- What’s Good: Loads of content, well-finished interior, good fuel efficiency
- What’s Bad: Overly aggressive front end, light on performance
While the rise of the SUV has been relentless over the past decade, a select few passenger cars continue to thrive even as the segment itself continues to shrink.
There aren’t a lot of them left, but a scan of the sales charts reveals a handful of passenger cars that are not only holding their own but thriving despite a shrinking market and a glut of SUV alternatives.
One of the holdouts is Hyundai’s compact Elantra sedan, a car that’s been around since 1991 and is now in its sixth generation. The current gen was introduced in early 2016 for the 2017 model year which coincided with the removal of the coupe from the lineup and the switch to a single engine offering for North America.
Despite the many changes it has undergone over the past 28 years, the Elantra has endured and remains Hyundai’s bestseller in Canada. Nearly 42,000 were sold in 2018, and while the compact Kona SUV could overtake it eventually, the Elantra remains number one in 2019 with 10,806 sold through April 30.
Despite being all-new in 2017, Hyundai is throwing a slew of changes at the Elantra for 2019. The mid-cycle update it receives is wide-ranging and introduces a host of changes that set it apart from its predecessor.
Perhaps most prominent among the changes is a new front end that features a new bumper, grille, headlights, and hood. The rear end has also been remade with a new bumper, taillights, and trunk. All models also receive new 16 and 17-inch wheel designs. Changes to the interior include a new centre stack, air vents, and instrument cluster, along with the availability of Hyundai’s BlueLink connected car tech, Safe Exit Alarm, and cell phone charge pad.
The 2019 Elantra is available in four trims: Essential, Preferred, Luxury and Ultimate. All models are powered by a 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle inline 4-cylinder engine (147 hp / 132 lb-ft.) paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Essential and Preferred models can also be outfitted with a 6-speed manual, but the upper two grades are only available with the automatic.
For the purposes of this review, Hyundai Canada set me up with a fully decked out Ultimate tester finished in fiery red (a $200 option). I won’t list them all here, but the highlights include leather seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, and a lot more.
Okay, I’m just going to say it: I’m not a fan of the Elantra’s new front end.
It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, nor is it especially ugly, but it’s too harsh. The collection of right angles and straight lines exude a rather rigid and robotic aesthetic. Varied shapes and contours that were present on the previous car have been erased in favour of triangles which give the car an overtly aggressive look that clashes with its driving character. More on that shortly.
If I had to zero in on one thing that doesn’t fit, it’s the large triangular headlights that include daytime runners that look like angry LED eyebrows. The jewel-like LED projectors behind the lenses have a look of sophistication, but the shape of the new headlights give the Elantra an “Angry Birds-like” face that really feels out of place. I get that design evolves, but surely there are better ways to stand out.
Front end aside, Hyundai has really nailed the other design changes, both at the rear of the car with a handsome stretched wordmark logo and sleek taillights, and in the cabin, which is handsomely finished, comfortable and logically laid out.
As it does with all models, Hyundai really piles on the standard kit in the Elantra, which makes for a very inviting environment. The interior is spacious, both up front and in back, the seats are comfortable and supportive, and visibility is good. Trim materials are varied, at least in appearance, and generally feel good to the touch. Credit Hyundai also for not reinventing the wheel (no pun intended) when it comes to placement of knobs and switches. Not having to hunt for a heated steering wheel button in a touchscreen menu is always appreciated.
So that’s all fine, but how does this thing drive? In a nutshell, it’s pretty good.
Like the Tucson SUV I reviewed recently, the Elantra isn’t built for performance, but it has enough power to comfortably handle everyday driving needs. The Elantra’s 2.0-litre 4-cylinder isn’t quick off the line, but it’s responsive enough to get around slower vehicles if you stomp on it. Once up to speed, the lack of low-end grunt was less of an issue, but most Elantra owners are unlikely to regularly wind the engine out to 6,000 rpms to access its maximum output.
An available sport mode (normal and smart are also included) livens things up somewhat with sharper throttle response, but it’s not going to make you forget you’re driving a compact sedan. Elsewhere, the Elantra delivers a comfortable, well-balanced ride with handling and steering that is competitive within the segment. Also noteworthy is a cabin that is very quiet for a small car.
Overall, the 2019 Elantra is a big step forward for a car that remains vitally important to Hyundai’s prospects in Canada. While I’m not a fan of its new front end, I think the other changes really suit it and should keep the Elantra at or near the top of Hyundai Canada’s sales chart for some time to come.