2015 Hyundai Elantra Sport:

Surely we must be using the term



Price: $25,055 as tested ($22,600 for a base Sport, plus $1,200 for Tech Package, and a few hundred for floor mats, spoiler, and bumper protector).

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "generous features for the money; large trunk; quiet and well-built cabin; long warranty coverage," but not the "limited headroom; so-so acceleration with the 1.8-liter engine; somewhat stiff ride quality."

Marketer's pitch: "Best value from price to pump."

Reality: It's not a rocket, but the Sport finally does punch up the Elantra a bit.

First glance: I had the Hyundai Elantra during the same week I hosted a BMW 2 Series at the Sturgis Auto Proving Grounds in beautiful Chester County. I thought the Elantra would be like a date a friend fixed me up with in college: I'd never want to take it out.

In the past, I've found Elantras boring and Camry-like, with vague handling and unimpressive performance. But my first ride in the Elantra Sport proved me wrong. It's no 228i, but it doesn't cost 38 grand, either.

What's new: The 2015 Elantra carries over the same design as the previous model, first brought to us in 2011. But tweaks have made the sedan better than in previous years.

Up to speed: The Elantra Sport's 2.0-liter four-cylinder creates 173 horsepower, almost as much as a 1998 Pontiac Transport I had years back. That means the little sedan gets itself up to speed in fairly short order.

This is an upgrade over the standard 1.8-liter engine. I found that engine in a 2013 GT hatchback model to be sluggish and not much fun, and the fuel economy in the 1.8 didn't make up for its fun-sapping ways.

On the road: Hyundai has also taken some of the wave out of the Elantra's suspension. The car maintains its composure on winding roads and tight corners, and the steering is light but offers a fair amount of feedback.

Shifty: The six-speed ShiftTronic automatic works well both in automatic and manual modes, although the gearshift feels a little more vague than I like.

Play some tunes: Hyundai has improved the controls in its upgraded stereo system. The center dial is not as intuitive as the left knob/right knob setup that's making a comeback on many vehicles, but the buttons outside the touch screen offer ample functionality.

The sound, despite the premium-audio price tag of $1,200 (which did add navigation as well) featured bass, treble, and midrange controls but still didn't quite measure up. There seemed to be either too much bass or else the sound was too tinny.

I've also observed a problem specific to Hyundais and Kias in which the CD players skip the opening notes of songs, but it happened just once in the Elantra Sport I tested.

Driver comfort: The leather seats were fresh from the factory - just 700 miles on the test car - and so they felt fairly firm. The seat backs curve a little too distinctly for my taste, and lumbar support, while adjustable, can't be turned off enough.

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers will find the accommodations less than ideal. Headroom, foot room, and knee room were snug for a guy like me (5-foot-10) sitting behind a guy like me. The center seat sits up a notch higher and is crowded by the front console.

That console, however, offers a minivan-size storage capacity, with room for what appear to be unlimited CDs and other detritus.

Keeping warm or cool: The overdesigned interior lines create unusually shaped vents that don't allow for much change in airflow direction.

Controls for the fan and temperature were fairly simple, with a dial for fan speed and buttons for all the rest of it.

Fuel economy: I observed 28 m.p.g. in the usual Mr. Driver's Seat mix of highway and suburban driving.

Where it's built: Ulsan, South Korea.

How it's built: Consumer Reports deems its predicted reliability to be above average, and it gets a recommended rating from the magazine's testers.

In the end: The Elantra keeps headed in the right direction, although for $25,000 the competition must be considered closely.