2015 Hyundai Elantra Sport: impressive

The South Korean formula for success in the U.S. market is well known by now. Build a decent car that looks good, load it up with standard features the competitors charge extra for, and give it an alluring sticker price. This formula has worked well for Hyundai and Kia. What must disturb the sleep of major competitors is the fact the cars are much more than “decent.”

We’re old enough to remember when Hyundais had almost nothing going for them except a low price. They were noisy, underpowered, unreliable and thirstier than their Japanese counterparts. Jump to 2015 and the new Elantra Sport we test-drove in May, and it’s hard to believe models like the forgettable Excel came from the same manufacturer.

The Elantra SE, Hyundai’s compact 4-door sedan, has a base price of $17,250. Standard features at this level include air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt steering wheel, satellite radio, and iPod/USB and auxiliary ports. The base power train consists of a 145-horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed stick shift. The package is economical and accommodating, but far from opulent.

Our test car was loaded with features, but they brought the price to $25,055, so the car underneath all those extras had better be something special. It is.

Our Black Noir Pearl Elantra Sport was equipped with the more powerful of the two available engines, a 2-liter, 173-horsepower Four, with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The list of standard features is impressively long: sport-tuned suspension and steering; power sunroof; push-button start; leather upholstery; heated front seats; tilt-and-telescopic steering column; cruise control; and 4.3-inch color display with rear-view camera. The $1,200 Tech Package added a 7-inch touchscreen display, premium audio, navigation system, and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system.

The Elantra is available in three shapes: sedan, 2-door coupe and hatchback. Elantra Sport models, with the bigger engine, deliver much more vigorous performance but exact a fuel-economy of about 3 mpg on the highway. Our Elantra was rated at 24 mpg city and 35 highway; we averaged about 31 mpg in mixed driving.

Major competitors include the Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. The Elantra Sport is solidly competitive with these models, if not superior to some, thanks to its powerful engine, stylish lines and sharp handling. The Elantra’s ride and noise level should meet the expectations of most people shopping for low-priced compact sedans. Moreover, it practically exudes quality in materials and construction; just closing a door tells the tale.

We were particularly impressed with the Elantra’s cargo capacity. Its 14.8-cubic-inch trunk – bigger than the trunks of some midsize cars – easily swallowed two sets of adult golf clubs and one child’s set during one Sunday excursion.

The Elantra, due for a redesign for the 2016 model year, received a 5-star overall score in government crash tests, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it a Top Safety Pick.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $25,055

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 173 horsepower, 154 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 2,923 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion axle rear

Wheels: 17-in. alloy

Tires: P215/45R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.8 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

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