2011 Hyundai Sonata
Base price: $19,395 – $25,495
As tested: $23,415
MPG: 22 city/35 highway
- Beautiful new design
- Near class-leading passenger room
- Excellent value
- Outstanding warranty
- Smooth ride performance
- Tight headroom for taller drivers
By Jim Prueter
There should be more cars as nice as the new Sonata
It’s been a long road to success for Hyundai. The Korean carmaker first began importing vehicles to the U.S. in 1986, with the affordable but dreadful Excel. Since then, their image has stealthily and steadily improved, first bringing consumers into the fold by addressing their perceived quality issues by offering an unprecedented warranty. Hyundai now makes some of the best-built cars in the industry, and in 2009 the Genesis was named Car of the Year. Oh, how far they’ve come.
In the Sonata, Hyundai had a decent, mid-sized family sedan inspired by, but always falling just short of, competitors like Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. But in 2011, Hyundai leapfrogs those brands to stand alone at the top of the class.
Let’s start with the Sonata’s all new exterior styling, which Hyundai dubs Fluidic Sculpture design aimed at an illusion of constant motion. Basically, the look is low, smooth and contoured, accented by dynamic angles, flowing lines and a chrome spanning the length of the car. It is one good-looking vehicle, more sophisticated than its affordable price tag portends.
The downside of the low profile roofline is slightly compromised headroom. However, at just over 120 cubic feet, Sonata boasts the most interior volume of any of its competitors. In fact, the EPA classifies Sonata as a large vehicle, rather than midsized.
The sophisticated design continues inside. Fit and finish are excellent, with an upscale look befitting cars that cost thousands more. I especially loved the intuitive iPod interface; it is standard on all models. All of the standard features are impressive given the price point of the Sonata. Satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone system and some other features are costly extras — or not available at all — in competing models.
Other standard features include 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated side mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, a trip computer, a 60/40-split rear seatback, a six-speaker stereo with steering-wheel mounted controls. And that’s just on the base GLS model.
Upgrade to the SE and you’ll also get an eight-way power-adjustable drivers seat,18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, sport-tuned suspension, keyless ignition, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The top-of-the-line Limited model adds leather upholstery, sunroof, upgraded audio system, and two-tone interior with either wood grain or black accents. A navigation system is available as an option on all trims.
The standard engine is a 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder that produces 198 horsepower. GLS models come with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission; the automatic is standard on the other two. A turbo-charged variant ups the horsepower to 274 and costs about $2000 on all models.
We drove the SE, equipped with the standard engine and automatic transmission, and found it to be more than adequately powerful, both around town and on the freeway. The drive quality is just what you’d expect in this class of vehicle: comfortable, powerful with minimal road noise and excellent handling. Build quality is remarkable, with no wind intrusion, squeaks or rattles.
In terms of safety, Sonata comes with traction and stability control, a full complement of airbags and active front head restraints. It earned the highest five star rating in government crash tests and the top rating of “Good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
With this complete redo, Sonata vaults over its many worthy competitors in this hotly contested segment. It’s beautiful inside and out, with excellent drive characteristics. Even the base model is loaded with features found on vehicles costing thousands more. At this price, and with an industry-leading warranty, you’d be hard pressed to find a reason NOT to buy the Sonata.