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2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited Sedan Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Hyundai Elantra

• Elantra's modest sticker price is surprisingly not its best feature.

• Elantra's Design, performance, fuel efficiency and impressive list of amenities are giving the competition sleepless nights.


2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited Sedan

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai's entry in the compact sedan class is the Elantra. The nameplate has been around for years; the fifth generation was brand-new for 2011 and gets some small but important improvements for 2012. If your last experience with Hyundai was in the late 1980s, times have changed. Then, Hyundais were cheap -- in the most pejorative sense of that word. Not only was the price low, but so was the build quality, reliability, and longevity.

   • SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide

That view of Hyundai has not been true for a while now, as in at least a decade, and really more like 15 years. If Hyundai was a minor concern to the Japanese manufacturers only a few years ago, the Korean automaker is now their biggest threat. The Americans, and Europeans, should be wary, too -- Hyundai has a full line of cars from subcompact to large luxury, and is competitive in every class.

The newest Elantra shows why. Yes, it could be bought on price, and price alone. But it has much more than that going for it. Build quality is comparable to the best in the class, and better than most. Styling, once bland, is now distinctive. And fuel economy, once a weak point, is now first-class. When the new Elantra was unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, the big news was "40 mpg highway mileage".

And while parent Hyundai corporation is Korean, like all other large automakers it is also international. The current Elantra is built in Alabama.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Hyundai Elantra

The new Elantra really is new, as in new chassis, engine, styling, and interior. Extensive use of lightweight high-strength steel in the unibody structure and a smaller, lighter, more-powerful, and more fuel-efficient engine means a reduction of between 25 and 75 pounds (approximately) depending on trim level and equipment -- and that may be low as the new Elantra has a higher level of standard equipment.

At 1.8 liters capacity, the Nu engine (that's what it's called) is smaller physically and in displacement than the old 2.0-liter, with 148 horsepower versus the previous 138. Transmissions are six-speed, manual or automatic. There are just two trim levels, GLS and Limited. There are several option packages for the GLS, so it can be anything from (more than) basic done right to very well equipped. Option packages for the Limited, which already includes amenities like Bluetooth® connectivity, leather seating, and heated rear seats (yes, I just said "heated rear seats" in reference to an affordable compact sedan) are limited to the Technology Package, with navigation system, rearview camera, upgraded audio system, and pushbutton start/stop being the key features.

Because of the way test car scheduling works, I never got into a 2011 Elantra except for a short test drive at a comparative event. That was rectified last week when I was the first journalist in my area to get the 2012 edition, as a fully-equipped Limited model with the Technology Package. It was well worth the wait, and would have made a fine luxury car 20 or so years ago exactly as is. At $22,675 (including carpet floor mats and an iPod cable) it's not exactly priced like a luxury car today. But that modest price (considering the content) is not its greatest attraction. *That* would be the entire package. Distinctive style outside, mid-size room (according to the EPA) inside, comfort and space for all -- plus good performance and economy. On a highway run, I reset the fuel consumption readout and proceeded at realistic highway speed -- 65-75 mph -- in a moderately hilly area. Result? 38 mpg. Overall, with more city than highway, 30. No complaints from me. Reactions from competitors may vary…

Watch the Hyundai Elantra promo video

APPEARANCE: Hyundai calls its newest design language, introduced for the latest Sonata and further developed here on the Elantra, "Fluidic Sculpture". Highly sculpted, with flowing shapes and well-defined character lines, it's unmistakable and distinctive. Both the windshield and rear window are highly-raked, for a near coupe-like side profile. A hexagonal character line surrounds and defines the double-decker grille, and then flows back at the hood/fender junction and up the A-pillars to surround the top of the trunk lid. The sides are defined by a rising cutline and prominent fender flares. At the rear, the long, pointed, wraparound taillights reprise the headlight shape and there is further sculpting to add visual interest.

COMFORT: A two-inch increase in wheelbase has been translated to greater interior space, especially legroom. As mentioned, it's technically "mid-size" for interior room, and that's not just abstract volume. Interior design is cohesive with the exterior, but form does not impede function. It looks more upscale than merely affordable compact, and in the Limited, material choice is more upscale than usual for the class with soft-touch synthetic for most of the instrument panel and leather for the seating surfaces. Yes, the seats are manually-adjustable, as is the steering wheel (for both tilt and reach, though), but no demerits there. Brightly-lit instruments are easy to see, and comprehensive with a trip information display in all models. The Limited gets leather on the steering wheel and shift knob, and audio, information, phone, and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel spokes. The Limited's navigation system uses touchscreen controls for details, with surrounding hard buttons for main features, all simple and self-explanatory. An image from the backup camera is displayed on the nav screen, useful given that vision through the near-horizontal rear window can be decreased by glare at times. Audio choices are AM, FM, and XM radio, CD, and jack and USB/iPod connections in a covered compartment at the front of the console, with a power point. Bottle holders and some storage space are found in all doors, plus a large console box and glove box -- which is operated by an adjacent button as in a luxury car. Rear passengers get good head room and excellent leg room considering the Elantra's size, with on/off cushion heaters. Carpool popularity here! The seatback folds 60/40 if trunk space is not sufficient. Which is unlikely.

SAFETY: Standard safety features in all Elantra models include front and rear crumple zones, dual door beams, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, front, seat-mounted front side, Vehicle Stability Management, comprising interaction between electronic stability control and electric power steering systems to assist in emergency maneuvers, and full-length side curtain airbags.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Improvements to the Elantra's unibody structure have reduced weight and increased rigidity, largely through use of high-strength steel. Careful weight reduction benefits ride quality, performance, and fuel economy, with no decrease in passenger protection. Suspension design is typical for the compact class, MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam axle at the rear. It's tuned moderately, for a good balance between comfort and responsiveness. The electrically-assisted power steering offers a moderate level of effort, not too light, but is a bit numb -- as is typical of such systems for any manufacturer. This is not a sports sedan, so no complaint.

PERFORMANCE: Smaller engine, more power? Hyundai has made a major leap forward with its new "Nu" engine. The previous 2.0-liter engine used a cast-iron block; the Nu's is aluminum and it's 74 pounds lighter than the old engine. Much attention was paid to details of the 1.8-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve four-cylinder to increase efficiency and bring both greater power and lower emissions levels. Continuously-variable cam phasing for both intake and exhaust camshafts, a two-stage variable intake system, and electronic throttle control are among some of its features. New this year in the Limited is the ActiveECO system, which modifies engine and automatic transmission control parameters to further improve fuel efficiency. It's activated by a switch on the dash, and as far as I could tell has no discernible effect on acceleration -- the engine and transmission, now a six-speed instead of four for yet further improvements in acceleration and economy, seemed to work better in that mode than in default. With 148 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 131 lb-ft of torque (at 4700 rpm), and plenty of low-rpm torque, highway merges and passing present no difficulties. Fuel economy is very good. EPA estimates are 29 mpg city, 40 highway, and those are only a couple of mpg above real-world observations.

CONCLUSIONS: With its latest Elantra, Hyundai is the new challenger in the affordable sedan class.

Watch the original new Hyundai Elantra (badged as Avante in markets outside of the U.S.) Concept promo video


2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited Sedan

Base Price $ 20,445

Price As Tested $ 22,675

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing

Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.

Horsepower 148 @ 6500 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 131 @ 4700 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode

Wheelbase / Length 106.3 in. / 178.3 in.

Curb Weight 2877 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.4

Fuel Capacity 12.8 gal.

Fuel Requirement 12.8

Tires P215/45 R17 87H Conti Pro Contact m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, vehicle stability system standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 29 / 40 / 30

0 to 60 mph 8.6 sec


Technology Package - includes: navigation system with 7" touchscreen, rearview camera, 360-watt premium audio with digital external amp, automatic headlights, proximity key entry with electronic pushbutton start, immobilizer $ 2,100

Carpeted floor mats $ 95

iPod® cable $ 35

Destination charge $ included

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