2013 Hyundai Elantra: Five Stars For Safety, But Will 40 MPG Get An Asterisk?

June 1, 2012
2013 Hyundai Elantra 4-door Sedan Auto GLS (Alabama Plant) Angular Front Exterior View

2013 Hyundai Elantra 4-door Sedan Auto GLS (Alabama Plant) Angular Front Exterior View

The Hyundai Elantra's been an unqualified success since it arrived, brand-new, in the 2011 model year. Backed by strong sales and positive reviews, it took home the 2012 North American Car of the Year Trophy, besting the likes of TheCarConnection's Best Car To Buy 2012, the Ford Focus, and another runner-up, the Volkswagen Passat. The Elantra's lagged, though, when it comes to safety scores. For its first two model years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Elantra a three-star rating for frontal impacts and four stars overall, while the Focus earned a mix of four and five stars.

The NHTSA's ratings have been updated for the 2013 model year, and now show the Elantra at five stars overall, with a four-star front-impact rating. Behind the upgrade, says Hyundai spokesman Miles Johnson, are changes to the design of the Elantra's side-curtain and front passenger airbags. The revisions help the airbags inflate more effectively, which increases protection--and as a result, improves their performance in the NHTSA testing scheme.

The airbag design changes actually were phased in from May 31, 2011 to June 20, 2011, so some 2012 models also benefit from the improved design, he says.

While the Elantra now rivals the Chevy Cruze for top safety ratings in the compact class, the 40-mpg EPA highway rating it's made a centerpiece of its marketing campaign is about to change--depending on how new models are grouped by the company, by dealers, and ultimately by consumers.

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe

2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe

Since its launch, the Elantra's been advertised with 40-mpg fuel economy, across the board, while its rivals depended on special editions to reach or pass that magic marketing number--which Hyundai highlighted by showering auto-show audiences with a blizzard of asterisks.

There's been controversy over the real-world mileage in many 40-mpg cars, the Elantra included. But it's the addition of the new Elantra Coupe and the coming Elantra GT to the lineup that could break up the high-gas-mileage campaign--and could be used by the competition to give the Elantra its own asterisk.

The EPA's ratings for the 2013 model year show the Elantra sedan still rated at 29/40 mpg, no matter which transmission is ordered. The new Elantra Coupe is rated at 29/40 mpg when equipped with a manual transmission. However, with the automatic gearbox, the two-door's mileage falls to 28/39 mpg.

The sporty Elantra GT? Final numbers haven't been released, but it could fall below 40 mpg as well, if the specified gearing and tires are sporty enough.

There may be some make-good in the works, however. The EPA listings also confirm the existence of an Elantra Blue edition that's been rumored since the sedan was new, and it's rated at 30/40 mpg. Hyundai's said in the past that it's experimenting with stop/start technology--which could deliver the extra mile per gallon on the city cycle, as it does in Kia's Rio and Soul--but it hasn't committed to marketing the technology in the U.S. just yet.

For more information on the latest Hyundai compact sedan, including safety, performance, styling, utility, and features, see our full review of the 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan.

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