After the Hyundai Genesis bagged awards left and right for Hyundai, it’s fair to say that the expectations for the burgeoning Korean brand is now at an all-time high. Both the Genesis Coupe and the Genesis Sedan were so far ahead of the game that it became apparent that the onus was now on Hyundai to release a car that could meet – or even exceed – the expectations set by the Genesis.
Now, Hyundai has that car in the form of the 2011 Sonata.
Thanks in large part to the economic crisis and the continued rise in oil prices, car brands have become more inclined in producing fuel efficient vehicles and veering away from the conventional market segment and tapping into the younger and more out-going market. If there were skeptics that initially doubted Hyundai’s new direction, the Genesis certainly did its part to quell all those doubts. And now that the 2011 Sonata , which is one of seven new models Hyundai is planning to launch within the next two years, is on the horizon, Hyundai is hell-bent on keeping its momentum going.
From the outset, you can tell that something is different about the new Sonata. Gone are the days when the model would be described in ever so vague terms such as ‘plain’ and ‘boxy’; this time around, the 2011 Sonata has been reinvented with sharp edges, chrome accents that extend up to the front fender, complex headlights and even an LED signal repeater on side mirrors. The profile adopts the coupe-sedan style that the Mercedes CLS made famous, which, in turn, became the influence for other notable sedans including the Volkswagen CC.
While it’s easy to surmise the so-called ‘foreign influence’ on the 2011 Sonata, the truth is that when you look at the designer sketch of the car, you’d come to the conclusion that the 2011 Sonata is a stretched out version of the Genesis. But despite the surprising success of the Genesis, comparing the two wheels is just like comparing apples and oranges: both are tasty and delicious, but at the end of the day, each have their own set of strong suits.
The sporty exterior design, with its slanted A and C pillars, made us fear for our headroom and elbows, but Hyundai engineers certainly deserve a round of cheers for working hard to make the interior very spacious. The 2011 Sonata offers the most interior volume in its class with 120.2 cubic feet, followed closely by the Honda Accord at 120 cu. ft. In fact, it is so big that the Sonata’s EPA classification for interior size jumped from mid-size to ‘large’. As you can expect, the spacious cabin comes with all sorts of amenities, including six standard airbags, active front head restraints, standard Bluetooth and iPod/usb/aux inputs.
The main difference between the base model ($20,195) and limited version ($25,295) is the leather interior. In addition to that, the limited trim also offers a couple more gadgets including the rear air vents and dimming mirrors, as well as a standard paddle shifter that is available exclusively for the SE model. Likewise, the steering wheel, instrument cluster and central console of the 2011 Sonata have all been made with only premium quality in mind.
At the center of each dials, you’re also going to find a little LCD display, which accentuates the elegant and high-class treatment of the car’s dashboard. The center console will remind you of the Cadillac CTS, with a touch of the Volvo button for the HVAC control. The gear selector is nicely located on the far left side of the console, leaving a good space for cup-holders. The only thing we found a little out of whack with the 2011 Sonata are the iPod and USB connectors, which can be found in plain sight. While this is by no means a Hyundai ‘faux pas’, we just figured that all those wires would have a better spot inside the glove box where it can avoid all the maddeningly annoying wires to get tangled with each other. Both the SE and Limited trim also come with one of our favorite new-age car features: the proximity key/push stat button, which, if you recall, was an optional feature in the 2008 Mercedes S-Class. With the 211 Sonata, the ‘supposed’ optional feature is being described as a God-send.
Engine / Fuel economy
The design is what pushes most buyers to sign on the dotted line, but the engine is, without question, the ‘la piece de resistance’ – or in English: the main course. This time around, Hyundai decided not to offer any 6 cylinders on the Sonata. This saves a hefty amount of weight by not having to drive around with the V6 engine anchors in the engine bay. Moreover, 70% of the Sonatas sold are 4 cylinders so you’ve got to ask, why bother? For the power hungry, Hyundai already committed to a turbocharged and also hybrid power train later this year.
At this time, though, the only engine variant available is the direct injection 2.4L 4-cylinder that produces 198hp at 6300 rpm and 184 lb-ft at 4250 rpm. The engine is matted with an all-new six-speed transmission, which Hyundai themselves developed in-house. It is interesting to know that only two or three car manufacturers still bother creating their own transmissions. This new six-speed tranny is 26.4 lbs lighter than the five-speed predecessor. Hyundai’s continuing efforts to cut weight is paying off in a big way with the 2011 Sonata. This new generation claims an EPA fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 35 mpg in the highway, but during our test runs with the 2011 Sonata, we achieved 48.9 mpg and some journalists even achieving an attention-grabbing 52.8 mpg. Of course, he was able to accomplish that by shutting down the Sonata’s AC, closing all its windows and rolling the car downhill in neutral. The 2011 Sonata’s above-average gas mileage is a reflection of all the work done on every aspect of the car, such as the great aerodynamics (.28Cd), low resistance rolling tires and low friction bearing, and while those may seem to have cost Hyundai a lot of money to develop, the 2011 Sonata’s engine is still quite a masterpiece in frugality! The really good horsepower and torque numbers the Sonata produces is achieved in large part to relatively high RPMs, which means that power is there if you need it although you might have to spin the frou-banger to pretty high RPMs before you feel the kick.
Even if you have a great looking car inside-out that also happens to have an earth-friendly engine, it won’t mean anything if the driving experience is – shall we say, less than accommodating. To its credit, the Sonata leads the competition with the best power to weight ratio (16.2), but as we said earlier, that only becomes possible if you’re patient enough to wait for one or two downshifts and bring your engine to coffee blending RPMs.
The 2011 Sonata is more about serene driving with joy and confidence than burning rubber. There is plenty of power if you need it, although this time, Hyundai wants you to enjoy the steering feedback and its great chassis and suspension setup. Last time we drove the Sonata, we were in Montgomery Alabama; this time though, the confident Hyundai engineers offered us to drive in the very twisty roads of Southern California, which is a clear step up in terms of road difficulty.
For our first ride, we took off in a Sonata SE, which is equipped with firmer suspension and sharper steering. The driving experience is miles ahead from the previous model, which, obviously, is a pretty nice compliment to all of the company’s chassis engineers. The stiffer suspension setting on the SE model are welcome in the twisty roads and are really not much of a problem on the freeway.
Our next go round on-board a 2011 Sonata comes from the GLS and Limited models, which, according to Hyundai , will represent 90% of the sales. Despite a couple of exterior downgrades: 16-inch alloy wheels, single exhaust pipe, no fog lights and no more fancy LED signal repeaters on the mirrors, the car still looks as good and handles almost as well. We even took the GLS on steep up-down hills with heavy turns and the car felt under control at all times. We also tested some emergency braking as some drivers were apparently in a touristic evaluation of the countryside, and we approve! Not only is the braking strong, but the stiff chassis really helps keep everything safely in line
So how does a 2011 Hyundai Sonata stack up against, say, a Camry or a Honda? Well, for starters, the Sonata is cheaper – you can reportedly save as much as $2 to $3 thousand. Then, if you’re the techie type, you can have the Sonata upgraded to have Bluetooth or even heated mirrors. Then there is, of course, the matter of Hyundai’s competition-topping 100k miles, 10years warranty. That alone should pretty much speak for itself.
In a nutshell, the 2011 Hyunda Sonata is far from being what’s called a ‘prized ride’. But if you’re looking for something redefines ‘comfort’ and ‘premium quality to a tee, then you can never go wrong with a 2011 Hyundai Sonata.