2011 Hyundai Sonata: First Drive

With best-in-class power and fuel economy, plus a bold new look, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata is a game changer

2011 Hyundai Sonata: First Drive

We’re crawling, absolutely crawling on a stretch of highway just North of San Diego. This might be expected in Southern California during rush-hour, or an other time of day here for that matter, but the road is free of traffic. What we’re trying to do is win Hyundai’s Fuel Economy Challenge – an event organized as a part of the launch of the all-new 2011 Sonata.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.


1. The 2011 Sonata is powered by a gasoline direct-injection (GDI) 4-cylinder engine making 198-hp and 186 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Fuel economy is best-in-class at 22/35 mpg (city/hwy) for the six-speed automatic and 24/35 mpg for the six-seed manual.

3. A base GLS model costs just $19,195, while the volume seller, a GLS with the Popular Equipment Package, is quite a bargain at $20,945.

4. Highlights include standard Bluetooth, while Limited models get heated front and rear seats as well as a push-button ignition.

This might not be an accurate representation of daily driving, but Hyundai is eager to show-off just how fuel efficient the new Sonata is. We manage to eek out a 46.8 mpg rating and as impressive as it sounds, that’s only enough for a 3rd place finish, with the winning team managing 52.8 mpg. We also just miss out on a private dinner with Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik who promised just such a prize to anyone who could beat his 47.8 mpg score.


Under real world driving conditions you should expect closer to 22/35 mpg (24/35 with the six-speed manual). Those numbers are class-leading, topping even the Accord and Camry. They are also just one of many reasons why Hyundai’s new Sonata is a game changer, for the Korean automaker and for the conventionally conventional mid-size sedan segment.

Hyundai dedicated so much of the Sonata’s launch to driving home the fuel-economy numbers and we spent so much time competing in “eco challenges” that we needed to borrow the car the very next day just to get enough of a feel to give our first impressions.


So once again we’re out in the Sonata, but this time it’s different. The car’s new gasoline direct injection (GDI) 2.4-liter 4-cylinder isn’t just a fuel miser, it also makes 198-hp (200-hp in SE trim) and we’re using all of it.

Now this mid-size sedan is no blacktop burner, but acceleration is good, thanks in part to a significantly better power to weight ratio than the competition. This isn’t just because Hyundai’s 4-cyliner makes 22 more horsepower than an Accord, but because it weighs so much less than almost any other vehicle in its class. In fact, the Sonata is as much as 200-lbs lighter than some at just 3,199 lbs to start. A major reason for this is that Hyundai engineers didn’t need to design the chassis to handle a V6. That’s right, there won’t be a V6 option for the Sonata, but rather a turbocharged 4-cylinder that is set to arrive later this year. Game changer number two, or is that two and three?

The car’s new six-speed automatic transmission helps in both the fuel economy and performance arenas. Sick of playing catch-up with automakers like Honda and Toyota, in the past offering only 4-speed automatics while the Japanese had 5-speed units, Hyundai went and developed its own six-speed – a light weight compact unit that shifts seamlessly. A self-shifting feature is available for sportier driving, while the SE trim level gets paddle shifters.


From behind the wheel this new package comes together perfectly. Steering is direct with minimal body roll for a vehicle of this type, while the suspension delivers a calm and comforting ride, absent of the sort of negative road feedback you might expect from a more stiffly sprung setup.

The Sonata takes corners with finesse, brakes swiftly and the automatic transmission easily hops into the right gear when asked.

We wouldn’t go so far as to say the 2011 Sonata is a class leader in driving dynamics, but it’s definitely near the front of the pack. Those in search of added handling can opt for the SE model with stiffer springs, shocks and a thicker rear sway bar, as well as 18-inch wheels and low profile tires.

As a 4-cylinder, it’s a bit buzzy when revved, but at highway cruising speeds it’s incredibly serene. One of our few critiques with the car is that the GDI 4-cylinder is somewhat noisy, with plenty of ticking and clatter at idle and low speeds.


Inside the cabin is nice, but not quite up to the car’s exterior design, even with the funky Volvo-inspired center stack and ice-blue lighting – now standard across the Hyundai lineup. Fit and finish are certainly up to the standards set by the Japanese automakers, but some of the parts still don’t seem quite as high-quality. We’re also not overly fond of the cloth used for the seats, or the mixed cloth/leather seats on the SE model, but that’s a pretty subjective critique. One of the cockpit’s nicest attributes is the gauge display, with metallic-look surrounds and a small digital advanced trip computer.


2010 Toyota Camry Review
2008 Honda Accord EX-L Navi Review
2009 Nissan Altima
2009 Kia Optima / Magentis
2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium PZEV
2010 Suzuki Kizashi: First Drive
2010 Dodge Avenger Review
2009 Chevrolet Malibu Review

  • Matthias

    Hyundai copy very well. Just like the Japanese copied the Germans back in the 90’s, now it is the Korean’s turn. 

  • hoover

    I have the 2011 Limited and i must say being a former Toyota Camry owner which i loved, the Sonata has won my heart. To sum it all up, this car is all i excepted and more. Price and performance has exceeded the Camry. glad I switched over

  • DRJJ

    Direct injected engines may prove to be expensive to maintain and or unreliable-see forums, ultra high fuel pressure/ components, carbon build up etc! CVT trannys afre suspect too!The 2012+ camry will have the best re-sale based on reliability and brand! Koreans have made a quantum leap and make good products- my folks have a 2007 kia rondo with 120k and zero problems FYI (conventional engine w 4 sp however)!

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked