2012 Hyundai Elantra
2012 Hyundai Elantra Expert Review:Autoblog
Were we the betting type, we'd put money on looming CAFE standards as the single biggest issue to keep auto execs awake at night. Organizations from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to the California Air Resource Board and the Environmental Protection Agency have all made noise about increasing corporate average fuel economy standards to lofty figures that reside anywhere between 47 and 62 mpg in around 14 years – a blink of an eye in terms of product development. If you've been wondering why manufacturers continue to roll out a bevy of fuel-efficient, economical vehicles despite relatively stable fuel prices and luke-warm demand, wonder no more.
Hyundai, with its small-engined fleet of fuel-savvy bruisers, seems downright giddy at the news. The Korean manufacturer has announced that by the time 2025 rolls around, the company will have a corporate average fuel economy of 50 mpg. The groundwork for that dramatic increase is being laid right now with vehicles like the Sonata Hybrid and the most recent addition to the Hyundai stable, the 2011 Elantra.
The last-generation Elantra debuted four short years ago, but in the meantime, competition in the American small-car market has increased by leaps and bounds. Additions like the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and the upcoming 2012 Ford Focus have proven that domestic manufacturers are just as serious about producing compact, high-quality vehicles with excellent fuel economy as the long-reigning titans of the segment from Honda and Toyota. With its 40 mpg highway rating, stylish exterior and excellent drivetrain, the 2011 Hyundai Elantra is set to put the rest of the segment on notice.
Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL
In order to mark the 2011 Elantra as part of the family, Hyundai has rolled in a healthy dose of its corporate "fluidic sculpture" design language, though the look isn't quite as overwrought as in the 2011 Sonata. Grafted onto the smaller package, the rounded nose and subdued hexagonal grille give the new Elantra some much-needed character, and that plot is carried down the side of the vehicle thanks to a set of handsome, wrapped headlights and a side strake that runs from the top of the front fender well to the similarly contoured tail lamps. The look is cohesive and well balanced while clearly standing out from the rest of the segment.
Hyundai is offering the 2011 Elantra in just seven buildable configurations to make things easier on both dealers and buyers, and as such, there are only two basic trim packages: GLS and Limited. In GLS guise, the interior of the sedan is treated with attractive cloth seats and a two-tone dash with soft-touch materials up top and well-grained plastic down low. The dash, steering wheel and center stack all boast a taste of the same flowing design as the exterior of the Elantra, and as such, you'll find plenty of complex arches and curves indoors. The look won't be for everyone, but it's a vast improvement over the bland cabin of the last generation.
By pushing the Elantra's wheels to each corner and pulling a few clever packaging tricks, Hyundai has managed to provide an impressive amount of space inside. The company's efforts netted the new compact a mid-size designation from the minds at the EPA, and there's room for full-grown adults both front and rear with plenty of space for knees and elbows.
In Limited configuration, the center stack is dominated by a massive seven-inch touch-screen that hosts controls for navigation, audio and iPod integration. Thanks to XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, buyers can check the status of everything from traffic congestion to stock prices, weather advisories and sports scores. A rear-view camera is also available, though the sedan's visibility hardly warrants the tech. The Limited trim also brings along a 360-watt, six-speaker stereo system with an external amp should you decide to rock your passengers' socks straight off their body.
But the biggest difference between base models and their Limited counterparts is the addition of a liberal leather coating inside. Seating surfaces, both front and rear, are swaddled in a perforated hide with a unique wave pattern, and for the first time in this segment, both front and rear passengers get the joy of heated seats. The thrones are double stitched, though Hyundai skipped the typically eye-catching contrasting thread in favor of a color-matched material.
One of the nicer details in the Elantra interior is the HVAC controls. Designers implemented an intuitive system of stacked dials to control fan speed and temperature, and the system takes little more than cursory glance in order to be able to use without taking your eyes off of the road. The dials feel like quality pieces with nice texturing and a solid action.
Regardless of what trim level buyers decide on, they'll benefit from a drivetrain that merrily returns 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. The 2011 Elantra comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque in ULEV guise. A PZEV variant is also available, but it sacrifices three horsepower and one lb-ft compared to its brethren. The engine is mated to either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. All told, the engine gives the 2011 Elantra more power and better fuel efficiency than competitors like the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.
Despite having a successful direct-injection program, Hyundai opted to go with a traditional multi-point fuel-injection system on the 2011 Elantra, largely to keep vehicle cost as low as possible. Even so, the company implemented a few clever engineering tricks to make the 1.8-liter mill as efficient as possible, including dual constant variable valve timing and an offset crankshaft that the company says helps reduce friction losses. A dual-plane intake and electronic throttle control also pitch in to make the most out of every drop of fuel it sucks down.
But the engine is only part of the sedan's fuel-efficiency story. The Elantra makes use of the new Hyundai six-speed automatic transmission, and the cog-box is no less advanced than the mill it's bolted to. Lighter, more compact and with fewer moving parts than the outgoing five-speed automatic, the transmission is right at home switching gears for the Elantra. Hyundai used a single control unit for both the engine and the transmission to improve smoothness, and the computer will actually cut juice to the four-cylinder between shifts to increase fuel economy.
We were fortunate enough to spend time in both the Elantra GLS with the six-speed manual transmission and an Elantra Limited with the six-speed automatic, and – as much as it pains us to say – the automatic-equipped vehicle is far and above the better driver. Both cars deliver a remarkably quiet cabin thanks to a three-layer door system and heaps of insulating foam in the vehicle's body cavities. A set of hydraulic engine mounts do a smart job of keeping any vibration from the engine out of the cabin, and more than once we found ourselves wondering whether or not the four-pot was actually running at idle.
Hyundai may have styled the 2011 Elantra with something of a sporty bent, but make no mistake: This isn't a compact corner carver. The good news is that the automaker isn't trying to paint the vehicle as the next great gift to motorsport. If we're looking for something that's fun to fling, we're told to wait for the 2012 Veloster. Instead, you're greeted with a very comfortable, very capable commuter from behind the wheel. Steering is a little on the light side thanks to the fuel-saving electric-motor power steering on board, but it provides more feedback than the 2011 Sonata Turbo.
The vehicle's suspension is appropriately tuned for comfortable commuting, managing to hit that Goldilocks sweet spot of neither too soft nor too firm for fielding broken pavement or the occasional twist in the tarmac. Up front, the Elantra is equipped with a MacPherson strut design with a 23 millimeter sway bar, while the rear makes use of a torsion-beam set up.
When equipped with the manual transmission, long gear ratios keep the Elantra from feeling as peppy as its automatic-equipped counterpart. The clutch is predictably soft for a vehicle that's more comfortable fielding the morning commute than carving canyons, and the piece provides a much more linear release than its corporate cousin, the Kia Forte. The friction point is miraculously forgiving, making the Elantra an appealing option for those new to the third pedal. The shifter is also surprisingly precise, providing a tactile notch to let you know exactly when you've landed the next gear.
That said, after ducking behind the wheel of the automatic-equipped Limited, we had a hard time finding an argument for the row-your-own Elantra. Shifts from the six-speed automatic are surprisingly quick and smooth for a vehicle in this price range. Slightly shorter gearing and the transmission's ability to keep the engine in its power band at all times make for a compact that feels much quicker than its horsepower should allow. It's a completely different world from its manual-transmission counterpart.
Like most automatics, the Elantra provides a manumatic mode, but, unlike most of the gimmicks on the market, this one is actually worth playing with. Bump the shifter up to gain a gear or back to lose one, and the gearbox shifts quicker than the time it takes your right hand to get back to the steering wheel. It's not quite dual-clutch quick, but it's faster than just about any other system we've played with.
The 2011 Elantra comes with disc brakes on all four corners as standard equipment, and as such, Hyundai says that it has a shorter stopping distance than either the Civic or the Corolla, both of which only offer rear discs on higher trim levels. The stoppers are more than capable of scrubbing speed, even after heavy abuse through the rolling terrain surrounding San Diego, and the system delivers a firm pedal with very little fade.
Our drive route landed us on both stints of interstate and winding back-country roads, and while our seat time was too short to get a good idea of exactly what kind of fuel economy we could expect in regular driving, we saw between 34 and 35 mpg over the course of the day. Those numbers line up pretty well with the EPA's 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, so we're interested to see exactly what the car can return over a full week's worth of drive time.
Hyundai began selling the Elantra this month, and technically, you can drive away with a base GLS with a manual-transmission for $14,830, though expect to make a few sacrifices at that price point. The bottom-of-the-line Elantra doesn't come with creature comforts like air-conditioning, though power windows and power locks are standard equipment. The vast majority of buyers are more likely to opt for the GLS with what Hyundai calls the "Popular Package." Alongside frosty A/C, the equipment package throws in cruise control and a telescoping steering column for $16,080. For an extra grand, buyers can have that excellent automatic gearbox and 16-inch alloy wheels instead of the 16-inch steelies and wheel covers on the manual-transmission vehicle.
For all of the buzz surrounding electric vehicles and extended-range hybrids at the moment, Hyundai believes that even 15 years from now, the technology is still going to carry a cost-prohibitive price tag, relegating those vehicles to a fairly small portion of the overall automotive market. If that turns out to be the case, we can expect to see more vehicles like the 2011 Elantra appear in the near future, packing plenty of content and a quality driving experience with ever-increasing fuel economy.
With the next-generation Honda Civic and 2012 Ford Focus on the horizon, the 2011 Hyundai Elantra will be facing some stout competition in the future, but right now, the little sedan has the bones to be king of the compact roost.
Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Award-winning compact sedan is stylish and affordable.
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.).
The Hyundai Elantra looks striking with crisp, edgy styling. It has presence among four-door compact sedans. Most of the rest of the class looks dated by comparison. The Elantra appears to have the sleekest, highest tail in its class and looks faster because of it. It's currently the most distinctive shape in this segment, rivaled only by the 2012 Ford Focus and Honda Civic.
Viewed from the front, the hexagonal grille presents a more sinister smile than that of the Mazda 3, more eager to play, a Dustbuster with attitude. The headlight housings wrap into the fenders, the trailing edge back as far as the centerline of the front wheels. This is in-your-face styling as far as commuter compacts go.
In side view, the Elantra echoes the styling of the Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan, with a raked windshield, roofline flowing into the trunk, coupe-like rear side window shape, and a forward-leaning shape. The crease that runs a rising arc from the front wheel, through the door handles and over the rear-wheel openings into the tail lights mirrors the shape of the old Triumph TR7 and TR8 sports cars. Perhaps Triumph's tag line, 'The Shape of Things to Come,' was indeed accurate.
From the rear, the Elantra is very similar to the larger Sonata, so much so that in the distance or without anything for scale you have to be well-versed on your Hyundais to tell the difference. The tail lights are long, wavy wraparound fixtures echoing the curves that lead in to the rear bumper and promote airflow to help keep the lights clean; on a dirty road surface the license plate should be the first part shrouded in muck.
Elantra Limited models can be distinguished by their larger alloy wheels, fog lights, and mirror-mounted signal repeaters. None of those is reason enough to step up; the tires offer better performance but the aftermarket (or your dealer) can address that, too. The main reason for stepping up is to get the features you want, such as navigation, rearview camera or leather upholstery.
Hyundai Elantra's interior doesn't resemble that of cost-cutter compacts, instead marrying style with interesting materials. We think the nice interior is part of the value proposition offered by the Elantra. It has neither hint of cheapness nor pretense of luxury.
Heated rear seats come standard on the Elantra Limited model, along with leather upholstery and faux leather door panels all perforated in a wave pattern. Elantra GLS models use cloth upholstery. All the Elantra seats are the same construction, however. The headliner employs a mix of material that includes volcanic rock to an interesting effect more attractive than fuzzy cardboard or plastic. Plastic is used on many surfaces, of course, though the only area we found that looks it is the backs of the front seats. We were pleasantly surprised to find the center AC vents were color-matched to the surrounding trim, not always the case, even on more expensive cars.
Room up front is very good and the seats are set well in from the doors for extra elbow space. Both of our 6-foot, 3-inch test dummies fit fine, even with a sunroof, and neither had the seat all the way back. With the front seats left in place they squeezed under the low door opening into the back, when both found sufficient knee and toe space while one could sit upright without head against the headliner as the other was. There's a lot of passenger volume in the Elantra (EPA labels it midsize, though we consider it a compact) and it has competitive dimensions, but different shapes will find numbers aren't everything.
Front seats proved comfortable for hours with no back complaints about lack of lumbar or inadequate bolstering; longer-legged types may wish for longer seat cushions. It's worth noting the least expensive model does not include a telescoping steering column, which aids comfort and driver awareness. The rear seats are also comfortable, the center floor nearly flat and the center seat higher but well padded.
Analog road and engine speed complement digital fuel and temperature, bathed in blue at night. Most steering wheels have redundant control options and on cars so equipped telephone buttons for hands-on operation. Radio or navigation/audio atop the center stack was easy to work and see in sunlight, though occasionally we'd stumble upon some slightly odd logic like the low-frequency (bass) adjustment on top and the high-frequency (treble) adjustment on the bottom; alphabetical isn't what we're accustomed to. Ventilation controls are in their own section and quickly deciphered.
Cabin storage is fairly good in quantity, variety and location. Each door has a map pocket, electronics plugs aren't right next to the cupholders waiting to fill with coffee or cola, and there's a pocket on the right side of the console with an adjacent 12-volt power point. It's handy for charging things but anything in it takes away the passenger's left knee-rest.
Outward visibility is fairly good. The windshield pillars are thicker (a new set of safety standards is coming) than they were but so far away that rarely presents any issues. A tall windshield and articulated mirror mount ensure a good view on winding or hilly lanes, and the hood can only be seen by those sitting far forward and high. Despite the high trunk and sloping roof we had no problems with rear or rear-quarter vision.
The trunk offers nearly 15 cubic feet of space; only the Chevrolet Cruze and Mazda3 might hold more. It's not a big opening, but sufficient, and there are pulls to drop the 40/60 folding rear seats (not flat) for more capacity. There's only a small area of paint to lift things over so the rear bumper should stay pretty, and a hole in the trunk about the size of a tire has a filler with storage bins in it.
The solidity and driving dynamics make the Hyundai Elantra feel fully competitive with anything in its class.
The 1.8-liter engine makes 148 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 131 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. (That's for the regular ULEV, or Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. It's 145 hp at 6300 rpm in PZEV states).
Like most in this class, it has to be revved to get the most out of it, and it's fairly happy and unobtrusive doing so. Peak power is at 6500 rpm, though there seemed no point in going beyond 6300 to extract maximum performance. Like many Hyundai models, the gas pedal is calibrated for significant response, feeling like it initially gets a lot of power for just a little pedal, which then makes the second half of pedal travel not so exciting.
EPA fuel economy ratings on the Elantra are 28/38 mpg regardless of trim or transmission. Regular gasoline is recommended. During our test drive, the onboard computer showed a best of 40.3 mpg and a worst of 30.9 mpg in various traffic and terrain.
The 6-speed manual shifts effortlessly and allows maximum performance or most economical driving habits. The 6-speed automatic is just as good, holding gears as needed to maintain speed and eliminate a lot of gear changes trying to save fuel by uphsifting only to have to downshift two seconds later because speed fell off.
Electric-assist steering points the car where you want to go with minimal effort, reasonable feedback and U-turns in less than 35 feet. Brakes are all disc on all models and more than capable of slowing down anything the 1.8-liter engine gets going. Directional stability is good, with little of that vague on-center feeling that characterizes some electric-assist steering systems.
Electronic stability control and antilock brakes are standard across the board, and the steering assist is now part of the system: it adds assist when the steering wheel is turned in the correct direction, and lessens assist, requiring more driver effort, when the steering wheel is turned the wrong direction. It won't steer for you in case of a slide, only help you steer the correct direction.
The Elantra's structure is very stiff so the car feels solid, tight and squeak free. Suspension is tuned more for ride comfort than outright speed but the vault-like structure means it can do a commendable job on twisty roads and still glide down the highway. It does exhibit body lean in hard cornering but this is more than acceptable; it remains controlled and makes the driver aware it is working toward its limits.
It just pitter-patters across expansion joints, and it didn't make much difference if we were on the 16-inch steel wheels or lower-profile Limited tires and aluminum wheels. The latter have higher cornering limits, look better, won't be subject to rust long-term but aren't as forgiving on potholed infrastructure.
Hyundai claims a 500-mile range on the highway and we found nothing like wind noise, vibration or other fatigue-inducers that would make us stop for a break mid-way. Human endurance or hunger will more likely be the deciding factor.
The Hyundai Elantra is among the best in the compact class. It's stylish outside, very nice inside. We like the quiet ride, the airy cabin. It delivers excellent fuel economy.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Hyundai Elantra near La Jolla, California; with Mitch McCullough reporting from northern New Jersey.
Hyundai Elantra GLS ($15,195); Limited ($20,445).
Montgomery, Alabama; Ulsan, Korea.
Options As Tested
Comfort Package ($1,250) includes air conditioning, cruise control, telescopic steering wheel, solar glass, windshield sunshade band, 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55HR16 tires; floor mats ($95); iPod cable ($35).
Hyundai Elantra GLS ($15,195).
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