First drive: Hyundai Elantra 2012 in South Korea

First drive: Hyundai Elantra 2012 in South Korea

“Real” journalists with Western passports fly to foreign destinations every other week, fully paid for by carmakers, with 5-star hotel stays and business-class flights. For that, all they have to do is “review” a car. Of course, third-world jerks like me don’t get foreign invites all that often, especially since I reveal more than just the test-drive itself. The couple of invites that I did get, I couldn’t go mostly due to visa hassles. So when Hyundai’s UAE dealer invited me for a three-day trip to South Korea to test-drive the all-new 2012 Hyundai Elantra, I agreed of course. South Korean visas were easy enough to get even for me, and the trip was more than just a regular test-drive.

It turned out, only I and another person were going, along with a Hyundai dealer representative. After struggling through Dubai Airport’s security hassles, we made it into Emirates’ business-class lounge, had free food, onto the A380 business class, had more free food, then landed at Incheon Airport in Seoul and took a luxury-bus ride to stay over at the Sheraton-Walkerhill hotel and have more free food, some of it actually Halal, courtesy of Hyundai.

The first day was a trip to Hyundai-Kia’s R&D Centre in Namyang, the second day was the test-drive all over Korea, and the third day was a city tour. There was a mini-museum at the R&D Centre which displayed some old models such as the Pony and the Excel, so we could see just how far the all-new Elantra had come. Hyundai has gone from a copy-machine to a world-class carmaker in its own right.

Our test-drive was held outside Seoul, as the city itself can get severely jammed with traffic. So we were greeted with around 40 optioned-up cars parked outside a hilly golf resort. The new Elantra makes a strong first impression, which is rare in the compact segment. Since the outgoing Honda Civic, no other car in its class has made such a cracking design statement until this Elantra, and if you hear otherwise, you’d probably do well to avoid biased fanboys of other brands.

Stepping inside, the intricate design continues, featuring swoopy shapes and a fancy centre-stack lined with metal-look plastics and blue displays, while looking particularly upscale in the black-beige colour combo. Most of the materials were good, such as the generous leather on the door inserts, the nicely-perforated leather seats, the padded armrests and the soft-touch dashboard top. But some cost-cutting is evident, with the hard-plastic upper door sills, the plasticky sun visors, the cheap headliner and the cover-less cup-holders, though none of this would be noticeable to regular consumers. Aside from those bits, build quality is generally flawless.

The best bit is the excellent interior space, with generous headroom as well as legroom even in the back. Boot space out back is also sizeable, with a fold-down seatback and cargo net for extra practicality. According to specs, apparently the Elantra has more interior volume than even the Nissan Maxima!

There aren’t any real value-added features aside from the usual power windows, electric mirrors, power driver’s seat, sunroof, keyless entry and start, cruise control, basic CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports and two airbags. Stuff such as navigation, Bluetooth and side-airbags are reserved for other markets. I expect most GCC buyers would be happy as is, especially since pricing for a top-end GCC-spec model like ours would cost about Dhs 65,000, well below the base price of a Honda Civic.

The roads in Korea are varied and interesting. We drove up and down hills, in and out of toll highways, and bumped around on poorly-maintained small-town roads. The suspension setup feels slightly firm but fairly bearable on bad roads. You feel every pothole, and yet there is a mild occasional floatiness which seems to compensate. The Elantra comes with independent front suspension, but the rear is only a solid torsion beam-axle, so that doesn’t handle bumps as well as an independent rear would. On the smooth highway, the ride was fine, so it shouldn’t matter on Dubai roads. Road noise was only heard on some road surfaces, while not on others. And wind noise was never an issue, but then again, we drove on a wet day.

Driving behind a lead car in a convoy, we never pushed the limits of handling, but in general driving, there were no issues to report with grip and braking, even on slightly wet roads. The surprising bit was the meaty steering wheel, with decent feel and good response to small turning inputs. Even the throttle pedal and brake pedal feel were good, a rarity among modern cars with unresponsive electronic drive-by-wire controls.

The Middle East market will get a 128 hp “Gamma” 1.6-litre and a 148 hp “Nu” 1.8-litre, both 4-cylinder engines mated to 6-speed manual or automatic gearboxes. We drove the 1.6-litre automatic version, which was a reasonable engine, good on the fuel, burning only 8.6 litres/100 km on our mixed-driving trip, most of it aggressive. It offered very little acceleration when floored from, say, 80 kph to 120 kph, but once up to speed, it was fine cruising along, even if settling down at a high 3000 rpm. While the 1.6-litre models may become available in some GCC countries, the good news is that the UAE already has the 1.8-litre as the standard version in showrooms.

The 6-speed automatic gearbox works well too, always choosing the correct gears instead of picking a gear too high like the Chevy Cruze in the pursuit of fuel economy. The manual mode responds to inputs after a slight delay, but it works fine too as intended, on steep hills and dips. Considering how steep some of the hills in Korea are, we didn’t really have any issues climbing them, even with the dual-zone a/c on.

Overall, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is a desperately-needed option in a boring compact segment with ever more expensive prices. As a package, it does not break new ground, but Hyundai has dropped a car with equal features, class-leading styling and more space than anyone needs, with pricing that beats everything except its own Korean counterparts. We bet the Japanese are very worried.

What do you think?



  1. Wow, nice pics and review !
    Did you get to drive by yourself in Korea apart from the Convoy?
    Korea apaprently has the most dangerous roads in any developed country, so i always wondered how different Korea’s “dangerous” it is from “Middle East dangerous”

    • Author

      Nahh, we didn’t drive by ourselves. It was no worse than Dubai really. There is less road rage and less rich egos there. Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are more dangerous.

  2. Hey the car looks really nice plus looks like you had a great time Mash.

  3. Great review! And felt quite independent not bias towards hyundai as the other journalists also gave a positive opinion about the car! it will punch the japanese competition on their face!

  4. i think i had seen this car (dark beige) the other day passing by the road of khalidiya abu dhabi, in front of sheraton hotel to be exact. the car is beyond amazing.

  5. Great Info. I saw a darkish golden brown color today morning and it looks really upscale compared to the normal white and black colors.

  6. i enjoyed reading this review…

  7. Wow….. What an interior……. Looks awesome…..

  8. i thought korea cars are all RHW there !
    anyway this car looks fine from the inside but from the outside its just looks so FAKE..

  9. Noticed the new Elantra last before month in Hyudai Wallan KSA… Look very nice.. Shortly we can say ‘sonata is big brother , Elantra middle one and Accent is younger brother in Hyundai Family’.

  10. I enjoyed the reading. Thanks Mash really! with 65,000 AEDs for top model this car is cheaper than Honda Jazz :)..For the other specs..I dont know why you find in US or Europe even the micro cars are having upper trims that can feature nav & rearview cam and in our area you can only get those at the big sedans/suv categories only?

  11. in any angle this one is the best in its class…i wish japanese (toyota, honda) would learn something from kia/hyundai

  12. just one word…mind-blowinggg!!!

  13. Very lovely car specially in black with beige leather and given it will be available with an inch or two more on alloy wheels..give me bluetooth and even a smaller mirror based rearview cam and keep the price less than 70 and that will be a perfect buy for daily work related commuting. This car will be a serious breakthrough just hope they make most options available here.

  14. 6 speed transmission is Hyundai’s own developed gearbox, i assume it should be a solid one… Nevertheless and great choice for highway cruising…
    I seriously am suffering with the 4 speed auto on my hyundai coupe for my daily highway runs, it tires the engine and ruined the fuel economy..

    • Author

      When shopping for a car (before eventually settling on the Galant GTS), we found many used 2005-era V6 manual coupes going cheap. We didn’t get one because we didn’t want to pay sports-car insurance on an economy car, but you could pick one up.

    • The 2.7 V6 is one underdeveloped thirsty engine..

    • Author

      I liked the V6 in the old Optima. Yes it burns as much as a modern 3.5L V6, but I wouldn’t mind it in a cheap car.

  15. @ Pic 23, the hazard lights switch is way too down.

  16. Very smart comment about location of hazard lights! Unfortunately the safety features are poor in this range of Hyundai/Kia cars. I wonder why they don’t import Elantra with 6-air bags! … Difintely – for who is really smart about car specs – the 2012 Ford Focus will put take-off the fake dress out of 2012 Elantra…

  17. Ahh I wish that Hyundai or Kia will make a Coupe Cabrio, I believe it will turn amazing . . .

  18. Does anyone know why Hyundai/Kia insist on attaching blue foam bits as door protectors? I can understand the idea, but light blue of all colors?

    • Author

      That’s part of the shipping packaging. The dealer doesn’t bother removing it and the cheapskate owners leave it on until it makes a mark on the paint and falls off.

    • I know this guy who bought a new Pathfinder from the dealers and never removed the plastics in the car or even the Big sticker on the windscreen which says “delivered to Jebel Ali Port” for a full year.


  19. And talking of Hyundai, I saw a yard in Sharjah which must have had around 2000 Hyundais, Accents and Sonatas. They all looked brand new and its a pity that new cars were covered in 2 inches of dust and getting baked in the heat. Do all car companies keep their inventory in outdoor yards?

    • Author

      Yep. And some of those cars are likely headed elsewhere. Unlikely that the local dealer moves 2000 Hyundais per month.

  20. Bought one as a replacement to my 5.5 yo sunny. comes with 6 airbags, cruise control, electric seat, rain, light sensor, sunroof, low profile 16″ wheels etc.this is singapore version

  21. I feel its a copy of Mazdas interior and exterior if u can compare u will come to conclusion.

  22. Im totally confused on what to buy, im not an expert on car, but i know for sure that what i want is the cheapest crossover available in our market, probably because im tiny, driving a crossover i can see the road properly hence i had an eye with Kia sportage 2012 basic 2.0 4×2 wheel drive, after visiting the showroom ive seen the hyundai elantra 2012 full option, 1.8, i was impressed, its really beautiful, but its sedan, its a bit cheaper than the sportage, and i have all the options more than i require.

    I checked lots of reviews of elentra and all of them are positive, the question now should i give up my crossover dream and get the 2012 elentra full option, is it worth driving than the sportage

  23. No matter what is said, this company is improving every year,but the said part is “No Resale value” period.

    • Can you you expain what is the meaning of resale value…because i did not understand the meaning of no resale value…..last month i sold my friend 2010 hyndai coupe genesis for 95,000 dirhams actual price of 115,000 dirhams when it new it means hyudai had a resale value… means im not agree that hyundai has no resale value..

      Im giving you some understanding about hyundai cars that most of the people does’nt know
      hyundai cars is a combination of japanese & korean technology which 70% of hyundai is mitsubishi technology & the rest 30 % is belong with hyundai….so before you judge take some information…..

  24. very very nice.
    i like car elantra

  25. wow wow what a car really beautyfull, i love these model 2012 sonata, elantra, accent.
    go hyundai go, improveing very fast

  26. But what about the resale value?
    The car surely looks nice..but after 4-5 years..will it be able to hold its value?
    or after buying it for 56000 AED i’ll just have 20000 left? :S

    • resale value is there if you expain how the vehicle it is hyundai… is a great korean car that now a day beating japanese cars….it better for you to get hyundai…..

  27. driving one for last 4 months. my overall satisfaction is *****. u can’t expect more than this in this price. pushed her upto 170k/hr with full load on the express way. doesn’t seem that she is feeling the pinch. good product by hyundai.

  28. I bought Elantra GLS full option on FEB 16th.
    The car is simply superb.
    Someone those who all planning to buy Corolla OR Civic for 70K+ just visit Hyundai showroom and have test drive. Then decide.

  29. Hi,

    I have seen almost all the cars in mid range and have decided on Elantra full option. Keeping my fingures cross & going ahead.

  30. nice review

  31. Daer all,

    I liked your review very much, as am planning to buy a new car,as i need to drive daily from dubai to abu dhabi and vice versa, i would like to know the driving comfort and fuel economy for long drives as compared with corolla.Please also let me know the maintenance cost for a hyundai as compared with toyota corolla.I have been searching to buy a new car for a month now and still have not made up my mind.Please help me

  32. Dear Mash,
    I bought an Elantra after reading your review. I am driving for more than a month now and completed 3,000 km. Its a very good car with all the modern options like Leather Seats, Auto AC, Sunroof, Button Start, Smart Key, USB music system, Sun Roof, Parking sensors etc. The similar Trim level Honda Civic is Dhs 90 K almost 1.5 times more than Elantra. My only complaint which you didn’t notice is the Horn is tooo soft…you can’t hoot at anyone.

  33. Hi,
    I was reviewing Renault Duster for a few days now.After reading elentra review i am little confused. pls. suggest should i go with elentra or duster since the price of both are almost same.

  34. cruze or elantra? which car would u recommend?

  35. i’m planning to buy elantra limited full options as well. My only concern : is navigations screen and rear camera for elantra limited available in the UAE ? please somebody explain …

    • hi zack. unfortunately, navigation screen and rear camera is not available in UAE. even the limited edition is not in UAE. only full option, mid range and basic. the reviews on youtube are mostly US based elantra’s so it got everything in it. the full option in UAE has only 2 airbags, not like the ones in US where it has 6.i’ve been researching this car in the net as well but its always better to check it out in the showroom. the hyundai ramadan promotion is also not appealing. only gold coin worth 1.8k. no free insurance or registration and service :(. but i like elantra a lot. oh by the way, 2013 elantra is coming out next month (higher prices). 2012’s are already out of stock.

    • Thanks for the info, Mat. Apprieciate it 🙂
      better wait for 2013 version then. hopefully they give better features for this one…

    • Zack, unfortunately, the 2013 is the same with 2012. the difference is just the year of production.

    • Mat is right. FYI, i just got price quote for elantra 2013 today from juma al majid and yes it has the same features with 2012. for the basic, it will cost u dh55K, midrange will be dh57K, and full options will cost u dh68K. For me i’m still thinking between Elantra, Renault Fluence, or Kia Rio as they all have great design n value for money (honda civic has a silly price now). Will decide after booking a test drive for those 3 😀

    • Seems like they give gold coins, free registration and insurance now, on behalf of your complain here, Mat 😀
      I was wondering maybe if we insist that those updated promotion is still not appealing, they gonna give us free service as well next time??? 😀

      by the way, how did u know the gold coin only worth of 1800dhs?? it’s probably worth 18month of service in my calculation 😀 maybe it’s good offer, don’t u think?

    • nice info there, ashley 🙂

    • yep. they have free insurance and registration now, starting on august 1. frustrating for those who purchased on the first week of ramadan. that includes me :(. got the 2013 model by the way. and its the same with the 2012, except for the year of production. at the end of the day, buying a car shouldn’t be based on offers and promotions. u may buy the car with the best promos, but you may end up regretting you didnt buy your dream car everytime you it pass by.:) (im saying this to console myself. haha. damn you hyundai!!!)

    • Hahaha! just to remind you there Mat, for your newly bought elantra, don’t forget to remove all the interior plastic cover and it’s blue foam on ur car. Otherwise, cheeky people out there will call you a cheapskate owner. hahaha!

  36. not so good guys>>> looks may b good but not meant for UAE heat. The rear view mirror drops down with heat. the audio system screen gets lines in it with heat. The steering gets scratched with heat. Needs better quality to suit this climate

  37. i didn’t face any problem driving my elantra in the extreme heat of ksa. recorded 57c few days back while driving in riyadh. Alhamdulillah i’m satisfied with the service and performance i got from it. i hope she can be stretched further in the the extreme weather of Arab countries.

  38. Hi! All pundits of cars. including MASH. i want to buy a car, i am really really confused which one i should buy. please help me to choose. kia sportage 2.0 ,Kia Optima 2.0,Hyundai Elantra 1.8, engine.
    Should i go with mid range or the top one.
    My budget is 70000, daily run will about 100 km to 150 km, please suggest me. i want front airbag plus ABS as well. pleas guys??????????????

    • Hi Feeroz,
      KIA sportage 2.0 L is not a 4 by 4 car, it is only front wheel drive so if you need AWD you might need to go for higher model AED75000 2,4 L. Kia Optima 2.0 is a basic model and it has single airbag for driver and no ABS, however it comes with 4 disc breakes. Hyundai Elantra’s base model 1.6L the 1.8 L comes as base as well in some countries and has no dual airbag and no ABS, however the full option of 1.8L AED 63.000 that has ABS dual airbags brake force and assist, it has leather seats with 17 inch alloy wheels, the sunruf is available. It is the highest natural powered engine in its class on my point of view and if you are driving 150 km a day the 1.8 could be a nice choice for saving petrol and having enough power.

  39. I think it’s an overrated car tbh.
    One of the worst designs of the car is the fact that the centre a/c vents are smaller than oassengers vents and are so low down the dash that the air would possibly clash with the knees of the front two people. There’s a huge empty silver patch where easily 2 large vents could’ve been fitted.

    • A/c vent is indeed one of the negatives of elantra. the center vents are indeed small. but its actually not that bad. even if the a/c is not maxed, it quickly “cool up” the car. about air that would clash with the knees, well, you just have to move the vent upward. 🙂 it will not be voted as car of the year in 2012(in north america, canada, phils, detroit, etc.) if its really not good overall, despite having a not so good center ac vent. The bad part is they did not bring the limited edition here in the middle east. and the gov’t does not impose a minimum airbags, thus, almost all compact/midsize cars here only has 1-2 airbags (minimum required in US is 6).

  40. I wanted to buy this one. 2013 gls is priced at 68k in UAE. But they never have the colour u wanted.

  41. hi mash, hyundai saudi launched elantra with 2.0 liter engine in both GL and GLS it same in other gcc countries?

  42. I like this car and gona buy this car……….

  43. Guys,Please help. Hyundai Elantra 1.8 or Kia Cerato 2.0

  44. Hi Mash,
    I just got my driving licence and now wanted to buy new car.I shall be using for my work ,going to my sites and once a weekend going to malls /other emirates with my wife.So please suggest me a car.My budget id arount 60-70,000 aed.Well I am reading about following cars but still confused
    1-Hyundai Sonata
    2-Hyundai Tucson
    3-Hyundai elantra
    4-Honda Civic
    5-Toyota corolla

    Please advice!

  45. Go with Honda Civic mid options

  46. nice car…how much

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