In April, Hyundai sold 20,918 vehicles with EPA ratings of 40 mpg highway, with the vast majority of them being some version of the 2011 Hyundai Elantra. Of course, as the automaker is fond of reminding us, all versions of the Elantra are capable of hitting that benchmark, regardless of whether they're packing an automatic transmission or a DIY gearbox. It's a nice advantage against the troika of high-profile 40-mpg compacts from Hyundai's rivals, because the same can't be said of those three.
For the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze, you have to upgrade to efficiency-specific models that carry upgraded MSRPs, and the Cruze, although it's the overall leader at 42 mpg highway, requires a manual transmission to get there. But again, that's the kind of thing you can learn from paying attention to Hyundai's latest marketing efforts.
But even that doesn't tell the whole story, because the Elantra has another significant advantage against those three that Hyundai sort of hints around, but doesn't really make explicit'”those aforementioned "upgraded MSRPs."
Fuel Economy on a Budget
The Elantra continues to be a particularly high-value proposition, with a starting price of $14,830; that's even less than for the Kia Forte, which holds down the compact position over at Kia and opens at $14,995. In fact, when you get down to brass tacks, the Hyundai Elantra is the least-expensive mainstream compact on the market. Now, it's true that the base Elantra comes sans air conditioning, and adding a/c via Hyundai's "Popular Equipment Package"'”which also includes cruise control, a telescopic steering wheel, "solar glass," windshield shade band and a tire/wheel enhancement'”means another $1,250 to the bottom line, and that gets us up to $16,080. But let's take a look at the price of admission to the mileage leaders from the Focus, Cruze and Civic families. (Note: I'm leaving the Civic Hybrid and CNG vehicle out of the discussion here.)
The Civic sedan starts at $15,805, but without air conditioning, the base DX model is a non-starter for most folks, and moving up to the coolable LX brings the price up to $17,855. But remember, we're looking for a car that gets at least 40 mpg, and the Civic LX doesn't. That requires getting into a Civic HF, which, in turn, requires $19,455. The Elantra advantage: $3,375.
The Blue Oval's entry, the Focus, starts a few hundred dollars beyond the Civic, with an MSRP of $16,500, but it also starts with a/c. What it doesn't start with, however, is a 40-mpg EPA rating. For that you need to step into Ford's second-level SE trim, with an MSRP of $17,400, then shell out $1,095 for an automatic transmission and a further $495 for the SFE package. The grand total here comes to $18,990. The Elantra advantage: $2,910.
The fact that the Cruze Eco relies on a six-speed manual to reach its peak efficiency numbers works in its favor when comparing prices, because its transmission is less expensive than an automatic. Yet we're still looking at a window sticker emblazoned with a starting price of $18,425: The Elantra advantage: $2,345.
All Things Being Equal ...
Okay, I know some people out there are thinking, "But those prices don't take into account the different levels of standard content offered on those vehicles." Well, the new focus on trying to analyze pricing by taking into account content levels is a very helpful trend for many consumers, but it doesn't get to what I consider a core issue for a significant number of other buyers.
The Cruze, Focus and Civic may be "worth" those higher prices because they offer more bells and whistles (and refinement) than the Elantra, but that begs the question of whether some people would rather have the option to save a few thousand dollars and skip that stuff. Remember, even the Cruze, the lowest-priced 40-mpg Elantra competitor, is still over 14.5 percent more expensive than the Hyundai.
Yes, we're back to my ongoing concern about the steadily shrinking number of automakers that offer relatively inexpensive, basic mass-market transportation, but that's just because it's still going on.