By Jim Motavalli
3:30 PM EST, November 6, 2012
One of the great benefits of being your "Green Wheels" columnist is that I get to drive multiple test cars and compare and contrast their performance. They can be wildly disparate—one week a Hyundai Elantra Coupe and the next a Suzuki Kizashi subcompact.
Let's start with that Hyundai. I attended the premiere of the latest Elantra in Los Angeles, and was serenaded by Jeff Bridges and T-Bone Burnett, so maybe that colored my raves about the car. But the last note has faded and I still love the Elantra.
The new coupe doesn't change the formula much. For a base price of $17,445, it lards on an array of standard equipment (heated front seats and Bluetooth), which complement a 16-valve four delivering 148 horsepower and 40 mpg on the highway with the six-speed manual (39 with automatic). The coupe format doesn't change the equation for me, since four portals equals utility for me. But this new entry looks like an overgrown Honda Civic two-door, which is no bad thing.
Hyundai ups the performance equation with the Azera, which features a 293-horsepower 3.3-liter Lambda II V-6. Sure, it's peppy, and larded with goodies like direct injection and dual variable valve timing, but highway fuel economy still drops to 20 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway.
For 2013, this is a $33,125 car, which wouldn't tempt me to move up from an Elantra. But it does rock the competition in the class—it's $400 cheaper than a Nissan Maxima..
Hyundai, understandably famous for low prices, is moving somewhat upscale this year, but so are other carmakers. The Taurus is moving upline, too—I recently tested a $33,000 Limited, which comes with such features as leather-trimmed seats, an advanced Sync system, rear-view camera and on and on. Except for a mysterious dropped navigation somewhere in Pennsylvania, it performed well, but this is a very crowded and competitive class. Fuel economy is 29 on the highway, but just 19 in town.
Speaking of fuel economy, Acura has fielded the ILX Hybrid for buyers who don't find the slow-selling Civic Hybrid classy enough. This new entry is a premium compact, but it's also closely based on the Civic so, despite the paddle shifters, don't expect a road rocket. The ILX is slightly heavier than the Civic, which may explain its 38 mpg highway fuel economy, compared to the Civic's 44. The base ILX is $28,900, but a useful technology package will drive that price over $34,000.
Finally, there was the cheap and cheerful Suzuki Kizashi. The automaker has had a tenuous hold on the U.S. market, and this $19,999 subcompact is a brave bid for market share.
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