2012 Hyundai Elantra: Why it Won Car of the Year Award

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Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra was named 2012 North American Car of the Year.

DETROIT -- The Hyundai Elantra claimed the coveted prize, winning the 2012 North American Car of the Year Award at the Detroit Auto Show. 

The Elantra beat out other finalists the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Passat to win the honor. The Land Rover Evoque won the truck of the year award. The car and truck of the year awards, in a 19th year, are chosen by 50 automotive journalists. To be eligible, a vehicle must be all new or substantially changed. Finalists for the truck of the year award included the BMW X3, Honda CR-V and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. 

Here's what jurors had to say about why the Hyundai Elantra won the 2012 North American Car of the Year award:

Paul Weissler, Motor: Another well-executed, stylish product form the Korean manufacturer. Nice interior packaging, good performance from the direct-injection engine, and I averaged 33-35 miles per gallon in mixed suburban operation. The 40 mpg EPA highway rating for all the Elantra models was a major achievement in size class, and it's certainly created a fuel economy magic number challenge that is pushing others to match or exceed. As an overall package, this is obviously the car to beat in its class.

Jayne O'Donnell, USA Today: Sporty, yet sensible. Luxorious, yet affordable. Spunky, but safe. The Elantra is a series of paradoxes and every one is another argument for the latest impressive entry in the Hyundai lineup.

Alex Taylor, Fortune Magazine: A small car with all the attributes of a larger, more expensive one -- responsive engine, roomy interior, road presence, attractive design -- and a few attributes of its very own; excellent fuel economy and a shockingly attractive price.

Joann Muller, Fobes -- Both the Hyundai Elantra and the Ford Focus were strong contenders in my mind. The Focus has a tight, European feel and is fun to drive, especially when equipped with the five-speed transmission. But there were several factors that tipped the scale in favor of the Elantra. First, its great looks: the Elantra's fluid lines give it a lot more personality and excitement than most cars in the compact segment. Second, its spacious interior: the Elantra has plenty of front and read legroom and cleverly carved-out sections in the door panels to make it feel like a larger car. And the trunk is huge for a car this suze.

Third, it's fuel efficiency: No matter which package you choose, the Elantra's 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway, unlike some competitors, which eke out 40 mpg only on special high-efficiency packages. Finally, it's value. The base price of the Elantra is between $15,195 and $20,445, depending on trim level, and it's available with plenty of high-end features like leather upholstery, push-button start, and touch screen navigation, all at an affordable price.

Karl Brauer -- The 2012 Hyundai Elantra isn't a winner because it's a compact car with an available rear camera and heated rear (yes, rear) seats in top-of-the-line Limited trim. It's a winner because even the base GLS provides a capable and fuel-efficient engine, responsive transmission, comfortable ride and quiet cabin at highway speeds -- all for less than $16,000. The upscale interior, stylish exterior and super-long warranty are just icing on this very cost-effective cake.

Frank A. Aukofer, Driveways -- Close...are the Volkswagen Passat and the Hyundai Elantra. Both are new arrangements of an existing tune, but they also exhibit imagination, economy (Elantra's 40 mpg and Passat diesel), sensitivity to consumer desires and old-fashioned bang for the buck.

Ken Gross, Playboy: Beaucoup bang for the buck, impressive mileage; it feels like a more expensive car.

Michelle Krebs, Edmunds.com -- The race came down to the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra. Both are handsomely styled on the outside, well appointed on the inside, loaded with safety equipment and available features. Both deliver outstanding fuel economy and solid value. A consumer would not go wrong buying either one.

John Gilbert, CarSoup/NewCarPicks -- Hyundai's Sonata has become a prominent midsize sedan in one year, and the Elantra does an excellent impersonation of the Sonota for the compact segment. Solid stability, excellent driveability, and loads of interior comfort, both the 6-speed manual and automatic can make 40 mpg reachable in real-world driving, rather than just as a marketing claim.

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