Recently, I was picking up a press car, and they asked me – in all sincerity – if I drive a stick.
Really? Yes, it’s come to this. Manuals are getting so rare that some auto scribes don’t know how to drive one.
Please don’t tell Hyundai. Because recently we drove the 2019 Elantra Sport, with 6-speed manual trans, and it was a delight.
A Meaner Mugshot
All ’19 Elantras get a crisp new look, with a restyled hood, front fascia, grille and headlights that look more aggressive and squintier, including LED headlights and a special grille on our Sport trim tester. There’s also a new trunk, rear fascia and LED taillights that really pop at night, and going along with the sporty vibe, a rear lip spoiler, and unique “rimless” 18-inch alloy wheels.
Our Elantra was athletic, but restrained, wearing a BWM-like color called Intense Blue. A nice blend that doesn’t need to scream “look at me” at every opportunity.
A Proper Driver’s Environment
Tasteful and Sporty on the inside too, the Elantra is a showcase of smart design. Like the exterior, all models get a refresh for 2019, with new instruments, audio, and temp controls, that look fresh and modern, and are quick to decipher.
We especially like the oversized 160-mph speedo and 8,000-rpm tach, part of the Sport Instrument Gauge Cluster – very Audi-like, and no-nonsense. Between them, a handy trip computer/tft display that’s useful, with a 7-inch touchscreen on the center console. A larger 8-inch comes with the optional navigation, but with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s easy to pull up your own maps, and the savings by avoiding the $2,250 Premium Package are substantial.
And the standard Sport is pretty darn premium to begin with. There are supportive front sport seats with leather, (smells nice, too) a chunky D-shaped leather steering wheel, and center console with nice contrasting red stitching, plus faux carbon fiber trim throughout the cabin that looks upscale and special. The rear seats are adult friendly, and they fold down easily to give plenty of space. Sure, there are some hard plastics in the cabin – this is not an expensive car – but the overall effect is an excellent one.
Worthy of the Badge
A lot of vehicles drive around with Sport badges, but few of them seem to take things seriously. Not so the Elantra. Under the hood is the familiar 1.6-liter, turbo engine that punches out an impressive 201 hp, and a meaty 195 lb-ft of torque at just 1,500 rpm. This is a sweet engine that’s turbine smooth, and enjoys a nice exhaust note that’s notable but never annoying.
At first, we were disappointed that our tester didn’t have the available 7-speed dual-clutch automatic – it’s super quick and responsive, and an ideal partner to the turbo engine. But the 6-speed manual quickly won hour hearts; the clutch pedal is light and easy to modulate in traffic, the shifter throws are direct, and it’s a pleasure to drive hard.
Our tester had less than a thousand miles when we picked it up, and we noticed it seemed to be getting quicker and more responsive as it was breaking in – it’s a quick vehicle, and a real joy to put it into that fat turbo band and feel it pull hard through the gears. Flog it we did, and still got a very respectable 25 mpg average. Less flog, more highway, and 30 mpg seems quite doable.
The brakes are strong, and the Sport enjoys larger front discs than other models – we did feel they were a little grabby and sensitive on initial step.
Handling also gets a step up over other Elantras, swapping out the rear torsion beam for a more precise – and expensive – independent multi-link design. It pays off; the ride is firm, but copes easily with bumps, ruts, and railroad tracks. Handling is crisp with quick turn-in and good grip, thanks to the large 18-inch wheels and generous 225/40 tires.
It’s worth noting the nice balance of controls – steering, shifting, brakes, clutch all have a light touch – it’s clear that someone at Hyundai sweated the details to make the Sport a car an enthusiast would enjoy.
And a side note – if you wanted a car to teach someone how to drive a stick, the Elantra Sport would be a great choice. Its light, easy to modulate clutch would make a novice feel like a pro in no time. And we want more people driving – and loving – stick shifts.
Seasoned driver or beginner, the Elantra adds to the confident feeling with loads of safety equipment. All trims except the SE feature standard Blind Spot Collision Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Collision Warning, Forward Collision Avoidance Assistance, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist – even Driver Attention Warning (although we doubt you’d get drowsy driving the Sport).
How Much to go to the Amusement Park?
While we’ve pointed out before that Hyundai is no longer the fire-sale brand it once was, it is still a strong value in the marketplace.
The Elantra family starts with the SE at $17,200, and you get a thrifty 38-mpg highway cruiser that still punches out 147 hp. And you get Bluetooth, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, drive mode select, and more.
With the above-mentioned safety features, we feel that it would be smart on any budget to opt for the SEL at $19,500. You also get Apple CarPlay, 7-inch touch screen, Android Auto, 16-inch alloys, and auto headlights. Fancy a little luxury? The Value Edition adds Proximity key with pushbutton start, Hands-free trunk release and a power sunroof for $20,500.
Those looking at high fuel prices might plunk down for the ECO model, with a 128-hp, 1.4-liter turbo four cylinder that squeezes out 40 mpg on the highway.
Our Sport tester came in at $22,600 and it’s a heck of a bargain, with that powerful motor, special suspension, leather-covered and sport-focused interior, sunroof and unique exterior bits. Opt for the quick-shifting DCT automatic, and add $1,100. Worth considering.
Or you could opt for the Limited at $22,700. You lose the turbo motor, but get a standard Infinity Premium Audio system. It also gives you the option of the Ultimate Package ($3,350) which adds Navigation, larger 8-inch touchscreen, Smart Cruise Control, Sunroof, Memory seats, Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian Detection, and more.
Competitors for the Elantra Sport include the Civic Sport at $21,250. It serves up a max of only 180 hp, and lacks leather or a sunroof. We’d opt for the Civic Si sedan instead at $24,300. But you are paying close to $2,000 more.
The new 2019 Corolla sedan looks sporty, we tested the hatchback recently, and found it to be surprisingly fun. The 2020 Corolla Sedan with 6-speed manual starts at $22,650. It Looks snazzy, but at that price, you’re sitting on cloth seats and have only 169 hp.
So, in its class, the Hyundai Elantra Sport is the winner with a great blend of looks, fun, equipment and an excellent price.
We urge you to drive a stick shift. But even if you don’t, the Hyundai Elantra Sport is a great, fun, small sport sedan.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.