Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the the 2011 Hyundai Elantra used car review, 2015 Hyundai Elantra used car review, the 2015 Ford Focus review and the 2014 Ford Focus used car review.
If you’re interested in an affordable used compact car on a budget, the 2011-2014 Hyundai Elantra and 2012-2015 Ford Focus are both excellent options that tout reasonable pricing, lots of safety equipment and excellent gas mileage. Both certainly deserve a spot on your shopping list. But which one is better? And which one is more deserving of your money? We’ve created a close comparison to help you find the better choice — but first, a few basics of both models.
2011-2015 Hyundai Elantra: The Basics
The 2011-2015 Hyundai Elantra was a compact car initially offered in two trim levels, the GLS and Limited. While the Elantra was only sold as a sedan in 2011 and 2012, a 2-door coupe and a 5-door hatchback version, dubbed the Elantra GT, debuted for 2013. The Elantra initially came standard with a 148-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, but a "Sport" model, which debuted for 2014, added a 173-hp power plant. Anti-lock brakes, side-curtain airbags and front-side airbags were all standard, and the Elantra was offered with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic.
2012-2015 Ford Focus: The Basics
The third-generation Ford Focus debuted in 2012, offered as a sedan or a 5-door hatchback, with no coupe version available. Initially, the Focus offered just one powertrain, a 160-hp 4-cylinder, though a sporty "ST" hatchback model debuted in 2013 with a 252-hp 4-cylinder and a standard 6-speed manual transmission. In 2015, the Focus added an available 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder for better gas mileage. Like the Elantra, all Focus models came standard with side airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control with stability control.
Although J.D. Power reliability ratings aren’t available for all years of the 2011-2014 Elantra and the 2012-2015 Focus, certain years of both models rated by J.D. Power give "below average" reliability ratings, scoring two out of a possible five.
While that may sound disconcerting, it’s worth noting that both the Elantra and the Focus earned generally high marks in reviews from real owners on Kelley Blue Book. With that said, the Elantra’s 8.1 average score easily beats out the Focus’s 7.1 — and the Elantra also earned a higher J.D. Power rating than the Focus in terms of "overall quality," which factors in ergonomics. Combine that with the Hyundai’s longer warranty, and we think the Elantra has a slight edge in terms of reliability.
The vast majority of 2011-2015 Elantra models use a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, which returns 29 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway with either the standard 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Drivers who choose the more muscular Elantra Sport get 173 horsepower, but gas mileage falls to 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.
Most Focus models use a 160-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which returns up to 27 mpg city/38 mpg hwy — short of the Elantra (but with better performance). Beginning in 2015, the Focus’s newly available 123-hp 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine offered 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy, tying the Hyundai. Drivers looking for more performance could opt for the Focus ST, which returned an impressive 23 mpg city/32 mpg hwy from its 252-hp turbocharged engine.
The overall verdict: Most standard-level Elantra models have better gas mileage than most regular Focus models — so if gas mileage is a priority, you’ll want an Elantra (or the 3-cylinder Focus). It’s worth noting the Focus also offered a fully electric version, the rare Focus Electric, which could travel around 76 miles on electric power alone.
In terms of standard safety equipment, the Focus and Elantra are identical. Both come standard with front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and government-mandated features like stability control and dual front airbags.
As for options, however, the Focus took a lead over the Elantra. For instance, while the Elantra’s primary safety option was a backup camera, the Focus offered a backup camera, an automated parallel parking system and (by 2015) a lane-keeping assist feature. The Focus also touted Ford’s "MyKey" programmable key, a safety feature for parents.
If you get an Elantra or Focus without options, you’ll find the two models roughly identical in terms of safety equipment. But if safety is a priority and you want to add all the features you can, you’ll want the Focus.
Similar to safety, technology is roughly similar on base-level versions of the Elantra and the Focus. That’s because both cars offered about the same level of equipment, with keyless entry, air conditioning, power accessories and the like.
For drivers who want even more high-tech equipment, the Focus is the car to have. While the Elantra offers some compelling high-tech touches — like a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights and heated rear seats, the Focus goes above and beyond, offering all that — plus xenon headlights, a 10-speaker Sony sound system and the aforementioned safety features.
Indeed, most drivers will likely find the Focus and Elantra similar in terms of technology — but if you’re comparing top-end versions of both models, you’ll find the Focus offers slightly more equipment.
Comparing the years these models overlap — 2012 through 2015 — there are currently around 12,500 different 2012-2015 Focus models listed on Autotrader, with an average asking price of around $11,600. Meanwhile, there are around 7,700 different 2012-2015 Elantra models, with an average asking price of $12,000.
As a result, neither model has a clear advantage over the other in terms of value — though the Focus’s average price falls a bit when you eliminate electric-powered models from the search, suggesting that a standard gas-powered Focus is a bit more affordable than a typical Elantra.
There are benefits and drawbacks to the Elantra and the Focus. Shoppers interested in gas mileage and reliability will likely choose the Elantra — and we especially recommend the Hyundai if you can find a certified pre-owned example, as it’ll carry the balance of Hyundai’s excellent warranty, which covers vehicles with up to 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection and 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage.
Meanwhile, drivers interested in features, technology, equipment and available safety items will want to go with the Focus. The Focus also offers a more enjoyable performance version (the excellent ST) and a battery-powered electric model for drivers especially interested in cutting their car ownership costs. But since the bulk of drivers likely prioritize gas mileage and fuel economy over the technology and features available in top-end trim levels, we think the Elantra has a slight edge over its Ford rival.