2012 Hyundai Elantra Sedan - FROM $15,345
Thanks to head-turning styling, a fuel-efficient engine and a long list of standard safety features and upscale options, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is a top pick for a small sedan.
What's New for 2012
After a complete redesign last year, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra gains an "Active Eco System" that modifies engine and transmission parameters at the push of a button to increase fuel economy by up to 7 percent. The names of option packages have also been changed.
Once a crummy also-ran, then a dark-horse alternative and now one of the sales leaders, the Hyundai Elantra is quite the success story. After last year's complete redesign, the Elantra has shed its frumpy, anonymous styling and gained fluid curves and a coupelike roof line. The 2012 Hyundai Elantra looks good, and that counts for a lot in a segment not normally known for visual excitement.
Thankfully, there's substance to go along with the Elantra's new sheet metal. Its 1.8-liter engine delivers commendable power for its class, as well as thrifty fuel economy. The latter improves even further for 2012 thanks to a new system known as Active Eco. When the driver selects this mode, the Elantra's automatic transmission shift points and throttle response are adjusted to increase fuel economy by up to 7 percent. The downside, though, is more sluggish performance when the mode is engaged.
Inside the cabin, occupants are greeted by a bold dash design and controls that are still easy to use. Overall materials quality isn't quite best-in-class (that award goes to the Ford Focus), but the Elantra's cabin isn't bargain-basement either. The Elantra can also be loaded up with the sort of comfort and electronics features indicative of a luxury car. Other than a lack of rear headroom for taller folks, the cabin is generally quite spacious.
So the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is comfortable, well-built, fuel efficient, abundantly equipped, sharply styled and covered by Hyundai's long warranty coverage. Of course, other small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze, Focus, Honda Civic and Mazda 3 are also great choices, making comparison shopping a must. But when it comes to the small sedan segment, we can finally endorse the Elantra as a top pick.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Hyundai Elantra is available in GLS and Limited trims.
The base GLS comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, heated mirrors, full power accessories, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The GLS Comfort package adds 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, solar glass and, when equipped with an automatic transmission, Hyundai's Active Eco system. The GLS Preferred package adds 16-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, upgraded interior trim, a sliding front center armrest, illuminated vanity mirrors, steering wheel audio controls and Bluetooth.
The Elantra Limited adds all of the GLS Preferred equipment plus 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. The Limited Technology package adds automatic headlights, keyless ignition/entry, a rearview camera, an upgraded sound system, a touchscreen infotainment interface and a navigation system with real-time traffic, weather and other information.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2012 Hyundai Elantra is front-wheel drive and comes standard with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Vehicles sold in California-emissions states get a partial zero-emissions vehicle (PZEV) version of this engine, which lowers output to 145 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque. On the GLS, a six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic is optional. The Limited comes standard with the automatic.
In Edmunds performance testing with a non-PZEV engine, an Elantra Limited went from zero to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds -- slightly slower than average. No matter which engine/transmission combo you choose, you'll end up with an impressive EPA fuel economy estimate of 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined. However, in real-world driving, we noticed the Elantra struggled to achieve its highway number.
The 2012 Hyundai Elantra's list of standard safety features includes traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints, front seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, an Elantra Limited needed 125 feet to stop from 60 mph -- a good distance for the segment.
In government crash testing, the 2012 Elantra received a perfect five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for overall frontal impact protection and five stars for overall side impact protection. (It should be noted that some 2012 Elantras that Hyundai built early on received a lower, four-star overall rating resulting from a three-star frontal impact rating.) In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Elantra earned a top score of "Good" for its performance in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Elantra's interior features a curved center stack and stylized climate controls that provide a bit of extra flair while still being easy to use. The design is attractive and the materials, while not quite best-in-class, at least have a rich look to them. With available high-end features like leather, heated front and rear seats, an excellent navigation system and a rearview camera, you can even equip an Elantra to near-luxury levels.
In general, the Elantra offers a lot more space than you'd expect from a compact car. Headroom up front is plentiful for 6-footers and the steering wheel is a bit smaller in diameter than usual, which enhances the sense of space up front. The backseat is fine for kids and even most adults, though vertically gifted folks will find its abundant legroom and shortage of headroom a mixed blessing. The Elantra features a large trunk with 14.8 cubic feet of cargo room, a generous number for this segment. Its 60/40-split pass-through is also quite large.
While the 2012 Hyundai Elantra isn't quite as exciting to drive as it is to look at, it's certainly not dull. The new 1.8-liter engine has plenty of pep for daily driving, and the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and willingly downshifts. The cabin is a relatively quiet place, with little wind noise to speak of, though there is enough road and engine noise to remind you that the Elantra is still a compact economy car rather than the high-dollar sedan it appears to be.
If you're looking for some driving fun in your compact car, the Elantra doesn't have the outright handling abilities of the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus and Mazda 3. Those cars quite simply feel a little more sophisticated. But in general, the Elantra's balance between ride and handling is one of the best in the segment.