A Mercedes CLS? No, it’s not a CLS. A Volkswagen CC? Nope; can’t be, I reviewed that car just a few weeks back. But there it was, a swoopy sedan being dropped off in my driveway. Hurrying outside to get a better look, it hit me – this is the new Hyundai Sonata
1. Limited models get leather seats, heated front and rear seats, 17-inch wheels, piano black interior trim, keyless access, a 360-watt 7-speaker audio system and more.
2. A 198-hp 2.4L is standard with a 22/35-mpg rating.
3. Limited models are available with a 274-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder.
4. The 2011 Sonata starts at $19,195; with Limited models priced from $25,295.
Wow, what a beautifully shaped car. It’s long and low, with an elegant sloping roofline like a Mercedes and lots of sculpted lines. Sitting in the same class as high volume family sedans like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Sonata makes its rivals look downright dowdy by comparison.
Everywhere you look, you’ll see chiseled character lines. The front chrome grill has a wavy appearance that blends into subtle creases on the hood. From the wrap-around front headlights, to sharp creases in the bodywork, to a sloping roofline, all the elements combine to form a coupe-like appearance, or what Hyundai calls their “Fluidic Sculpture”. Whatever they call it, I call it beautiful, and it makes the car look a lot more expensive than the sticker price.
NOT OFTEN A FAMILY SEDAN DRAWS STARES
Even though I was in the middle of writing an article, I was so intrigued I had to take it out for a spin, even if just to the grocery store. As soon as I got out of it in the store’s parking lot, a guy walking by said, “Hey, that’s a beautiful car, what is it?” “Hyundai Sonata”, I replied. “A Hyundai – Really?” he said. Then I saw him get into a small Lexus and drive off.
On the way home, I spotted a rare Porsche Panamera in front of me. We pulled up to the stoplight together, and we eyeballed each other’s car. He rolls down the window, and shouts out, “Nice car- who makes it?” “Hyundai”, I said. “No Sh*t! How’s it drive?” I explained, “It’s a press car, and I just got it, but so far it’s great.” “What’s it cost?” was the next question. When I told him, my statement was met with another surprised look: “Really,” he said, “it looks like a lot more than that.”
Then the light turned green, and he let me get in front of him so he could see the rear of the car. And let’s be honest, the Panamera is a nice looking 4-door, but if you took off the badges, and put them side-by-side in a parking lot, a lot of folks would probably choose the Hyundai for style over the Porsche. I can’t recall another car that elicited more positive comments during the week that I drove it than this humbly priced family sedan. But as they say in the motorcycle world, “chrome won’t get you home”, so I was anxious to see how the car performed for its intended function.
A LEADER IN BOTH POWER AND FUEL ECONOMY
The Sonata comes in three trim levels, the base GLS, the sporty SE, and the luxury Limited, which was my test car. All three are powered by the same direct fuel-injected, 2.4 liter 4-cylinder motor, with GLS and Limited models producing 198 horsepower at 6300 rpm, and 184 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. The sportier SE model adds 2 hp and 2 lb-ft to those numbers. Those are best-in-class numbers for base models, with 21 ticks up on the Accord and almost 30-hp over the Camry. Those in search of more power to combat the optional V6 engines offered by rivals can opt for the 274-hp 2.0T model.
Another impressive number is the 22-mpg city and 35-mpg highway figures for the Hyundai, which is nearly identical to the city mileage of the Accord and Camry, but bests the highway numbers by 4- and 3-mpg respectively. While the Sonata’s engine runs smoothly, it’s still a 4-banger, so you’ll hear it under hard acceleration.
RIDE QUALITY A BALANCED MIX OF COMFORT AND SPORT
On the road, the Sonata’s engine has no problem moving the 3,316 pound car with grace and alacrity. The 6-speed manumatic transmission lets you keep the Sonata in its power range, so that if you’re in 2nd or 3rd gear in the 30 to 40 miles per hour range, and want to dart into a hole in traffic, an easy press on the accelerator, and you’re there. And even if you’re in the normal Drive mode and need to make a quick move, just stomp on the pedal, wait a half beat for the tranny to kick down, and the Sonata will zoom off. It’s a free revving little powerplant and it can give you all the grunt you need to drive it aggressively if you need to.
The brakes are strong enough with a nice pedal feel, and are both ABS and Electronic Brake-force Distribution equipped. Traction Control is also standard. Particularly impressive is how the suspension is tuned for a great combination of ride compliance on the highway, with a firm, steady feel in the corners.
The cabin is quiet and serene, due in part to slippery aerodynamics of the exterior styling. The interior is also as nicely styled as the outside, with lots of flowing lines and interesting shapes. Limited models come with leather seating surfaces with the sort of higher-trim items you’d expect like power heated seats and lumbar support. Even the rear seats are heated, a feature seldom found on any car other then very expensive luxury models. The fit and finish of the easy to use dash is excellent, and the all black interior comes nicely appointed with lots of polished and chrome accents, as well as black lacquered inserts on the dash and door panels. Some exterior colors come with two-tone black and camel interior, or a black and wine colored look if you want more flash in your cabin.
Equipped with the $2,100 Navigation Package, it’s a touch screen affair with excellent resolution and ease of use. It also has a back-up camera. The package even includes an upgraded sound system, with AM/FM/XM/CD and MP3 compatibility. Beneath that are dials and buttons to operate the Dual Zone AC/Heat controls, which are also easy to operate. Just under those is a closing storage compartment, while underneath that is a large open bin with 2 power outlets and a port to plug in your MP3 player with plenty of room to place it out of the way.
The steering wheel houses controls for the radio, cruise control, Bluetooth telephone, and a nice touch is the toggle controls for the information screen located between the tach and speedometer, which gives you dual tripmeter with info like the average fuel economy, distance to empty, etc. The moonroof is standard on the Limited, and brings light and fresh air into the cabin. One caution to consider is the penalty for that sensuous sloping roofline. My 5’6” body had plenty of headroom in the back seat, which also has lots of interior leg room and shoulder room, but 6-footers might scrape their noggins on the soft headliner.
The trunk offers abundant space with a full 16.4 cubic feet, plus there’s a 60/40 split seatback. An annoyance, however, is that while there are convenient seatback releases located in the trunk, the seats aren’t spring loaded so you often have to open the rear doors to pull the seat forward after you’ve released them from the trunk.
Other standard features include a keyless entry with push button start, something that often isn’t even standard on $50,000 luxury sedans. There are also the cool looking 17-inch wheels, side mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators, premium door sill plates, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, Homelink system, and much more.
A base GLS starts at only $19,195, the SE at $22,595, and the Limited at $25,295. That means that a similarly equipped Honda Accord, or Toyota Camry will cost from $2,700 to 3,300 more. And the JD Power reliability and satisfaction numbers for Hyundai products is up near the top of the charts.
This new sixth generation Sonata is an outstanding package. It offers standout styling, strong performance, excellent road manners, a comfortable interior, abundant trunk space, and even best in class gas mileage. And you get all of that for thousands less than the so-called industry benchmarks. For a car that looks a lot more expensive than it is, I guess this is what they mean when they say “Family Values”.