This ugly duckling isn’t bad from behind the wheel.
The shift to crossovers means compact sport sedans are a shrinking segment. By our count, there are only three or four sporty compact options in the U.S. to choose from: the Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, Subaru WRX, and our most recent tester, the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport.
This is Hyundai's second crack at an Elantra Sport following a mid-cycle refresh for the model. We applauded the first-generation Sport for its sharp styling and fun personality, but this updated one feels like a diminutive step in the wrong direction.
The 2019 Elantra Sport isn't as nice to look at as the prior year’s car. And though not much mechanically has changed since 2017, the Elantra’s age is starting to show against competitors like the Si and GLI. But hey, at least it's still fun to drive.
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Hyundai's design department has been spot-on lately. The 2020 Sonata, for example, is stunning. But the updated Elantra is straight up unattractive. It loses the handsome, well-contrived elements outgoing model in place of... well, whatever this is. And the racier looks of the Sport model fail to improve on things.
The Elantra Sport's previously large grille is even bigger with new framing, which includes a cheap-looking silver trim piece that runs through the upper portion connecting the triangular headlights. This wheel design is also one of the worst we've seen. The two-tone spokes look overly busy, and the 5.5-inch ride height (0.2 inches taller than other trims), done to make room for the larger wheels, eliminates the last model's tough stance.
The new Elantra Sport isn't totally atrocious to look at from the rear, at least. The edgy LED taillights have personality, as does the lip spoiler and dual exhaust tips, which help the Elantra Sport’s caboose stand out from the base model.
The Elantra Sport’s interior isn’t as offensive as its exterior, though. In fact, the abundance of black leather and plastic – supported by a bit of red stitching in this trim – makes it look rather boring. At least the embedded 7.0-inch touchscreen isn’t jutting up from the dash as in other Hyundai models, and all the buttons and dials are clearly laid out and easy to use, which we appreciate. Still, there’s nothing interesting to note here.
The Hyundai Elantra Sport offers all the comforts a top-trim, non-luxury, compact sedan should. Leather comes standard on the heated front seats, rear bench, flat-bottom sport steering wheel, and gear-shift lever, all of which makes the cabin feel more upscale. The seats are soft and supportive, and even with the design’s aggressive cues, it’s as comfortable as the regular Elantra on the highway.
The Elantra Sport's added ingredients don’t detract from space. Passengers over six-foot tall will be comfortable in the two front seats. The Elantra Sport’s front headroom (38.3 inches) and legroom (42.2 inches) are near-best in class. The three-across rear bench seat is just as vast and it’s capable of comfortably accommodating larger passengers on longer bouts.
The Elantra Sport’s turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is an appealing powertrain. It produces a healthy 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Against the Honda Civic Si (205 hp) and Volkswagen Jetta GLI (228 hp), it’s a bit down on power. But the Elantra Sport doesn't feel sluggish. It has plenty of power throughout its rev range and little turbo lag.
Hit the gas and the Elantra Sport hustles to 60 miles per hour in a modest 6.3 seconds. It's comparable to its classmates in terms of acceleration (the Civic Si needs 6.2 seconds and the Volkswagen Jetta GLI requires 6.0) and feels genuinely quick from the driver's seat. Even higher in the rev range, the tiny turbocharged engine has grunt. But the standard six-speed manual is sloppy, and the too-soft clutch has no tangible catch point. The optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic ($1,100) might be better, but we haven’t driven it yet.
The Elantra Sport's new multi-link rear suspension gives it more stability and improved confidence in the corners. More aggressive front and rear springs (stiffer by 14 and 22 percent, respectively) and improved damping (by 30 percent) result in a huge reduction in body roll over the standard Elantra. Its steering is sharper, too, thanks to a quicker ratio. But when pushed, the Elantra Sport is still prone to understeer. And even though it’s better than the base car, it isn’t the segment’s best compact sport sedan. It’s merely solid all around.
The Elantra Sport's standard 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is inoffensive and easy to use. Though, we’d probably like the optional 8.0-inch screen’s added size and cleaner graphics (as part of the $2,250 Premium package). Bluetooth connectivity is quick and simple, and the availability of satellite radio means more audio options when your device is not plugged in.
But all of those features are pretty common in this class. The standard Elantra is only relatively compelling from a technology standpoint, but better when equipped with options like the larger touchscreen, Hyundai BlueLink (which adds features like remote start, voice text messaging, emergency assistance, and more), and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink. Unfortunately, our tester didn't have any of those options.
Even though it's the “Sport” model, this Elantra doesn't skimp on safety. Standard kit includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring, all of which work well once on the move. But the Elantra Sport, unlike the range-topping Limited model, isn't available with options like forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, safe exit assist (which prevents passengers from jumping out when a car is oncoming), and adaptive cruise control.
The Elantra range gets a four-star (out of five) crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Meanwhile, competitors like the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta get an overall five-star rating.
With the six-speed manual (as tested), the Elantra Sport’s 22 city, 30 highway, and 25 combined miles per gallon is below average. Its two closest competitors, the Civic Si (28/38/32) and Jetta GLI (25/32/28), with six-speed manuals, are both better. Opting for the Elantra Sport’s seven-speed automatic, though, moves the MPG needle. With the autobox, the Elantra Sport gets an improved 26 mpg city, 33 highway, and 29 combined – better than the Jetta GLI, but still far behind the Civic Si.
What should really sell you on the updated Elantra Sport is its price. At $22,600 to start, it’s the most affordable option in its class by a significant margin. The next-cheapest Honda Civic Si starts at $24,300, the Jetta GLI costs $25,995, and the Subaru WRX asks $26,995. Our tester, with only one option ($135 carpeted floor mats), cost $23,655 after destination. And even then it feels well equipped and competitively spec’d for the class.
Gallery: 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport: Review
2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport