2011 Hyundai Sonata — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2013.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Americans like their bargains. Doesn't mean we're cheap. As the saying goes, we just want to have our cake and eat it, too.
Over the past five years, the Hyundai Sonata has gained a foothold in the U.S. as a true bargain in the midsize sedan segment, offering consumers most of the space and capability of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord but at a more reasonable price. However, some auto journalists, myself included, thought the car suffered from nondescript styling and slushy handling; i.e., it was a bit ho-hum.
For 2011, Hyundai is trying to change that perception by making its hot 4-door a more stylish car that also promises a sportier character and greater fuel efficiency — without increasing the price enough to cause the vehicle to lose its bargain status. Let's see how it stacks up.
The SE adds firmer sport suspension, sport seats with leather bolstering and cloth inserts, keyless access and starting, fog lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Limited gets leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, 360-watt Dimension audio system, HD radio, sunroof, standard suspension settings and 17-inch alloy wheels. Options include the Limited equipment, plus a Navigation Package with a touch-screen navigation system, Bluetooth streaming audio, a rear backup camera and a 400-watt Infinity sound system.
Standard safety features consist of dual front airbags, torso-protecting front side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, active front head restraints, a tire-pressure monitor, traction control, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution and cornering brake control.
Under the Hood
Due next year are turbocharged 4-cylinder and 4-cylinder hybrid powertrains. Hyundai says the turbo four will make at least 250 horsepower. The hybrid should offer about 200 horses and at least 25 percent better fuel economy.
The Sonata also has plenty of interior space. With 120.2 total cubic feet of interior volume (including the trunk), it has more room than any competitor, including the Honda Accord. Like the Accord, the Sonata is classified by the EPA as a large car due to its generous interior volume.
All that room translates into passenger comfort. The driver's seat has loads of legroom as well as good headroom. While taller drivers will be happy with the extensive seat travel, they may want more headroom, especially in Sonatas equipped with a sunroof. Rear-seat space is also generous, with good legroom and toe space under the front seats. Again, however, taller passengers might want more headroom due to the roof's coupelike rake. The front seats might not have enough adjustments to achieve an optimal seating position for those with particularly exacting standards, but that's more a matter of personal taste than a design flaw.
Small-items storage is also impressive. Hyundai designers minimized the space the shifter occupies, filling the extra room with shallow trays. The base of the center stack features a useful cubby that houses the standard USB and auxiliary jacks, and there is another lidded bin above it. The center console has two cupholders, as well as a bi-level center bin, and every door has a map pocket and bottle holder. It's an ingenious design.
The deep trunk offers a generous 16.2 cubic feet of space. Like many cars these days, the opening isn't very big, so large boxes don't easily fit. The releases for the 60/40 split-folding second-row seats are in the trunk, so occupants will have to pop the rear lid to drop seats, and possibly use the cargo they're loading to push them down from the back.
On the Road
The new Sonata rides on an all-new platform that is considerably stiffer than the last one, the optimized suspension reduces body lean, and the new electric power steering has greater feel. These design enhancements result in a much more composed, stable car that still retains a smooth ride. With a body far less prone to flex over bumps or lean in turns, the Sonata doesn't wallow or float at highway speeds, the steering offers greater feedback, and the car will dive into turns and track predictably through them. However, the base and Limited iterations still lean a little too much during aggressive cornering.
The SE is more composed without feeling too harsh. It features stiffer springs and shocks front and rear, a thicker rear stabilizer bar, steering tuned for more effort and lower-profile 18-inch tires. On the last generation, those items added up to a harsh ride without a sporty character. This time it's different. The SE feels better planted in turns and is more willing to change directions quickly. It's still no sport sedan, but it's as sporty as most Americans will want their midsize sedans to be.
The new 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is also a revelation. It produces up to 200 horsepower, which is what V6s made just a few years ago. The engine is smooth and quiet for a four, although not as silky as competitor V6s. It delivers as much power as most of us would ever need, starting quickly and delivering decent passing punch. Still, some buyers will want more power, and they should wait for the turbocharged version due later this year.
The Sonata also features a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai is one of only three automakers to build their own 6-speed auto tranny, and this one works quite well. In the name of fuel economy, it wants to shift up as soon as possible. That can mean a deep stab of the throttle is required to get the downshift needed for passing. On the whole, though, the new engine and transmission are well matched to this car, and most buyers won't want any more power.
The new powertrain is also impressively fuel-efficient. Highway driving will return fuel economy in the mid-30s, and anyone without a lead foot can expect mpgs in the mid- to upper-20s range during normal driving. Those numbers were associated with compact cars just a couple of years ago.
Right for You?
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.