in 2012 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,794 - $14,850
Original MSRP: $15,345 - $20,595
MPG: 28 City / 38 Hwy
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2012 Hyundai Elantra Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

When Hyundai redesigned the Elantra for the 2011 model year, the automaker aimed for a sedan with accurate steering, good braking and a modestly-powered engine with great fuel economy ratings. According to the automotive industry, Hyundai succeeded, and those high opinions hold for the 2012 Elantra. Reviewers are very impressed with the Elantra’s steering and braking capabilities, which are on point with the most popular cars in the class like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze. Test drivers are even more impressed with the Elantra’s high EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 29/40 mpg city/highway.

According to Hyundai, the 2012 model’s Active Eco Assist should increase fuel economy by 7 percent, but test drivers and the EPA have not noted fuel economy gains.

  • "Outstanding fuel economy on all models." -- Edmunds
  • "Overall, there's more than enough oomph for daily driving duties, on highway or off." -- Motor Trend
  • "On our routes, which saw us plowing away along grooved freeways, expansion-jointed roads, chopped up asphalt and even the occasional sandy shoreline parking lot, we experienced one of the best compact/mid-sized rides we have had behind the wheel." -- Left Lane News

Acceleration and Power

For 2012, Hyundai keeps the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine found in the 2011 model. A manual transmission is still standard, but a six-speed automatic is optional. The Elantra’s engine capabilities fit right in with its top competitors: the Honda Civic, Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Cruze. Reviewers say the Elantra performs well when you consider that its 1.8-liter engine produces 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Gears shift smoothly, and the engine is refined. If you’re looking for a comfortable commuter, reviewers think the Elantra deserves a spot at the top of your shopping list.

The Elantra also has high EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 29/40 mpg city/highway for both the manual and automatic transmissions. Excluding hybrids, there are few affordable small cars that can compete. The Chevrolet Cruze can, but only if you select the Eco model, which costs about $19,900 when equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. For 2012, Chevrolet says these models will get 39 mpg on the highway, but with a price tag that’s about $1,700 more than a comparable Elantra GLS, some shoppers may prefer the cash savings. Eco models equipped with manual transmissions get 42 mpg on the highway according to the EPA, and start at about $18,400.

The Ford Fiesta sedan also competes with the 2012 Elantra’s fuel economy ratings, but only when it has the optional Super Fuel Economy package, which is only available on the SE trims and higher, and costs about $17,100 when added to SE models with an automatic transmission. The EPA estimates the 2011 Fiesta SFE at 29/40 mpg city/highway. This price is slightly less than Elantras with an automatic transmission, but the Fiesta SE doesn’t come with Bluetooth or a USB port.

  • "And the Jetta's base 2.0-liter 8-valve engine is no match for the Elantra's 16-valve 1.8-liter, not in power or economy or refinement." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "Whether cruising along at 70 or wringing it out to redline, it never exhibited that thrashy feeling you get with lesser four-bangers. The only time we noticed a significant power deficit was while trying to pass on the freeway during a hill climb." -- Motor Trend
  • "Elantra isn't lively from a stop, regardless of transmission. Power is adequate in any situation. The manual transmission has easy shifter and clutch action. The automatic is smooth, but summoning more power for passing and merging maneuvers takes a deep stab of the gas pedal." -- Consumer Guide

Handling and Braking

While the industry is quick to note that the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is no Mazda3, reviewers are pleased with its handling and braking capabilities. Steering is precise, braking is solid and while it’s obvious when the car goes over large road imperfections, the Elantra absorbs smaller ones well. There are a few complaints about body roll and an overzealous power steering system, but overall, the industry finds the Elantra a well-suited daily commuter.

  • "And it's more of the same from behind the wheel. The steering is path-accurate. The brake pedal feels positive, with immediate bite and response. Handling is excellent on smooth surfaces. The ride quality is surprisingly supple, with excellent body control. The cabin is quiet." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "MacPherson struts still hold up the front end but a torsion beam replaces the previous model's independent rear. Engineers went for comfort in the setup, but there is little undue roll as a result. The electric power steering is just a tad overzealous but you adjust to it soon enough." -- AutoWeek
  • "It's nimble and there's a solid amount of grip on tap when you bend it into a corner. The fully electric steering doesn't have Mazda 3 levels of driver engagement, but it is very precise and certainly feels better resolved than the Sonata's odd tiller." -- Edmunds
  • "In more mundane driving situations like cruising on the highway, ride comfort skews more toward a Civic than a Corolla." -- Cars.com

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