Hyundai steps up style, qual­ity

6th gen­er­a­tion Sonata a wor­thy com­peti­tor in sedan mar­ket

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMANCARS - By Pete Szi­lagyi

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.