Didn't think Hyundai would take the Kia Cerato GT's arrival lying down, did you?
Meet the new Elantra Sport, ready to defend its warm-sedan turf with an edgy new face, a more refined interior, and a simpler name.
Behind its new name (RIP SR Turbo, we barely knew thee) lies a familiar formula. Power comes from a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine making 150kW and 265Nm, put to the front wheels through a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
There are two trim levels: Elantra Sport and Sport Premium. Our tester was a Sport priced from $28,990 with a manual or $31,490 before on-roads with the DCT. Our tester had two pedals – in other words, it was the one people will actually buy.
Despite the extra $2500 demanded for the dual-clutch, the value equation is strong with the Sport. It gets a black headliner, carbon-effect trim, contrast stitching, alloy sports pedals, a lovely flat-bottomed steering wheel, and the Smart Sense active safety suite as standard over non-Sport variants.
Our tester came with lovely red leather seats ($295), while metallic paint ($495) is also extra.
It's beautifully presented inside, thanks in part to the Elantra's recent facelift. Having recently hopped out of the Elantra's cross-town rival, the Cerato GT, my expectations were relatively low – the Cerato is pretty snappily designed inside, and the Hyundai design is far less 'classical' – but the in-person experience is excellent.
The changes are subtle over the pre-facelift Elantra. There are silver strakes in the air vents, and the infotainment binnacle now blends more seamlessly into the instruments, and the climate controls have been redesigned.
You also get a neat piece of carbon-style trim running over the air vents and around the instrument binnacle. Sounds like a little thing, but it looks really nice. More importantly, the ergonomics are excellent, the 7.0-inch infotainment system is quick to respond, and the driving position infinitely adjustable for taller drivers.
It's also deceptively attractive on the outside. I realise this sounds like damning the car with faint praise, but it's much better resolved in person than in pictures. The angry new headlamps blend neatly into the grille, which itself is finished with an angular motif to match the rest of the car's look.
The new 18-inch wheels are surprisingly intricate, and the new rear light treatment rounds things out nicely. It's handsome, this Hyundai.
It's also very nice to drive. Around town, the Elantra Sport neatly fulfils its warm-sedan brief, surfing the wave of torque available between 1500 and 4500rpm for easy low-speed progress. It's not shouty, but there's a purposeful growl when you really bury the throttle, and Hyundai hasn't fallen into the same fake-noise trap as Kia.
Although it's better than previous attempts from Korea, the dual-clutch transmission in the Sport still isn't perfect around town. It doesn't suffer the same foibles as Volkswagen's twin-clutch set-ups – it's impressively smooth from standstill, for example – but it can be indecisive on light throttle openings.
It's especially noticeable between first and second gear, where you're sometimes left hanging as the car rides its clutch or slams awkwardly into gear at the wrong moment. The problem doesn't happen all the time, but it's frustrating when it does... Especially when torque converter automatics are so capable in 2019.
Where the Hyundai really shines is when it comes to that tricky balance between ride and handling. It deals effortlessly with potholes and expansion joints around the city, with none of the harsh, brittle impacts afflicting the Cerato GT.
Don't think it's a wobbly cruiser, though. When you hit the open road it settles into a planted cruise, and it's more than happy to indulge your inner petrolhead on a twisty stretch of road.
Thanks to its well-sorted suspension set-up (and a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres) there's oodles of grip on offer, and the nose goes exactly where you want, when you want. It's great fun to punt along an interesting road, without feeling snappy or edgy.
Put another way, I made three passengers feel very sick along the Black Spur without really feeling like the Elantra was nearing the edge of its capabilities. Great fun for me, not so much for those in the back seat.
Speaking of those passengers, a four-up trip to the Victorian High Country served to reinforce just how practical a compact sedan can be.
It has 458L of boot space and decent headroom, despite the sloping roofline, along with a stereo punchy enough to drown out the (noticeable, but not unacceptable) road noise. All of which allowed it to easily swallow four six-foot-whatever blokes, along with all our bags, food and drinks for a long weekend.
The engine had more than enough punch for overtaking at highway speeds. It was even efficient. I averaged 7.2L/100km over my week with the car, and around 6.5L/100km fully loaded on the highway. I wasn't trying for good economy numbers, either.
The only real knock on its long-distance credentials is the lack of adaptive cruise control. Swap it for the hyperactive lane-keeping assist, Hyundai.
Other niggles? The interior boot release handle only seemed to work sporadically. I had trouble in D and P, and with the engine switched on and off. In other words, it seems like someone in Korea forgot to tighten the cable...
It doesn't really worry me, but some buyers will be annoyed by the manual handbrake. Auto-hold and engagement are out of the question, then.
An electric handbrake isn't the only omission. Although it's priced within knocking distance of the Cerato GT, the base Sport misses out on niceties like power-adjustable seats, wireless phone charging, and front parking sensors.
They're reserved for the Sport Premium, which starts at $33,990 before on-roads.
The value equation struggles further when you consider Hyundai offers a five-year warranty instead of the seven-year coverage you get from Kia, and the Cerato has a bigger boot than the Elantra.
Maintenance happens every 12 months or 10,000km, and thanks to capped-price servicing, four of the first five services cost $273. The other one costs $314.
Despite its on-paper shortcomings against the Cerato, it's the Hyundai that'd be getting my money. Its balance between ride and handling is judged to perfection, the exterior is sharp, and the cabin feels slightly more upmarket. Plus, it still handles. What more could you want?