Sport model gives updated 2019 Hyundai Elantra boost in performance

By Paul Borden

(July 22, 2019) Launched nearly two decades ago with Mitsubishi power, Hyundai Elantra has overcome a shaky past that earned it a reputation for unreliability and sloppy workmanship to become a viable competitor in the compact market.

Hyundai reports sales for the Elantra at over 3 million since its introduction in the U.S.  in 1991. Though the 84,971 reported sold through June of this year represent a decline from the nearly 100,000 sold through the first six months of 2018, they clearly hold a lead over the South Koreans’ No. 2 seller, the Santa Fe SUV (67,571) and nearly double that for the company’s second-most popular sedan, the Sonata, with just over 47,000 sold.

With six trim levels that include three different engines and a variety of technological features not often found as standard in the segment, the Elantra certainly does have a lot to offer at a price in the high-teens to $20,000 range.

You won’t get full-blown luxury, of course, but the updates Hyundai gave the 2019 model several tweaks in the mid-cycle refreshing. There’s a new center cluster and instrument housing and the company’s “next generation” AVN 5.0 infotainment system that features an 8-inch screen in place of the previous 7-inch display.

Infinity Premium Audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and wireless smartphone charging as well as navigation with a high-resolution screen are available as optional on a couple of higher-end trims.

Most of the changes for 2019 were done to the exterior. They include a new hood, front front fascia, grille, and headlight treatments; new trunk, taillights, and rear fascia; new 16- and 17-inch wheel designs with new 15-inch alloy wheels on Eco trim; and LED headlights for Limited and Sport trims.

This review is based on the Sport trim, which, as its name might suggest, offers a more satisfying driving experience, especially when equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission as my test car for the week was.

The Sport is the only one of the group that gets the 1.6-liter, turbo-4 as standard. It generates 201 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 195 pound-feet of torque from 1500 to 4500 rpm, not sports-car like but plenty of fun.

It enjoys a big advantage of SE, SEL, Value Edition, and Limited models that are powered a 2.0 4-banger (147 hp/132 lb.-ft.) and the Eco with its turbo-4 (128 hp but 156 lb.-ft.).

Again, by virtue of its name, the Eco model with its smaller engine and 7-speed double-clutch transmission achieves the best fuel mileage with a rating of 35 miles-per-gallon combined. The Sport is down about 10 mpg from that with ratings of 22 mpg city/30 combined.

But, hey. It’s worth it with the pickup in performance.

The Sport trim gets good treatment when it comes to standard equipment. In addition to the features already mentioned, among items included in the $23,520 MSRP (including $925 destination and delivery) are safety features like forward collision alert, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning, the usual assortment of air bags (including front side and side curtain), 16-inch alloy wheels, 7-inch audio display, Android auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth hands-free phone, power sunroof, Sport instrument gauge cluster, flat-bottom leather-wrapped Sport steering wheel, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and push-button start.

That’s a pretty impressive list and, unless you want navigation (Don’t you have a Smart Phone?), is pretty much everything you would want.

You also may find a dealer willing to negotiate with you what with 2020 Elantras having arrived in many showrooms in the spring. The 2020 Elantra Sports cost a little over $1,000 more than the the 2019, and there is sad news for manual lovers.

The manual transmission in the Sport has been discontinued for 2020 (and base SE as well), replaced by what Hyundai calls a new “Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT),” essentially a CVT that simulates the familiar gear shifts most people are comfortable with.

Such is progress. I guess.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport: Technology is plentiful and user friendly. The manual transmission adds an element of fun to the driving experience. You can raise the performance level to your liking with an manual that you lack in an automatic, even one with paddle shifters.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport: The interior isn’t what I would call “cramped,” but it’s not the roomiest in its class either, especially the backseat. A bit more trunk (capacity 14.4 cubic feet) would be nice, but one must remember this is a compact!

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport? Yes. It’s competing in a tough class, especially against Honda Civic, but outshines the Toyota Corolla in performance and agility in Sport trim.