Hyundai’s new Elantra isn’t just winning praise, it’s topping multi-car comparisons, besting vehicles that have sat untouched at the top of the compact car pedestal for decades. Having driven the vehicle back at its official launch, we were impressed. Several months later with the launch of an all new Focus and Civic and its worth another look. Have Hyundai’s charms worn off?
1. All Elantra models come with a 148-hp 1.8L 4-cyl that gets 29/40 mpg.
2. For 2012 all Elantra models get a $250 price hike and now start at $15,195 and jump to 17,445 for an automatic GLS or $20,445 for a Limited.
3. Even base models come with standard remote keyless entry as well as a USB and iPod hookup.
4. Limited trim levels come with luxuries like leather as well as heated front and rear seats, while optional extras include keyless access, a push-button ignition, navigation and a 360-watt audio system.
In case you need a refresher, the Elantra is best known for stand-out qualities that include interior and exterior design, not to mention fuel economy.
GOOD LOOKS IN THE COMPACT SEGMENT
While subjective, it still might very well be the most attractive car in its class. The new Focus is a strong style rival, however, with its gaping front opening. The Cruze, while handsome enough, doesn’t really pop and the Civic, well, it looks just like Civics have for a very long time.
Perhaps an even more significant transformation comes in the car’s interior (shown here in Limited trim) with a genuinely modern cabin that gives a feel like it doesn’t share a single button with the previous generation car. The same can’t be said about the Civic, or about the Cruze.
40-MPG HIGHWAY FOR ALL MODELS
In the fuel economy wars the Elantra still remains the unrivalled champion. While the Cruze advertises a special 42-mpg Eco model, that’s only for the stick shift and it costs thousands more than the base model. For 2012, automatic transmission versions will get 38-mpg on the highway, an improvement of 2-mpg. The Focus gets the same and both come up one short of the Civic with 39-mpg. The real world difference between these models isn’t all that significant, but Hyundai’s ability to claim that magic 40-mpg number puts the Elantra in a whole new marketing league.
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But there’s more to the Elantra than just these factors. It many ways it’s more Civic-like in its ride, which isn’t to say it’s as sporty but it feels lighter and more nimble. Depending on what you’re looking for in a car, however, it can also be viewed as a little less robust compared to the Cruze or Corolla.
ROUGH ROADS EXPOSE A RARE FLAW
Some would say a fully independent suspension isn’t necessary in this class of vehicle, but that’s not entirely true, even if most automakers seem to agree. Two of the rare ones in this segment that have such a setup are the Focus and Civic and it shows in their handling capabilities and sporting pretensions.
Perhaps the Elantra doesn’t need an independent rear suspension, but the current setup could at least use a few tweaks, and not for performance reasons either. While indistinguishable from many of its counterparts on flat stretches of straight road, when the tarmac deteriorates there’s plenty of extra shake that reverberates through the car.
POWERTRAIN HIGHS AND LOWS
A closer look at the powertrain reveals strengths and weaknesses. Motivating the car is a 148-hp 1.8-liter engine mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic. Engine output is right on target for the class and the motor has enough pep around town. Under full throttle it feels much less adequate, however, and always seems to disappoint when you’re planning a pass or zipping up a short ramp in order to merge with highway traffic.
The transmission does like to stay it the higher gears to hit that 40-mpg target, but gears down rather quickly compared to many rivals. It’s not quite as willing as the Civic’s setup, which as a 5-speed may be considered out-dated in the class, but its refinement is reason enough why Honda has continued on with it.
During our week with the new Elantra, the real world fuel economy numbers did not disappoint. While the car’s regular commute did favor highway driving, we managed 36-mpg.
What does continue to be a weak spot for the Elantra is its steering – a common complaint we have among Hyundai models. It’s reasonably light and not forcibly heavy like with the Tucson, although it is rather vague, with a numb on-center feel.
SLIGHT PRIKE HIKE FOR 2012
An impressive well-rounded package, the Elantra will pick up plenty of buyers based on that 40-mpg number, its design and an overall positive outlook by the automotive media. Others will rely on researching out trim levels and pricing, which is worth a look.
At $15,195 the Elantra, in GLS trim, continues to be one of the most affordable compact cars on the market, although that number is a bit misleading. (The same can be said of any vehicle in this range). If air conditioning is on your must-have list, which we suspect it is, then you’ll have to add on a $1,250 Comfort Package, which also includes cruise control, a telescopic steering wheel and 16-inch steel wheels (up from 15s) with larger tires and hubcaps.
For those who simply can’t live without an automatic transmission, then the entry price is over $3,000 more at $18,205 – a number that includes all those aforementioned Comfort Package options.
You’ll likely want to add an additional $600 to the final price, however, to tack on the Preferred Equipment Package that includes some must-have features like 16-inch allow wheels, steering wheel audio controls, some upgraded interior trim and Bluetooth, which we think every automaker should include as standard. Of note, all trim levels come standard with keyless entry, as well as a USB and iPod hookup.
Stepping up to the Limited package brings a long list of features you’d like, but really don’t need, like leather, a sunroof, heated front and rear seats and 17-inch wheels with larger, lower profile and higher quality 215/45/17 tires. Plus you’ll get an assortment of trim upgrades inside and out. Beyond that, those with income to dispose of can spend it on features like a navigation system, a more powerful audio system and even keyless access with a push button start.
At $18,805 the GLS with all the goodies minus the optional Nav seems like the way to go. It’s no longer the incredible bargain price you might expect from Hyundai, but it’s also a chasm of mediocrity away from those Korean compact of yore.
Just two years ago there were really only two compact car options, one from Honda and one from Toyota – the latter of which has now even fallen off the map as it hangs on at the end of its product cycle. Now there are half a dozen solid offerings.
The fact that the Elantra still stands out among them shows just what an impressive package it is. We still have a few issues with it, but they’re small and a testament to how spoiled we’ve become with compact cars. Only a few years ago such issues would have been overlooked.
With stand-out styling and that big 40-mpg number, Hyundai won’t have any trouble bringing customers into dealerships, and with an impressive interior and solid pricing, dealers should find it equally easy to send folks on their way in a new Elantra.