The Hyundai Elantra is a home run, winning awards for its combination of affordability, sporty styling and performance, and roomy, attractive cabin. This latest design is modern and stylish, with crisp, clean lines. The cabin is roomy and attractive.
We found the Elantra enjoyable to drive. It has a nice balance of smooth ride and responsive handling. And we weren't the only ones who thought that: The Elantra was named the 2012 North American Car of the Year by a jury of 50 independent automotive journalists.
For 2012, changes are minimal because the Elantra was completely redesigned for 2011, with a new body, interior, engine and transmissions.
The 2012 Elantra comes with a new system called ActiveECO, which modifies engine and transmission control to smooth out throttle response and increase real-world fuel economy by up to 7 percent, according to Hyundai. The government numbers are unchanged, however. Also, the steering has been recalibrated on 2012 Elantra models for better on-center feel, and the horn has been upgraded. Otherwise, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is unchanged from the all-new 2011 model.
A four-door compact sedan, Elantra competes against the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Mazda 3.
All models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Like other compacts, Elantra is front-wheel drive. Its relative light weight, less than 2,900 pounds, helps the Elantra with acceleration performance, braking performance, handling and fuel economy.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 28/38 mpg City/Highway with either transmission. That's better than the Ford Focus (26/36 mpg), Chevrolet Cruze (26/36 mpg), or Honda Civic (28/36 mpg). It compares favorably to the super-efficient Focus SFE (28/40), Cruze Eco (28/42), and Civic HF (29/41) models. Hyundai says its Elantra PZEV model (that's California-speak for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) is as clean as many hybrid electric vehicles, though power from the PZEV is slightly less. Hyundai claims a range of up to 500 miles.
Inside, Elantra is roomy, especially by compact standards. Its interior measurements are comparable to those of a small midsize car. There's plenty of headroom and legroom for tall drivers. Once inside, the back seat is tolerable for tall passengers, making this a great car for college students, though the sedan's fastback roof doesn't offer the rear-seat headroom of a hatchback. All models behave the same, so choosing a model comes down to deciding which features you want. We think the lower-level models offer the best value.
The Hyundai Elantra comes in two trim levels, all powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. (Note: The Elantra Touring hatchback is based on the previous-generation version and is not related to the current Elantra sedan.)
Elantra GLS ($15,195) comes with cloth upholstery, six-way manual driver's seat, 172-watt 6-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD with MP3, iPod, and USB compatibility, 60/40-split fold rear seat, power windows, locks and heated mirrors, tilt steering wheel, keyless entry, anti-theft system, trip computer, 195/65TR15 tires on 15-inch steel wheels, and 6-speed manual gearbox. A Comfort Package ($1,250) adds manually operated air conditioning, 16-inch wheels, cruise control, telescopic steering wheel.
When ordered with the 6-speed automatic ($17,445), the GLS comes with manually operated air conditioning, 16-inch wheels and tires, a steering column that tilts and telescopes, cruise control, four cupholders, and a lower-numerical final drive ratio (better fuel economy but slower acceleration performance). The GLS Preferred Package ($600) upgrades to alloy wheels, steering wheel audio controls, fog lights, Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition, upgraded interior trim, sliding center armrest, illuminated vanity mirrors with driver extension and illuminated ignition.
Elantra Limited ($20,445) comes only with the automatic transmission and includes leather upholstery with heated front and rear seats, air conditioning, power moonroof, 215/45HR17 tires with 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, mirror-imbedded turn signals, black chrome grille, solar glass, minor cabin upgrades, and most of the GLS Preferred content. The Limited Technology Package ($2,100) adds navigation with 7-inch screen, rearview camera, 360-watt premium audio, automatic headlights, proximity key for key-in-pocket operation.
Safety features that come standard include front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, and electronic stability control with Vehicle Stability Control, antilock brakes, brake assist, and traction control. The optional rearview camera improves safety by helping the driver spot children and pedestrians when backing up.
Note: Elantra Touring is a hatchback wagon based on the previous-generation Elantra. For impressions of the Touring model, see our review of the 2010 Hyundai Elantra; the wagon hasn't changed since then. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)