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2019 Hyundai Elantra Test Drive Review
Freshened up for 2019, the Hyundai Elantra remains an incredible value, but its updates don’t address the car’s ho-hum driving dynamics.
Customer satisfaction is dependent on multiple factors. For example, let's say you go out to a new restaurant. Even if the service is great, or the bill is inexpensive, or the restaurant has a lovely ambiance, you probably won't go back if the food doesn't taste good. The updated and upgraded 2019 Hyundai Elantra is like that—unless you buy the turbocharged Sport trim.
Look and Feel
Two years ago, Hyundai redesigned the Elantra, giving it a tailored look with styling themes patterned after the Genesis G80 sedan. The 2017 Elantra looked upscale, if conservative, with nary a line or proportion wrong.
Now, for 2019, the Elantra gets new styling forward of the windshield and front doors, as well as redesigned wheels, and a new trunk lid, taillights, and rear bumper. The design is, to be gracious, kaleidoscopic. Maybe Hyundai’s internal research determined that the Elantra’s target market is into geometry. Whatever the case may be, I don’t think the car is as appealing as it was last year.
Inside, subtle changes improve the interior for the better. The air vents add a little design flair, some plastic housings have a carbon-texture finish, the gauges are new, and the controls on the center of the dashboard are revised. The improvements add some excitement to what was a rather dull cabin.
The interior is high quality, exemplified by how robust and solid the shifter feels when you use it. While some materials do look and feel inexpensive, this is to be expected in a compact car, and the various parts and pieces are screwed tightly together.
You can buy two different Hyundai Elantra models. Those with a “GT” in the name are 5-door hatchbacks. Without “GT” in the name, the Elantra is a 4-door sedan sold in SE, SEL, Value Edition, Eco, and Limited trims. Prices for the Elantra sedan start at a low $17,100, plus $885 for the destination charge.
My Limited test vehicle carried a $23,485 base price including destination. To this, the Ultimate Package added $3,350 worth of equipment in the form of adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot-monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, and a Safe Exit Assist system designed to prevent occupants from opening a side door when traffic is approaching from behind.
The Ultimate Package also installs a navigation system, a larger 8-inch touchscreen display for the infotainment system, memory for the driver’s seat and mirror positions, a power sunroof, and a 4.2-inch driver information center. Add optional floor mats, and the test vehicle came to $26,690 including destination charges.
Driving dynamics matter to people, even if they don’t realize it. People like cars that can accelerate quickly when necessary, that can handle well when the situation calls for it, and that can put a smile on their face when they’re not expecting one. Even people who think they just need Point A to Point B transportation would rather own something a little zesty than not.
Hyundai sells zesty versions of the Elantra. One of them is the Elantra GT Sport, a turbocharged hatchback aspiring to Volkswagen GTI greatness. The other one is the Elantra Sport, a turbocharged sedan that goes up against the Honda Civic Si.
This car I’m reviewing is neither one of those Elantras. Here, we’re talking about the Elantra most people buy, which is a very nice car exuding quality and value. But do its driving dynamics inspire any desire? No.
Equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mustering 147 horsepower, the Elantra relies on a 6-speed automatic transmission to power the front wheels. Acceleration is acceptable, and you can choose between Normal, Sport, and Smart driving modes, depending on your mood.
Smart is supposed to adapt to your driving style, but I didn’t find it to be terribly perceptive. Sport definitely makes the Elantra feel a little livelier, but it also adds unwelcome weight to the steering. That’s why I just left the car in Normal mode most of the time.
The EPA says the Elantra will get 32 mpg in combined driving. On my testing loop, recently modified due to road closures in my area, the car returned 29.3 mpg. After a week of driving, however, the trip computer read 32.4 mpg.
Handling is decent, the steering and brakes drawing no criticism yet garnering no praise. The ride quality can be busy, thanks to the Elantra’s inexpensive torsion-beam rear-axle suspension. Overall, this car isn’t terribly rewarding to drive, but it won’t cause you much aggravation, either.
Form and Function
Front-seat comfort is good for a compact car. With every trim level, both the driver’s seat and front passenger’s seat include height adjustment, which makes it easier to get into and out of the Elantra. This is particularly important to people with mobility challenges.
Furthermore, most Elantras have heated front seats and a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel that is pleasing to grip, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control with a Clean Air ionizer system. Leather is limited to the, umm, Limited trim level.
Backseat comfort is not quite as impressive. The seat itself provides a proper seating position and support, but hard plastic front seatbacks are unkind to the knees and shins of lankier rear passengers. Air conditioning vents are also missing, even in Limited trim, and there aren’t any USB ports in the back. My size-13 feet did tuck under the front seats, though.
Interior storage is decent, thanks to a good-size center-console storage bin and a sizable glove box. A tray forward of the shifter is perfect for smartphones, and the Limited trim includes a wireless charging pad for compatible devices. I also took advantage of the big bins in each of the car’s door panels, and the cup holders had no trouble holding larger beverages.
Around back, most Elantra trims include a hands-free trunk release. Hyundai calls it Smart Trunk, and the idea is that when the car senses the keyless entry fob near the back of the vehicle, it will pop the trunk. This means you don't need to wave your foot under the bumper, which strikes me as a bad idea when you’re carrying a bunch of stuff, and especially if the parking lot is icy.
Inside, the Elantra’s trunk offers 14.4 cubic feet of space, which is a big cargo area for a small car.
Choose any version of the Elantra other than the base SE, and it will come with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system running Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio with a free 3-month trial subscription.
The Limited trim comes with a significant infotainment upgrade, including an Infinity premium sound system with Clari-Fi digital music restoration technology as standard equipment. Upgrade with the Ultimate Package and the Elantra Limited also gets an 8-inch display screen, a navigation system, and SiriusXM Data Services including traffic and weather reports.
I find the Elantra’s infotainment system easy to use. Hyundai supplies the right number of knobs and buttons to limit screen interaction, and the technology itself is straightforward and simple. Like so many things about the Elantra, the switchgear exudes quality and refinement, too, and the Limited’s Infinity audio system delivers impressive sound quality. At night, the instrumentation glows white while secondary switchgear illuminates in a soothing blue hue.
Get the Elantra in Value Edition or Limited trim, and the car also provides a free 3-year trial subscription to Blue Link services. This is an impressive offering, compatible with smartwatches and smart home voice-assistant devices. It delivers a long list of safety and convenience functions that would typically add hundreds of dollars in annual costs if you drove a car sold by Hyundai’s competition.
Most versions of the 2019 Elantra include important driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems as standard equipment. Starting with the SEL trim, the car includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, a blind-spot-monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, and a driver-monitoring system.
You’ll need to upgrade to the Limited trim in order to get adaptive cruise control, a pedestrian detection enhancement to the automatic braking system, automatic high-beam headlights, and a Safe Exit system. That latter feature warns occupants that it may be unsafe to open a door if traffic is approaching from behind.
These features pay off for Hyundai when it comes to crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2019 Elantra gets top marks across the board, except for an Acceptable rating for the accessibility of its LATCH child-seat anchors.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is not quite as satisfied with the Elantra’s crashworthiness. The government gives the car a 4-star overall rating, thanks to 4-star frontal-impact results combined with a 4-star side-impact protection rating for rear-seat occupants.
In addition to the safety, infotainment, and generous subscription to connected services, the Elantra supplies one of the best warranty plans in the industry. Bumper-to-bumper coverage and 24-hour roadside assistance last for 5 years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. The powertrain warranty protects against defects for 10 years or 100,000 miles.
That’s not all you get when you buy a Hyundai Elantra. The automaker’s Shopper Assurance program promises transparent pricing, cash incentives for test-driving a Hyundai (or you can choose to have a vehicle brought to your home or office to sample it), online purchasing, and a 3-day worry-free exchange program.
Beyond these perks, Hyundai typically offers rebates, low-interest finance rates, and leasing deals for the Elantra.
Clearly, if you like the way the 2019 Elantra looks, and you like the way it drives, and you find it to be comfortable, you’re going to be happy with the value you’re getting in terms of the car’s technology, services, safety, and ownership perks.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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