lower gears, but it's unlikely many drivers will want or need to take advantage of it.
It's easy to match the Elantra's EPA fuel economy ratings, 27 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway, in ordinary driving. When you turn off the ignition after each drive, a message in the trip computer displays your journey distance, time elapsed and fuel economy, providing subtle feedback about your driving style.
Still, while the Elantra's mileage figures were excellent when the car launched, today they're behind the best in the segment. The new Volkswagen Jetta boasts 30/40 mpg ratings, while the Honda Civic sedan can return as much as 32/42 mpg. The new 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan returns up to 30/38 mpg with its base 1.8-liter engine and up to 31/40 mpg with the optional 2.0-liter engine.
Aside from the 2.0-liter, the Elantra offers two other powertrains. The Elantra Sport, which we found delightfully fun in prior test drives, has a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine with 201 horsepower. The Elantra Eco, meanwhile, uses a thrifty 1.4-liter turbo engine and has various other tweaks to help it post EPA figures of 32/40 mpg. For most buyers, the standard 2.0-liter is the one to go for.
Affordable cars today pack far more features than their predecessors 10 years ago, and the Elantra is no exception. While the base SE trim is sparsely equipped -- drum brakes, steel wheels with hubcaps -- the SEL, Value Edition and Limited versions offer generous equipment sets.
My tester is a Limited with the Ultimate package, and it packs modern goodies like a sunroof, heated leather seats, LED headlights, push-button start, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, built-in navigation and even wireless phone charging. That's a very comprehensive list of features, though as I'll discuss later, that's also only on the relatively expensive fully loaded model.
Infotainment technology is very good, with a 7-inch touchscreen standard on all but the base Elantra SE, and an 8-inch screen is available as an option. The built-in software has bright colors and big, easy-to-read fonts and graphics. With a simple, flat menu structure, navigating the systems functions is a breeze, too. It responds quickly to inputs and supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, and built-in navigation is optional.
A 4.2-inch color trip computer (a 3.5-inch screen is standard on lower trims) provides more information in the instrument cluster: basic info like a digital speedometer and fuel economy data, as well as vehicle status, tire pressure info, navigation directions and car settings menus.
Active safety tech is in good supply, though as with the infotainment features, the base spec Elantra SE misses out on them. In other trims, though, the following systems are standard: automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver-drowsiness monitor. Optional on the Elantra Limited, and fitted to my tester, are adaptive cruise control and upgraded AEB that adds pedestrian detection.
One of the Elantra's strong points remains its extremely affordable pricing, with the base 2019 SE model starting at $18,120 with destination -- albeit with a manual transmission. My fully loaded test car is $26,920, owing to how much equipment is on offer. For my money -- and yours -- the rather appropriately named Elantra Value Edition is the best pick. At a very reasonable $21,420, it packs features like a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, heated seats, Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system, 16-inch wheels and the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
The 2019 Hyundai Elantra wouldn't be our first recommendation among compact sedans because it's not as satisfying to drive as rivals, its interior design feels dated and fuel economy ratings are not segment-leading. The Jetta, Civic, Mazda3 and 2020 Toyota Corolla are all appealing rivals to the Elantra. Yet there are plenty of reasons to consider Hyundai's small car: a long warranty, extremely affordable pricing and good value for money when you start to add options. It's absolutely worth considering if you're shopping for a practical small car.