2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and 2.0T — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2015.
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
"Shocked" best describes our reaction to the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. For a car company that built its first original design only in 1975 and arrived in the American market as late as 1985, the new midsize Sonata is electrifyingly good, and it presents a challenge even to the established Japanese brands. Now the South Korean automaker has upped its game even more with sporty turbo and hybrid Sonatas. Once again, we're shocked — and in a good way.
Both the Sonata Hybrid and the Sonata 2.0T are upgraded versions of the all-new 2011 Sonata introduced in 2010, a car that has earned excellent reviews for its design and capabilities. The new 2.0T is available in two trims, SE and Limited. The sportier of the two, the 2.0T SE, includes all the base Sonata SE equipment plus dual automatic temperature control. Paddle shifters are standard, along with satellite radio, USB port, Bluetooth and cloth seating with leather bolsters. Option packages for the 2.0T SE include a power sunroof, a navigation system and upgraded speakers.
While also naturally energetic, Sonata 2.0T Limited leans toward near-luxury car status. Standard items include 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust and paddle shifters , which are fun to have with this much power. Limited options are the navigation system, backup camera and premium speakers with subwoofer.
Sonata has worked diligently to differentiate the Sonata Hybrid as a stand-alone model sold in a single trim. The exterior design features aerodynamic improvements, a unique front fascia, a sharper trunklid edge, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights and some chrome moldings. Inside, the Sonata Hybrid features an instrument cluster with a trip computer featuring "eco" driving information and hybrid powertrain monitors. The main option is a sunroof.
Under the Hood
Emphasizing Hyundai's aggressive charge up the midsize sedan ranks is their decision to forego the previously de rigueur V6 engine in favor of an advanced 4-cylinder in all 2011 Sonatas. In the base Sonata this means a 190 to 200 horsepower 2.4-liter, but in the 2.0T the displacement is reduced to 2.0 liters, and direct gasoline injection is coupled with an advanced turbocharger to deliver no less than 274 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque from a diesel-like 1750 rpm all the way to 4500 rpm. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway.
This is an impressive combination of power and economy. It betters all of its major V6 competition in horsepower, torque and fuel consumption, the latter aided by a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The Sonata Hybrid's powertrain is designed around research that claims 58 percent of driving in the United States is on the highway, so Hyundai concentrated on a gasoline-electric hybrid optimized for the open road rather than for around town. It uses the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine tuned for 166 horsepower and a 41-horsepower electric motor coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It delivers an outstanding 36/40 mpg.
Many advanced technologies are used in the Sonata Hybrid, among them more compact, longer-lasting lithium polymer batteries and an automatic transmission without a torque converter and featuring an electric oil pump. It typically out-accelerates and gets significantly better fuel economy than other popular midsize hybrids.
A direct carry-over from the standard Sonata, the 2.0T interior covers all the bases of a midsize sedan. There's generous room front and rear in a contemporary, pleasing design that needs no apologies for style or function. There's a touch of cost-cutting — the driver's seat is powered, the passenger's manual — but it's difficult to complain considering the price. And if you go looking you'll find a few hard plastic edges along the glove-box door, and there are a couple of featureless plastic surfaces, all of them small and nothing we found off-putting. The point: You have to go looking for nits to pick because the interior presents itself well.
As noted, what differentiates the Hybrid from other Sonatas is few key interior bits. Most noticeable is the dashboard, which boasts backlit electroluminescent instruments and a specialized hybrid display (with the Premium Package); it lays out the power flow information, helping new hybrid drivers get the most from their car. Other niceties are brushed aluminum trim and an optional two-pane panoramic sunroof. The 2.0T's sunroof is a standard-size single panel.
On the Road
Although not designed as a sports sedan, the 2.0T delivers a fun-to-drive persona we wish more cars had. The power is generously ample and smoothly delivered with instant immediacy — no one will wish they had a V6 instead of the 4-cylinder engine. And while not necessary, the paddle shifters are fun for frolicking or for use as extra control in mountainous terrain.
A strong benefit of the 4-cylinder engine is less weight over the front end than with a V6. This makes the 2.0T naturally more responsive through the steering wheel and without the penalty of a tightly snubbed suspension. So, if the road opens up, the 2.0T is a willing, flat-cornering partner. The 2.0T also easily trundles along with traffic during the daily slog, and offers an "eco" button that tames throttle and transmission response for a small bump in fuel economy if you're in that mood.
Driving the Hybrid is a notch down from the 2.0T's agility, but still pleasantly responsive. Compared to the 2.0T it doesn't urge you on, but it doesn't protest if pushed, either. What is impressive is how fast the Hybrid can go as a pure electric. Given a slight downhill it's occasionally possible to touch 70 mph without the gasoline engine, and in more typical conditions the Hybrid easily outpaces competitors in electric mode.
A difficult test for any hybrid is how seamless the many gas-electric and hydraulic-electric braking transitions are. The Sonata Hybrid does well, the gas-electric switching being imperceptibly fluid and braking suffering only minimal notchiness. In short, it drives like a normal midsize sedan.
Right for You?
It's tough to see why anyone would not be interested in the new Sonatas, and to underline that thought, Hyundai says that currently they don't have enough capacity to meet demand. That's a rare statement in today's market.
All of the Sonatas are approachable on price, with the 2.0T SE starting at $24,145 and rising to $26,745 with Navigation and Sunroof packages. The more heavily equipped 2.0T Limited is priced at $27,045 and $29,145 respectively. Hybrid pricing starts at $25,795.