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Quick Spin: 2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited

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Review by Jonathan Yarkony;
Photos by Jonathan Yarkony, Brigitte “The Moderator” and Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2012 Hyundai Elantra

Earlier this year I made a prediction that the Elantra was going to be a hot seller, and I even went so far as to say that it would finally overtake the Civic as the bestselling Canadian car. As the sales race goes, the Civic just passed the 20K mark in April, and the Elantra is well behind at 16K. Last year, the Civic sold just over 55,000 Civics, while the Elantra was a distant second, not quite reaching 45,000 for 2011. However, that was 10,000 more than Hyundai had sold in 2010, while the Civic declined by 2,000 units.

Why do I still believe that the Elantra will overtake the Civic in 2012 despite its current deficit? Hyundai will finally be completing the Elantra lineup with the GT 5-door hatchback and the slinky Coupe that should combine for significantly more sales than Hyundai’s current Elantra Touring, a rather dated wagon design.

What does all this have to do with the Hyundai Elantra Limited we drove, which placed a rather ordinary tied for fourth in our Autos.ca Compact Car Comparison? Nothing, really. Just sayin’.
The 2012 Elantra Limited Sedan we drove is, however, the best reason that the Elantra should pass the Civic for the sales lead. It is, simply put, a better car. In fact, it seemed to me that the Elantra is a better Civic, in much the same way that Toyota has perfected the old Buick formula with its Avalon. Now I haven’t read Hyundai’s design briefs, but I could well imagine pages and pages of details about the Civic that Hyundai engineers and designers were tasked with matching and improving upon. Mission accomplished.

From the daring styling to the smooth, efficient engine and from the light, accurate steering to the high quality and boldly styled interior, this Elantra seems to be a step forward from the previous Civic in a way that the new 2012 Civic is not. The 2012 Civic seems to be that same 2006 Civic all over again. But enough about the Civic, let’s get on with this Elantra review.

For starters, the design takes the streamlined aerodynamic shape that so shocked us when first seen on the 2006 Civic, and made it pretty. It’s not my favourite design in the segment (the Focus hatch is irresistible), but the sculpted creases and sleek lines are modern, artful, and appealing, and I can well imagine someone falling for this vehicle on looks alone. The modern design continues inside, with boldly contoured centre console and dash that then flows into the doors, quite masterful even if its curves aren’t your thing, and not nearly as polarizing as a two-tier dash.

As is to be expected in a Hyundai, the interior is loaded even at its modest $23,199 MSRP, including leather seating, tilt-/telescopic steering wheel, power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, fog lights, heated rear seats, six-speaker stereo with XM capability, Bluetooth handsfree phone and audio and standard USB/aux inputs. Other more mundane features that are standard even with the base L trim are four-wheel disc brakes, power door locks, rear seat armrest with cupholders, height adjustable driver’s seat, trip computer, power heated mirrors, and power windows.

If the features are impressive, the powertrain is even moreso. This 1.8L four-cylinder features dual variable valve timing to help it produce 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque while delivering 6.9 L/100 km in the city and 4.9 L/100 km highway driving according to Natrual Resources Canada. However, we achieved only 8.6 L/100 km in real-world consumption during our test, which was mostly city driving, but nowhere near the best in test. While I’m normally not to keen on peaky four-cylinders, the Elantra was quiet and business-like for the most part, but did not offend when winding it up for highway passing. Likewise, the six-speed auto was smooth and executed shifts without any hiccups.

On the road, the Elantra felt very similar to the Civic, with light, immediate steering, and although prone to brittle suspension moments, it handles well and settles in for a very comfortable ride on the highway, feeling like a much larger car. The seats, in particular, were comfortable from the moment I slid behind the wheel, although rear legroom, headroom, and cargo space seem typical for this class, although the rear seat heaters are a nice treat for back seat passengers.

Safety is also covered with six airbags, stability control, ABS with EBD, adjustable head restraints at all five positions. In crash testing, it earns a Top Safety Pick from IIHS and 5 Star Overall rating from NHTSA in its tough new testing procedure, another impressive feather in its cap. One sore point is that the bold styling results in narrow windows that limit visibility and do make it a bit harder to park than many others in this class.

Hyundai has designed a car with something for everyone, and although its styling inside and out might estrange a few customers, it’s the kind of risk a company needs to take in order to win over new customers. This is a good sedan, and the Elantra lineup only stands to gain from the addition of a practical hatchback and sleek coupe. It may not have won the Comparison Test, but it will win over many new customers even if it doesn’t eclipse the Civic in sales this year.

Pricing: 2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Base price: $22,699
Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,495
Price as tested: $24,294

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