Sophisticated and Affordable

By Derek Price
Long known for being affordable, basic transportation, the Hyundai Elantra has been getting more sophisticated with every update.
This year it takes a big leap in terms of safety and driving dynamics.
If you buy the SEL trim or above, you’ll now get Hyundai’s SmartSense package of safety and convenience features including forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist, driver attention alert and a new feature called Safe Exit Alert that will sound an alarm if a vehicle is approaching from behind. The goal is to warn you before someone opens the door in front of an oncoming vehicle.
Outside, the Elantra gets a thorough visual refresh for 2019 that includes a new hood, fenders, fascia, grille and headlights, including LEDs applied to the Limited and Sport trims. It also gets a revised look in back and new wheel designs.
The inside is updated with a new instrument cluster in front of the driver and a fresh center stack with revised air vents, audio and temperature controls and a new storage tray that makes a great place to lay your cell phone.
Some of the most interesting changes, though, come to the version I tested — the new Sport trim — which is designed to offer better over-the-road dynamics for people who like the thrill of driving.

The Hyundai Elantra gets a fresh look for 2019 with changes inside and out, including new safety equipment and a powerful Sport model.

Unlike some sedans, the Sport variation isn’t just about interior stitching, badges and a slightly firmer suspension. Hyundai seems to be taking it more seriously by giving the Sport a dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters, its own multi-link rear suspension design and an exclusive 1.6-liter turbocharged engine.
It adds some styling upgrades, too, including special door trim, sport seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and other small changes that give it a more aggressive overall look.
The biggest difference is the dual-clutch transmission, which I absolutely loved driving. You can get it with a six-speed manual, something I might love even more, but the fast response and delicious mechanical feedback from the dual-clutch automatic makes the difference negligible. It’s much more rewarding and tactile than the traditional six-speed automatic in other Elantras.
While the other Elantra trims get less powerful engines — either a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder on most versions or the tiny, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine in the fuel-economy-focused Eco model — the 1.6-liter turbo in the Sport trim provides dramatically better acceleration while still delivering decent gas mileage. It’s rated for 201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque and 33 mpg on the highway.

While less noticeable than the exterior changes, the 2019 Elantra’s interior gets a new center stack with a storage tray and new gauge cluster behind the steering wheel.

The question, then, becomes who this car is designed for.
Enthusiasts will be more likely to shop for something like the car I drove last week, the Honda Civic Si with its wilder looks and amped-up sensations.
The Elantra Sport feels like it occupies a more sophisticated niche, something odd to say about what used to be a cheap economy car, but it’s the truth. It delivers great performance, reasonable fun in corners and has styling that’s much more mature than the youthful Honda and similar hot hatchbacks.
Pricing starts at $17,200 for the base Elantra SE and ranges up to $23,700 for the Sport model with the dual-clutch transmission.

At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport ($23,700). Options: Premium package ($2,250), carpeted floor mats ($135). Price as tested (including $920 destination charge): $27,005
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 181.9 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder (201 hp, 195 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 26 city, 33 highway

Style: 6
Performance: 7
Price: 8
Handling: 8
Ride: 6
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it? 
A dual-clutch transmission and more powerful engine on the new Sport model make it rewarding to drive. It feels like a sophisticated car thanks to styling and safety upgrades.

Posted in Hyundai

Bang for the Buck

By Derek Price

With the average price of a new vehicle climbing to around $37,000 last year, it’s not easy to find above-average fun for below-average cost.
That’s exactly what the Honda Civic Si is all about.
Priced at $24,300, the Si is no longer the fastest and most exciting Civic for sale. That crown was passed to the Civic Type R last year, which at $35,700 and 306 horsepower is the most thrilling compact car I’ve ever driven.
Other than the monumental horsepower, though, the Si delivers most of the same thrills for 32 percent less money.
Its engine is still overkill for a small, lightweight car, making 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque in a free-revving festival of fun. Its blistering sound and instant response practically beg you to hit its 6,500-RPM redline every chance you can get.
More importantly, it delivers sensations that let you feel every ounce of its performance.
It starts with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission, the only way I’d want to outfit this car. With a short throw and terrific mechanical feedback to the palm, it gives the driver a spiritual connection to the machine that no automatic can match.
A limited-slip differential, communicative steering, taut suspension and adaptive damper system all combine for a rewarding experience on winding roads.
This car gets several minor but notable improvements for 2019.

The Honda Civic Si, shown here in two-door Coupe form, is fast, fun and eye-catching with a reasonable starting price of $24,300.

Inside, it benefits from a revised display audio system with a volume knob and physical buttons for some key functions — a huge improvement over the touchscreen-only interface with no volume knob that plagued previous model years.
It also gets bigger cup holders, new steering wheel buttons, a revised switch for the electronic parking brake and real buttons to set the fan speed. The changes make it simpler and more intuitive to use.
Just like in past sport-tuned Civics, the seats offer deep side bolstering to hold you in place side-to-side. I found them supportive but not uncomfortable.
The Civic Si’s touchscreen responds quickly to inputs. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, making it stupid-simple to take advantage of smartphone technology while driving.
I also liked the customizable display behind the steering wheel. A G-force gauge and turbo boost meter add to the fun.
Red stitching on the steering wheel, seats and various soft trim pieces helps the Si feel special. I also liked the aluminum pedals and shift knob, even if it got searing-hot in the summertime Texas sun.

The Civic Si gets several upgrades in the cabin this year, including a display audio system with physical buttons and a real volume knob that’s simpler to use.

New colors include Platinum White Pearl and Tonic Yellow Pearl which is only available on the coupe. Be warned: the new yellow seems bright enough to burn your retina. It made my coupe tester feel obnoxiously conspicuous, like I was driving a safety vest, but also seemed to fit this car’s sporty, youthful, outgoing nature.
I like the look of the current Civic, especially in its exciting Si and Type R versions. It’s sleek and angular, with undulating character lines that keep it from looking too blocky.
In back, a center-mounted exhaust looks like it came from a video game, while 18-inch wheels and glossy black trim complete the sinister, aggressive package.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Honda Civic Si Two-Door ($24,300). Options: None. Price as tested (including $920 destination charge): $25,220
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 177.4 in.
Width: 70.8 in.
Height: 54.7 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (205 hp, 192 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 28 city, 38 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 10
Handling: 10
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It’s a terrific amount of fun, performance and style for a reasonable price.

Posted in Honda

New Mazda3 Impresses

By Derek Price

If I made a checklist of what every car company should do to boost their sedan sales at a time of crossover-vehicle mania, it would look something like this:
“Give it a gorgeous cabin covered in soft-touch materials. Install a smartphone interface that’s incredibly easy to use. Pen it a sexy body. And to woo those crossover buyers, make it get noticeably better gas mileage than a similar sized CUV — plus offer it with all-wheel drive.”
The completely redesigned Mazda3 checks off all those boxes and more. It’s exactly what I think car manufacturers should be doing if they want to win a bigger piece of the shrinking four-door-sedan pie.
It starts with attacking competitors at their weakest points: styling and handling.
To my eyes, most of today’s sedans either look bland or ugly, with cookie-cutter shapes and “bold” grilles that seem more ridiculous than attractive. It’s no surprise when buyers pass them up for an equally dull CUV.
Mazda went a different direction with the new 3. The grille opening is sleek and low, a nice departure from the gaping maw that’s more common on new cars these days.

The Mazda3 gets an all-new design for 2019 that looks sleek and modern. It’s available with all-wheel drive for the first time this year.

While the sedan looks tastefully understated, like it could easily pass muster in a luxury showroom, it’s the hatchback that tugs at my heartstrings. Its low-slung, classically proportioned body reminds me of the Alfa Romeo GTV from the 1970s and the Volkswagen Scirocco from the 1980s, both hatchbacks that have aged well for the same reasons as this new Mazda3 hatch. Good style is timeless.
Its handling also stands out from the crowd. Communicative brake, suspension and steering tuning work in concert to make this car fun and rewarding in corners, a hallmark of the Mazda brand.
Inside, the new cabin is striking for its sophistication. Maybe it was the unusual choice of an impractical but beautiful color for the interior trim — white — but I thought the minimalist look of my tester’s cabin was the most original and beautiful design since I drove the BMW i3 electric car a few years ago.
On the downside, its climate control vents are noisy at high blower settings, probably due to their small size to fit the design aesthetic.
Technology in the new cabin is thoughtfully designed for ease of use. The 3 makes use of Mazda’s first 8.8-inch infotainment screen, which will soon be rolled out in other models. It’s mounted high on the dash for easy visibility for the driver, but more importantly, it’s controlled through a simple rotary dial on the center console. It’s comfortable, reliable, fast and intuitive — a lesson many other brands, and most luxury cars, haven’t quite mastered yet.
Also standard is a 7-inch reconfigurable display behind the steering wheel, LED headlights and taillights, two USB audio inputs, push-button ignition, knee airbags and Bluetooth phone pairing.

The 2019 Mazda3’s cabin design matches its contemporary body. White soft-touch trim seems especially modern and forward-looking.

A suite of active safety features, including blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control and lane-keep assist, comes standard as well.
All 2019 Mazdas are powered by the four-cylinder, 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G engine that makes 186 horsepower. Most buyers will opt for a six-speed automatic transmission, but Mazda heroically offers a manual shifter on this car, too.
Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway.
Interestingly, Mazda’s revolutionary SKYACTIV-X engine is not available in the United States yet.
Pricing starts at $21,000 for the sedan and $23,600 for the hatchback. It tops out at $28,900 for a Premium hatchback with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, or $1,000 less for the sedan.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Mazda3 Sedan with Premium Package ($26,500). Options: Snowflake white paint ($200). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $27,595
Wheelbase: 107.3 in.
Length: 183.5 in.
Width: 70.7 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder (186 hp, 186 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 36 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 9
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It’s gorgeous to look at, engaging to drive and efficient. All-wheel-drive boosts confidence on slick roads.

Posted in Mazda