When you call something a great value, there are two ways to reach that definition.
The most-obvious one is something that doesn’t cost very much — that’s less expensive than similar alternatives.
But even something relatively expensive can be a great value, if it delivers more than you’d expect for what it costs.
In the compact sedan class, we recently tested newly updated examples of each type of value: the 2019 Honda Civic and the 2019 Hyundai Elantra. Both updates brought styling tweaks and more standard safety equipment, offering superior value to the right customer.
The Civic, America’s best-selling compact car last year, was last fully redesigned as a 2016 model. The latest model cast off the humble affordability of the previous-generation Civic, opting instead for more-aggressive styling, sportier driving dynamics, standout powertrain technology and one of the roomiest interiors of its class.
The Civic is an appealing blend of comfortable, fun to drive, fuel-efficient and spacious. Unlike the other leading fun-to-drive, premium-feeling compact cars — the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf — the Civic delivers family-friendly interior volume, with a rear seat and trunk that rival some larger midsize cars.
What that means is that the Civic can be an affordable alternative to more-expensive cars, something that prospective midsize shoppers could consider. So, while it tends to cost more than comparably equipped competitors — starting at a base price of $20,370 — it can be a stellar value for buyers who can appreciate its space and driving experience.
Furthering its value, the Civic now comes with a suite of advanced safety features as standard equipment, which had previously been a $1,000 extra-cost option.
There are some downsides, though. The current-generation Civic has never stood out for the user-friendliness of its interior, with some hard-to-read gauges and clumsy infotainment controls.
Honda took a big step forward for 2019 by adding physical buttons and a volume knob to the audio system; last year’s model had relied on a touchscreen for all those functions, which took too much attention to adjust while driving. The infotainment system remains slower to respond than the best new competitors, though; newer Hondas like the Accord midsize sedan and Odyssey minivan have switched to a more attractive, more-responsive system with a larger screen.
Honda’s lower seating position will also have its detractors. Driving enthusiasts will welcome sitting closer to the road, spreading out behind the steering wheel rather than sitting on an SUV-like perch. But others will appreciate higher seats in even some competing compact cars, which can make it easier to get in and out of the vehicle.
The Civic’s powertrains are another mixed bag. Every Civic sedan has a competitive engine, but you have to upgrade to a pricey trim ($24,000 and up) for the truly stellar 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in the sedan we tested. The base engine is simultaneously less powerful and less fuel-efficient; the 1.5-liter gets a standout 35 miles per gallon in mixed driving, trumping the already impressive base 2.0-liter’s 33 mpg. (The 1.5-liter is standard, however, on the roomy and functional Civic five-door hatchback.)
A last concern for some buyers will be the looks. Some folks will find the car’s sleek silhouette and chunky front and rear ends to be agreeably head-turning and assertive, or might not have any strong feelings. Others may find the design too aggressive or busy.
The 2019 Hyundai Elantra, meanwhile, brings not only lower prices but also a higher focus on user-friendly design than the Civic. The Elantra’s controls are always easy to use, the seating position is higher than the Civic’s and the design is more quietly classy than the extroverted Civic’s.
Hyundai has dressed up the updated 2019 Elantra sedan with edgier triangular headlights and BMW-esque tail lights, but it’s still not a true head-turner.
Priced from $18,120, and with bigger discounts than the Civic, the Elantra offers the classic value play of lots of features for the money. For 2019, all but the base model comes standard with a suite of advanced safety features that had previously been limited to pricey top-of-the-line models including blind-spot monitoring with a rear cross-traffic alert, which isn’t offered on the Civic.
Although the Elantra isn’t as downright fun to drive as the Civic, it’s also an agreeable vehicle with comfortable seats, pleasant ride and handling, and acceptably peppy acceleration. The rear seat doesn’t have as much legroom as the extra-generous Civic, though, and gas mileage of most Elantra models trails the Honda’s at 32 mpg in mixed driving.
Note that the five-door Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback is a fundamentally different vehicle from the four-door sedan, with different styling, a different interior and revisions to the powertrain. It looks and feels more luxurious than the Elantra sedan, but the Elantra GT suffers from poor fuel economy, and it’s still hard to get all the best safety features that are now widely available on the sedan.
Visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-civic to see more photos of the tested 2019 Honda Civic and visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-elantra to see more photos of the tested 2019 Hyundai Elantra.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.