2012 Hyundai Elantra front three-quarter view

According to research by Edmunds.com, the $19,711 average transaction price of the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is besting that of its chief rivals, the Toyota Corolla by $1,500 and the new Honda Civic by $500. The great big cherry on top of that sundae for Hyundai? Elantra sales were up more than 40 percent last year.

The sales success of the Elantra wasn't much of a surprise even before the car went on sale, the transaction-price story is an eye-opener. We don't have a breakdown on model mix, but a base Elantra with a six-speed manual is $17,220 and the Limited is $21,320 (both prices include $725 destination). The Elantra's small-money options, like an iPod connector, match those of the competition, and even its three upmarket packages, two for the GLS and one for the Limited, contain features mostly available on the Corolla or Civic.

Point being, the Elantra doesn't have a single killer app to explain its position. But all of its touches – one extra gear on the manual, two extra on the automatic, its newness and its design, its competitive gas mileage and its rearview camera that can't be had on the competition, for instance, appear to be the cause. There's also the fact that dealers don't have to put much (if anything) on the hood since the factory still can't make enough of them to satisfy demand.

Nor is this only a tale of the Elantra; the Sonata has narrowed its average transaction price to within $900 of both Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. And according to Hyundai CEO John Krafcik, we aren't anywhere near the end of the company's aspirations: "We're in the middle of a very long journey." Indeed, even new Elantra itself hasn't reached top speed yet – a new Coupe and five-door GT are on the way to round out the family for 2013.