Most fitness equipment companies claim to sell the best elliptical trainers available. They can’t all be right, but it’s true that different machines are “the best” for different users. Our list of top elliptical trainers for 2012 includes something for everyone.

Overall Top Elliptical Trainer of 2012: Precor EFX 5.33

About Precor: Precor is known for innovation. By inventing the first ergonomic rowing machine for home use, the company helped kick off the 1980s fitness craze. Precor later introduced the world’s first cushioned treadmill. As Precor continues to lead the fitness equipment manufacturing industry, its elliptical trainers feature excellent components and biomechanics.

The Precor EFX 5.33 is a luxury-class elliptical trainer retailing for about $4,500. Why the high price? Unlike cheap ellipticals that have 90-day or one-year warranties, this machine includes a ten-year guarantee on all parts. It has a sleek build yet is hefty enough for a 240-pound trainee.

Precor’s CrossRamp feature especially makes this unit stand out from others in its class. CrossRamp lets the user adjust the pedal angle in order to target different muscle groups in the legs.

Some other features we like:

  • Great-looking LED displays and graphics
  • Twenty resistance levels
  • A long and variable stride (21” to 23”)

If you have the budget for a commercial-quality elliptical, we highly recommend the Precor EFX 5.33.

Other Models to Consider: Smooth Agile DMT and Life Fitness Club Series

A Best Value Elliptical Trainer of 2012: Smooth CE 3.6

About Smooth Fitness: Smooth Fitness is known for selling above-average elliptical machines at mid-range prices. They accomplish this in part by avoiding middlemen and selling directly to customers online.

The Smooth CE 3.6: This rear-drive elliptical is an enhanced version of the popular 3.2 model. It’s a top value in its class and has remarkably comfortable ergonomics that encourage endurance. We especially like the pivoting foot pedals, wireless heart rate control and iPod docking station. This unit includes a five-year parts warranty and two years of in-home labor.

Selling for about $1,299 with delivery included, the CE 3.6 is one of today’s best buys.

A Close Competitor: Livestrong LS13.0E

Another Top Value Elliptical Trainer for 2012: Sole E25

Choosing just one best value elliptical wasn’t easy. The Sole E25 ties with the Smooth elliptical above.

About Sole: Sole is a well-established leader in the commercial fitness industry and sells high-quality residential trainers too. The E25 is their most basic option. The full series runs through the E95, which has adjustable stride.

Selling for about $1,000, the Sole E25 elliptical trainer initially costs less than the Smooth CE 3.6. However, customers who buy iFit subscriptions will end up spending the same amount over a few years. iFit provides ever-changing personal fitness programs. It’s highly recommended with the Sole E25, which has few built-in programs.

This unit has a heavy flywheel to provide especially smooth resistance. Other above-average features are the tilted pedals and a long 20” stride.

An Upgrade to the E25: Sole E95

The Best Discount Elliptical Trainer of 2012: Schwinn 430

About Schwinn: After building its name in traditional bicycles, Schwinn expanded to offer stationary bikes and other fitness equipment. Schwinn elliptical trainers are known for being low-cost while including features that are normally reserved for more expensive machines. The company’s acquisition by Nautilus in 2001 helped boost the quality of Schwinn gym equipment.

The Schwinn 430 elliptical trainer is one of the best-selling budget ellipticals and has a very high customer satisfaction rate. This discontinued model once retailed for only $650 and can now be found on Amazon for even less.

Articulating footpads, heart rate monitoring and a great range of resistance levels make the Schwinn 430 especially popular. It’s also known to be quieter than other discount elliptical trainers and takes up relatively little space.

Despite this machine’s strong points, it’s only recommended for people of average height or less. The 18” stride isn’t long enough for tall trainees.

An Upgraded Schwinn Elliptical: Schwinn 460 with Variable Stride

The Top Club-Quality Trainer of 2012: Life Fitness X8

About Life Fitness: Chicago-based Life Fitness manufactures high-quality elliptical trainers in the US. Ongoing dedication to biomechanics research pays off with excellent ergonomics: Compared with other brands, Life Fitness ellipticals support the most natural stride.

The Life Fitness X8 Elliptical Cross Trainer is sized to give virtually any trainee a great workout. The 18”-24” electronically adjustable stride length lets tall people and short people alike recruit different muscle groups during workouts.

This unit’s $4,000 price tag reflects the machine’s outstanding durability and long warranty, a superior stride pattern, an engaging Activity Zone and smooth resistance.  It also has extras including an accessory tray and beverage holder. Essentially the X8 is a club-quality machine that’s been scaled down for residential use.

Any drawbacks? The X8 takes up more room than the average home elliptical machine. The extra-long stride demands additional floor space.

The Best New Elliptical Trainer of 2012:  Smooth CE 8.0LC

As described above, Smooth Fitness leads the middle market. Its top-of-the-line trainer for 2012 is the Smooth CE 8.0LC. This $1899 trainer features a 21″ stride, 21 programs, wireless heart rate monitoring and very well-cushioned pedals. Its heavy-duty braking system and sturdy frame can accommodate up to 400 pounds.

Rated “light commercial,” the CE 8.0LC is powerful enough to serve corporate gyms and hotel fitness rooms for up to eight hours/day. This elliptical trainer is highly recommended to families seeking a durable machine that feels good to use and has great programming.