2019 Elantra shifts away from economy roots

Remember when compact economy cars typically came with stick shifts, manual windows and vinyl upholstery — and if you wanted an AM radio, you had to pay extra for it? Those days are long gone, and Hyundai seems determined to make sure they stay gone. Our 2019 Elantra Limited test car was economical in most respects, but this diminutive luxury sedan was far removed from its “economy-car” roots.

To be sure, it's still possible to find an Elantra with a fairly Spartan character. The base Elantra SE, priced at $17,200, has a 6-speed stick shift, air conditioning, AM/FM/MP3 audio system, cloth upholstery, power windows and locks, tilt-telescoping steering column, and little else in the way of amenities. An additional $10,000 puts you behind the wheel of the luxury-oriented Elantra Limited Ultimate, which comes close to defining the term “loaded.”

Our test car had amenities you wouldn't expect to find in an economy car, or even to be available as options. Sticker-priced at $26,960, it had such features as a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic warning, lane keep assist, navigation, leather upholstery, power driver's seat, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and dual-zone climate control. It even had a charging pad for cell phones.

Incredibly, this package doesn't stand at the top of the Elantra line. Opt for the Sport Premium version and you'll get all the bells and whistles, plus a 201-horsepower engine. Our test car was equipped with Hyundai's mild-mannered 2.0-liter, 147-horsepower Four.

Many automakers simply decline to produce “loaded” versions of their least expensive models, reasoning that people who want more, and can afford it, will simply move up to the next model. In Hyundai's case, that would be the midsize Sonata, starting at $22,500 in SE trim. The Sonata is roomier, more powerful and more eye-appealing than the Elantra, but costlier and less fuel-efficient.

The last Elantra we test-drove, the Eco, was rated at 40 mpg on the highway but did better than that in our real-world driving. We reached 40 mpg on the highway with our 2019 Limited, and preferred its conventional 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission to the Eco's 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox. Drivers who want to achieve maximum fuel economy – not a bad idea lately, given recent sharp gasoline-price increases – should check out the Hyundai Ioniq. It's available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or all-electric compact hatchback. The base hybrid model, sticker-priced at $23,320, is rated at 59 mpg.

While some automakers are discontinuing hatchbacks and sedans, several continue to produce compact cars. Among them are the Kia Forte, Mazda3, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Subaru Impreza.

The 2019 Elantra earned an overall grade of four stars in government crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it rated it a Top Safety Pick Plus.

The Elantra has been Hyundai's biggest seller in recent years, reaching or exceeding 200,000 units sold every year but one since 2012.

2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Price: $26,960

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four, 128 horsepower, 132 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 2,844 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, coupled torsion beam axle rear

Wheels: 17-in. alloy

Tires: 225/45R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.4 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 14 gal.

Fuel economy: 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.