By Scott West
So, what’s life like with the 2012 North American Car of the Year? Wouldn’t you like to know. But seriously, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the global c-segment. For starters, the Elantra has always been a tremendous value proposition for buyers in the United States for nearly 20 years now, and in its home country of South Korea, this global dominator-of-worlds comes with all sorts of high-tech gadgetry one would only dream of in a sedan priced below $60,000, let alone $25,000.
The exterior styling of the Elantra can be easily described as forthcoming, aggressive, and confident. Hyundai has been known for their “Fluidic-Sculpture” design language in recent years, employed on just about every model in their lineup from the diminutive Accent (which is now classified by the EPA as a Compact, by the way) to the all-new Azera – and the Elantra received a healthy dose of it. The sweeping character line runs all the way from the front fenders all the way back to the taillights. Hyundai designers then proceeded to grace the Elantra with a Bangle butt (not that anyone here is complaining), complimenting the rest of the car’s styling – which Hyundai says they intended to be a full generation ahead of the competition. Did they succeed? Definitely.
We only receive one engine choice for this vehicle, and that’s Hyundai’s “Nu” 1.8-liter inline-four that produces 148 horsepower. That’s actually the largest, most powerful engine offered globally for this model, and North America is the only market to receive it. In Korea, the Elantra, which is sold domestically as the Avante, receives the same 1.6-liter mill Hyundai assigned to the Accent and Veloster. Although we’ll never know what kind of fuel economy the 1.6 would yield in the US-spec Elantra because it doesn’t exist and therefore the EPA cannot test it, the EPA has tested the 1.8 and it is rated at a class-leading 29 MPG in the city, and 40 MPG on the highway – with a combined figure of 33 MPG. Not bad for a C-segment car that isn’t hiding a battery pack in its gut.
Inside, the Elantra Limited delivers a premium look and feel. There’s soft-touch materials all around in all the right places – this includes the dashboard (a pleasant surprise in this segment), the door panel trim, and even the trim pieces that house all of the power window controls on the doors are covered in a material with a rubber-like texture – only smoother. This interior is just as good, if not better than, the interiors we’ve seen from long established Japanese luxury brands just a couple years ago (Infiniti and Lexus, that’s you). The Elantra Limited I drove came equipped with the Technology Package (almost a $2,000 premium over just the regular, ho-hum Limited trim), which adds things like a large, 7″ touchscreen that displays song information (via RDS, text-encoded compact discs, iPod/USB interface, and XM satellite radio), has navigation with available XM Data (includes XM Traffic, Sports, Stocks, and Weather apps, a feature that Hyundai throws in with the satellite radio for the first 90 days of ownership), and a backup camera with color-coded guidance lines. Voice commands are simple and easily understood, and the Bluetooth handsfree system is stupid easy to set up and operate. The Bluetooth audio streaming is super convenient, too – not to mention it sounds absolutely fantastic – almost better than being wired, in fact. The Technology Package also includes proximity key fobs and push-button ignition – which is great for times when you want to wear Italian blue jeans with shallow pockets and can’t always gracefully extract your car keys.
Overall, I’m over the moon with the Elantra Limited. It’s worth mentioning that for 2013, Hyundai is further improving the Elantra Limited w/Tech pack is further enhanced with the availability of a power driver’s seat with lumbar support and dual-zone automatic climate control. Thing is, that’s not even that cool compared to what this car gets in Korea. The car freaking parks itself and comes with available HID headlights and LED taillights – giving the Korean market Avante a very premium position. And hey – if you’re willing to put in the wrench time and load up the credit cards, you too can do the Avante conversion (sans SPAS).
Do you smell a possible ILX killer here? Perhaps. And the sad thing is, the ILX isn’t even out yet, not to mention the Hyundai will cost far less – about $5,000-$6,000 less, in fact. As a matter of fact, I liked the Elantra so much, I up and bought one. How’s that for an endorsement?