Hyundai steps up style, quality
6th generation Sonata a worthy competitor in sedan market
Sure, you’ve heard some positive things lately about the Korean car brands Kia and hyundai and read flattering reviews about them in consumer publications.
But perhaps you’re still ambivalent about owning one. You need a decider, a sign that the Koreans are making vehicles that truly match up against the Japanese and American competition.
It just so happens one of those Koreans was in my garage last month, the all-new 2011 Hyundai Sonata. If this Sonata doesn’t influence your opinion, just wait. Hyundai promises five more new models in the next 18 months.
Until this 2011 model, the sixth generation, Sonatas were designed and equipped to more or less mimic the Japanese midsize sedan template: base four-cylinder engine, optional V-6, front-wheel drive, etc.
The 2011 Sonata created its own paradigm and largely succeeded. Still unproven are reliability, which should be acceptable, and a significant but often overlooked ownership cost: depreciation.
Residual values for Korean cars have typically been lower than comparable Japanese models. So that “deal” you got on a new Hyundai or Kia might evaporate at trade-in. As long as Hyundai doesn’t send too many Sonatas to rental fleets, the new model should set a new Hyundai standard for value retention, as well.
Assembled at a recently constructed Alabama plant, the front-drive Sonata is now EPA-rated as a large car, like the competing Honda Accord. All Sonata trim and price levels use the same 198-horsepower, 2.4-cylinder, direct-injection engine and well-matched six-speed automatic.
The Sonata’s styling doesn’t have that grocery-getter, midsize sedan timidity; rather, it has a low, slinky, coupe-like, European profile. Hyundai calls the look “Fluidic Sculpture, a consistent, cohesive design language that will ripple through the entire Hyundai showroom” as new models are introduced.
I think the Sonata is slightly over-styled, but thousands of buyers will find it a refreshing relief from the familiar.
The power train has plenty of torque and horsepower, with the often-tiring mechanical clatter typical of four-cylinder engines pretty well muted. EPA fuel mileage is 22 city, 35 highway, ample for a car this size; my predominantly city driving mixed with fast highway trips resulted in mid-20s mileage.
Before year’s end, Hyundai has promised both turbocharged and hybrid power train options. At some point, Hyundai should let their engineers go home for a good night’s sleep. This is an aggressive power train rollout strategy.
Although the Sonata doesn’t handle like a sports sedan, it’s a nicely balanced package that’s competent all around — sprightly around town and composed on the highway, with a ride not too spongy and not too taut. However,
Continued from D1 excessive tire noise was transmitted into the cabin.
The interior also impressed. Trimmed in both leather and cloth, front seats in my Sonata SE test unit were plenty roomy and supportive. Some units are fitted with a power driver’s seat with height adjustment. That’s a desirable option, given the Sonata’s high window sills.
Rear visibility from the driver’s seat was somewhat obstructed by the smallish windows and low roofline. The roofline also forced tall rear passengers to duck getting into the Sonata. Otherwise, two or three adults were well accommodated in back.
Hyundai understands that American drivers have devices that need to be charged and used while driving.
Two 12-volt receptacles were front and center, next to a nifty iPod/iPhone plug (a $35 option) that fully integrated their music functions with the car’s sound system.
Bluetooth phone pairing and use were easy and interference free. The touch-screen navigation system, part of a $2,100 package, was See more new and used cars and read previous reviews by Pete Szilagyi. similarly well-designed.
Interior cubbies and storage compartment were generous in number and size. Instrumentation and ergonomics were also better than most, and the air conditioner efficiently handled humid, mid-90s afternoons. Interior materials were attractive and had a nice tactile feel, though they weren’t luxurious.
Also competitive are prices, ranging from just under $20,000 to about $28,000 for a maxed-out Sonata Limited. The base GLS models use a manual transmission.
If this new Sonata still doesn’t ring your chime, wait a few months for the 2011 Kia Optima, which will share key components with the Sonata but offer a sportier personality and appearance.
Hyundai has ceased mimicking Japanese automakers with its all-new Sonata, giving what is now rated as a large car a low, sleek, European-like style and stance.
hyuNdAI MoToR Co.
The tight roofline and low-slung seats give the Sonata a sports coupelike feel, though the turbocharged and hybrid power train options are not yet available.