2019 Hyundai Elantra- Bizarre Triangle Love

There’s a death chant for the sedan across America. More and more car buyers are discovering the attributes and conceived rugged image of crossover SUV’s and migrating from the traditional sedan in droves. Case in point, Ford has pledged that they will discontinue all of their cars (bar the Mustang) to…ahem….focus solely on trucks and CUV’s by 2020. Rumours circulate that GM may follow suit. But don’t tell Hyundai and their buyers. Of the seven vehicle lineup that they offered in 2018, including three SUV’s, the Elantra was easily the best selling model for the brand and 7th best selling car in the country. Over 200,000 found homes last year, outpacing the next runner-up, the Tucson compact crossover, by more than 65,000 units. Of all the Hyundais sold in the U.S., one in four was an Elantra. For every Velostar that left the dealer, they were able to move 20 Elantras. You get the idea; the Elantra sells! Against all odds and the writing on the wall, the second-smallest Hyundai is tenaciously bucking the trend. But what makes buyers keep coming back for this compact sedan? Let’s find out.

It’s been six years since I reviewed our last Elantra, a perky little 2013 model. Back then, I commented that the 5th generation Elantra could sell itself on merit and not solely on price. That bodystyle Elantra, along with the big-brother Sonata, debuted with Hyundai’s new and eye-catching “fluidic sculpture” styling. The body had an intricate series of swoops and curves that also translated to the interior with its unique hourglass shaped console. It broke the mold for compact cars. Interior space was good with the exception of the low roofline stealing precious headroom for rear passengers, build quality was solid but materials were a little plasticky, and performance was fine for an economy car albeit some engine noise and vague handling. Since that time, the Elantra has been redesigned for 2017, and recently gained a relatively quick refresh for 2019.

Like with the redone Sonata in 2015, Hyundai decided to pullback on the expressive design when the sixth generation Elantra was introduced two years later. It’s a familiar profile for the Elantra with the low roof, short trunk lid, and sweptback A-pillar, yet with more angular, mature details. Gone are the extroverted and flowing panel creases. In their place are more straight edged and subdued touches. I personally miss the look of the former Elantra, as it was outgoing and immediately recognizable.

The Elantra’s touchup for 2019 has been nothing short of controversial. The bodyshell around the cabin and doors remain the same, but the front and rear fascias have been completely redone. Hyundai has been proud to proclaim that it was more just a simple refresh and serious money was invested, as the fenders, bumpers and hood are all-new. The most glaring change are the massive triangular headlights that seem to pay homage to the original Ford Focus, sitting atop a prominent chrome bar that separates a massive grille lifted off the last generation Camry. Three-sided indicators reside on the outer reaches of the front bumper to carry the theme. The rear is less bodacious and has a had a similar treatment to the recent Sonata. The angular, but not-quite triangular, taillights are perched above a prominent grouping of letters across the trunklid that read “E L A N T R A”. There is certainly a touch of Ford’s once lauded “new edge” angular styling here. Initially, I thought the design updates looked tacked on and didn’t blend in with the rest of the car. And I still do. But as the months have passed, I’ve accepted the look and find it distinctive. Although it’s not the looker that the fifth generation was, it’s even attractive from certain angles and under the right light. Elantra, get yourself ready for a selfie!

Inside is much the same theme. Gone are the complex and extravagant series of arcs and details. Like the current Sonata, the style has been dialed down with the 2017 redesign. To match the exterior, the dash has a more linear approach with trapezoidal shapes and flat, horizontal surfaces that could pass as a 7/8 scale copy of the Sonata. It’s not nearly as intriguing as before, yet has a simplistic, Germanic vibe to it. For 2019, some of the details have been smoothed out further.

At first glance, there’s not much different from last year. But look closer. Three large, extremely simple ventilation knobs, each flanked by a control button mimicking a toggle switch, replace the profusion of buttons in last year’s Elantra. The instrument surround has also been revised and is now more of a pod that juts out, and the instruments themselves have been redone. The gauges, in true Hyundai fashion, are clear, legible to read, and have a cool, racy checkered pattern in the background. The edgier steering wheel is lifted straight from the Ioniq. Material quality has improved as well.

The 5-inch radio screen is actually smaller now on the SE trim than last year. As before, it’s still intuitive, straightforward, and among the best interfaces out there. Searching through menus makes sense and there’s no tricks. But, there aren’t a lot of personalization choices and the top half of the dash does look empty with such a small screen. Higher trim Elantras do get the 7-inch larger screen that was standard last year. Also on the M.I.A. list from previous base Elantras are a centre armrest and automatic headlights.

Despite the decontenting of some creature comforts, the Elantra’s interior is still a serene place to be. As aforementioned, all controls and switches fall right at hand and are smartly placed. The seats are cushy and boast some nicely shaped side bolstering for most body types. Legroom both up front and in the rear seats is plentiful for tall passengers. The centre console and dash are not intrusive on anyone’s personal space, a rarity in this class. Rear seat passenger’s toes can even brag that they have headroom under the front seats. Nothing rubs anyone the wrong way except…….that same ol’ Elantra trait; limited rear headroom. Up front, things are fine, but the roofline’s aggressive rear slope once again gobbles up precious interior volume. Taller rear passengers will yet again themselves in a chin-to-chest position. Shorter passengers will likely escape the headliner’s guillotine. Elantra owners may want to be selective on who rides “shotgun” for the sake of others.

Visibility is good all around with a decent amount of glass and relatively thin pillars. The A-pillars are raked steeply enough that they are in the driver’s field of vision when looking side-to-side. It can be distracting initially, but became less troublesome as I adjusted over the course of several days.

Trunk space is more than adequate with 14.4 cubic feet. That bests most of the competition, including the Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, and Toyota Corolla, but is just shy of the Honda Civic. The trunk shape is usable and square, and the liftover is low for convenience. It’s also nicely finished, in an area where many carmakers cut corners, with a durable side carpeting lining and solid cargo floor. Under that floor is….what a minute…..a spare tyre! After years of scrutiny from owners and yours truly, Hyundai had finally decided to rid the Elantra of the nasty inflator kit and bring back a real spare. Flat-tyre victims can all rejoice! But I digress, and moving on, the rear seats do fold down 60/40 for more versatility. The seats do not fold completely flat, and there is a slight ledge from the cargo floor.

Before we grab the keys for a drive, let’s talk about one more thing; the keys themselves. To be clear, this is not a criticism, but an observation. The Elantra SE’s set are the traditional kind that can with a separate remote fob. It’s the same exact same design and setup that they’ve had since 1999. The keys to my college car, a 2000 Elantra, were a carbon-copy. In this age of smart keys and switchblade keys, there’s a refreshing nostalgia to have both a non-laser key and a fob on the keyring. More good news for potential Elantra SE owners; replacement keys are cheap and easy. For those who feel that reaching into a pocket and pressing a button is too strenuous, higher trimmed Elantras do come with the more modern smart keys,. Now that we the ignition fired up, let’s go!

Like with almost every Elantra for the past two decades, the heart of the 2019 model is a 2.0 litre four-cylinder motor with dual-overhead cams. This is the latest version of Hyundai’s in-house “Nu” engine released back in 2011. The engine switched to an Atkinson cycle in 2016 to improve fuel efficiency, but at the slight cost of power. Horsepower did drop by 11% to the current 147, but it is a cleaner, leaner, and greener machine. The drop in sheer grunt would not be noticeable to the regular driver, and I never distinguished it either. The Elantra’s acceleration feels sufficient in this class and never felt slow or strained. Freeway merges and uphill climbs were never a problem and around town, the 2.0 feels peppy. Most professional reviews show the Elantra 2.0 hitting the 0-60mph mark in a respectable nine seconds, and there’s no reason to question that. Engine noise is well subdued in the cabin until about the 4,000rpm mark, when the motor makes itself known with a raspy growl.

The transmission makes a perfect companion to the sprightly engine. There’s several choices on the Elantra smorgasbord, including a six-speed manual and advanced seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, but our tester settled on the plain, jane six-speed automatic that is on lower trims. It’s a slick unit with well-controlled and properly timed shifts that are almost transparent. It always seemed to know the right gear ratio to be in, and was willing and eager to downshift whenever needed for passing or hills. Never once during several hundred miles of driving did it falter or get overwhelmed.

Handling was also another pleasant surprise. The last Elantra tested in 2013 had sloppy and vague feedback, which was a common trait that plagued Hyundais for years. It was one of the car’s biggest weaknesses. But since then, Hyundai has consulted the help from engineers that hailed from some well-known German brands. The investment has paid off and it is now one of the new car’s strengths. The Elantra is near the top of the class when it comes to driving enjoyment on a twisty road. The car’s composure remains stable with no body lean, tyres that grip tenaciously, and the communicative, almost European derived, steering feedback increases confidence. Steering wheel effort is nicely calibrated at any speed with the traditional motor-driven system.

Another Euro flavoured characteristic is the Elantra’s ride. The suspension isn’t anything out of the ordinary: a Macpherson setup in the front and torsion beam in the rear. But it’s been tuned to offer a firm ride without being too harsh. Bumps are soaked up quickly and efficiently, but do make their way to the cabin in a subdued manner. For the Elantra’s purpose in life, it’s just about perfect.

With all of these adjustments and focus on efficiency, how does the Elantra do at the pump? The EPA rates the Elantra at 29mpg city and 38mpg on the highway. Impressive numbers on their own. But being the overachievers we are, were able to easily surpass them. We averaged about 35mpg in mixed driving, which falls smack-dab the EPA ratings. But on several 100+ mile runs, averaged 50mpg on straight stretches of highway. That bests some dedicated hybrids with none of the compromises.

Our test Elantra only had 900 miles at the time of testing. As one would hope, there were no defects or issues. The car felt well-assembled, a testament to Hyundai’s plant in Alabama that also manufacturers the Sonata and Santa Fe. Hyundai’s incredibly long 10yr/100k miles warranty will also quell buyer’s concerns.

Prices for the 2019 Elantra start at $17,200 for the base SE equipped with the six-speed manual. The SE comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, front disc and rear drum brakes, power mirrors, a rearview camera, height-adjustable front seats, air conditioning, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker sound system with the aforementioned 5-inch display and a USB port. The only option our test SE had was the automatic transmission, which consequently comes with cruise control. Once that was added, along with destination charge, our scarlet red Elantra was priced at $19,120. For that price, it represents solid value and does not feel like a stripped-down penalty box.

For the Elantra’s purpose in life as basic transportation for the masses, there’s little to fault. It’s priced right, offers an enjoyable driving experience, polished interior, comfortable seating, and unlike the compacts of yore, doesn’t embarrass or punish its owner. It almost begs the questions why someone would spend thousands more on a comparable CUV? Well, many didn’t for good reason, and continue to make the Elantra the top-seller that it is. I just hope that they like triangles. A very well-deserved 4.5/5.0 boomerangs.

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