2012 Hyundai Elantra Review

The symptoms of Wallet Sciatica include: back pain and an ache that extends down the leg. The cause is uneven pressure placed on a sitter’s posterior by an item in the back pocket, like a wallet, though it may be entirely psychosomatic.

The price of the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is guaranteed to not chafe your arse, but the way it leaves your wallet fat is  going to upset your sciatic nerve. It’s a good kind of pain, every twinge a reminder of the value Hyundai puts into its automobiles. There are other ways to flatten out your billfold, anyway. Saving on an automobile leaves spending money free for cigarillos, single malt and slot machines.

There is, however, an acute pain caused by the 2012 Elantra. It sets in slowly, and it doesn’t afflict everyone, but to a car enthusiast, it might as well be a giant purple bruise on the face. This is the pain of surrender. Picking the Elantra as your daily driver says that you’ve given up trying to find a car that’s entertaining, choosing the soul-crushing appliance, instead.

It’s not that the Elantra does anything wrong, but it’s just the type of car you’d expect to find on the shelf at the big-box store next to Mr. Coffees and cut-rate electronics. While a ten-dollar automatic drip coffeemaker might satisfy the masses, some real-deal aficionados opt for the labor of a French Press, and so it is with cars.


2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited front view

The 2012 Hyundai Elantra will start every morning without complaint, and it can even sort-of coddle you in Limited trim with leather upholstery and heated rear seats. The stuff that drives that smug car-guy smirk at parties, though, is absent in the Elantra. You can’t close out a conversation about how great an enthusiast you are by proudly announcing you drive an Elantra unless you’ve flown in for a weekend and it’s a rental.

The 2012 Elantra is not a bad car, it’s just an obedient appliance. This may sound like damning with faint praise, when in fact, it’s paying tribute of the highest order. The driving experience of the  2012 Elantra has been so throughly scrubbed behind the ears that its demeanor is sweeter than a Southern Belle trashing her mother in law. As with great art, however, sometimes it’s the imperfections that make something truly beautiful. The 2012 Elantra could do with a couple bad habits.

2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited rear view


2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited headlight2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited alloy wheel

The Elantra returns an EPA-estimated 40 miles per gallon on the highway. It has a ten-year, 100,000 mile warranty. There’s Bluetooth and airbags and, in the Limited I drove, four-wheel disk brakes, alloy wheels and spiffy tires. That’s ten more years of warranty and 99 kilomiles more security than you’ll get if you buy that $500 1988 LeBaron Turbo you’ve been eyeing. Great. Guess which one you’ll get better stories from?

You might think that the Elantra delivers those numbers with verve. Just look at that styling. Light swirls across the body of this car, creating dazzling specular highlights on the peaks of the sharp creases, and pooling in great whorls of shadows where the metal has been scooped out. This is Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” motif, and it’s distinctive. Hyundai apparently blew its wad on styling, because looking at the Elantra is a lot more thrilling than driving the thing.

2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited gauges

Hyundai and Kia have this problem where they can do either floaty-soft or rattly-stiff, but anything in between becomes an oscillating nightmare of weird. The Elantra is one of the better-tuned Hyundais – the most I can really complain about is gummy-feeling electric power steering. It seems like Hyundai has finally gotten the 1990s memo about how to make small, affordable cars ride and handle like a million bucks. Practice makes perfect; they’ll get there someday.

The interior is nicely designed with materials that look nice and feel a little less-so. That’s the same as everyone else in the class, really, which means that consumers win. It would be nice to have a little more padding in places and the silvery plastic trim doesn’t project opulence, but this is a car that tops out around $20K, and with that in mind, it’s all very good. The controls are logical and well-placed, so  you’re not hunting and pecking like you might be in the Focus, for example. The dual-concentric temperature and fan controls are an especially intuitive nice touch.

The effort has been put into the powertrain, for sure. Most Elantra buyers will only care that it has one, and that the one it has operates efficiently. The smooth 1.8 liter four cylinder is spunky and it’s well paired with a six-speed automatic. There’s a standard six-speed manual in Elantra GLS models, but since this isn’t a car to tickle the fancy of enthusiasts, you’re better off just going for the auto. There’s surprisingly linear power delivery from this powertrain, without the giant valleys in torque delivery you might expect. It may be obedient and efficient, but that’s hard to pull off, and the 10.3:1 compression ratio helps the engine wind out 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque, and Hyundai manages that high amount of squeeze without needing direct injection, which keeps costs down.

front view of 2012 Hyundai Elantra Limited

That’s the thing with the 2012 Elantra; It’s groundbreaking, and yet, it’s not. Taken as a whole, this is one polished, if passion-less, car. There’s no whiz-bang stuff here, heck, there’s even a torsion beam rear axle. Hyundai has taken a page from the Toyota/Lexus playbook and obsessively done its best with proven parts and pratice to come up with a car that shines in terms of execution. Within the confines of a spreadsheet, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is a formidable competitor in a quickly-crowding field. The groundbreaking achievement here is what the Elantra says about Hyundai and its ability to turn out a car that resides at the front of its pack.

The overall impression I’m left with is that the Elantra is a well-executed compact car with a veneer of style and a whole lot of features. It’s not the only car out there with style, the Chevrolet Cruze is handsome in a way we haven’t seen since the first-generation Cavalier made the scene. Also, the Ford Fusion is also no shrinking violet. If the goal for Hyundai was to beat the geriatric Toyota Corolla on style and driving verve, it’s succeeded. Everywhere else it turns in this class, though, success isn’t so effortless, and trading on the strength of features only goes so far when trying to pin the needle on the car-guy-o-meter.

What that means, of course, is that they’ll sell oodles of Elantras, perhaps even some to enthusiasts.

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