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Published on October 29th, 2010 | by Zane Merva

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2011 Hyundai Sonata arrives ready to impress

When you hear “mid-size sedan”, which cars come to mind?  Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, or Ford Fusion?  If you didn’t think about the Hyundai Sonata, it’s time to think again.

2011 Hyundai Sonata - Photographer: Zane Merva

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2011
Make: Hyundai
Model: Sonata SE

Engine: 2.4L DOHC  direct injection 4-cylinder / 200 hp at 6300 rpm and 186 lb.- ft. of torque at 4350 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive

EPA Fuel Economy: 22mpg city / 26mpg combined / 35mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 29.7mpg

Base MSRP: $22,595
As tested MSRP: $25,915

Standard Equipment: Traction/stability control, key-less entry, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, USB/Aux/iPod port, dimension audio system, automatic headlight control

Equipped Options:
Navigation & Sunroof Package [$2,600]

Required Fees:
Delivery Charge [$720]

>>See our full 2011 Hyundai Sonata Road Test Photo Gallery<<

Driving Dynamics & Performance

2011 Hyundai Sonata - Photographer: Zane Merva

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata is fun to drive. Let that sit in your mind for just a moment. In a segment usually promoted using safety and fuel economy, “fun to drive” is not a term you’d expect out of a family sedan.  Yet, the Sonata delivers.

On the road we were immediately surprised by how quick and agile the Sonata felt.  We never expected the base 200-horsepower model to feel so good. In this market base engines are almost expected to feel sluggish and anemic. Somehow, Hyundai has bucked the trend. The base 2.4L inline-4 in the Sonata feels more than adequate, in fact it feels quite healthy. Only minimal fanfare is required to accelerate on the highway and around town low end torque provides quick getup and go. Should you desire more power, look for a 274-horsepower turbocharged 2.0T option later this year.

In addition to proper acceleration, the Sonata can be tossed around and feels comfortable on any road surface. A solid chassis and communicative steering empower the driver to feel in control behind the wheel.

There are two factors that contribute to the Sonata’s handling prowess.  First, it weighs 200lbs less than Malibu and 100lbs less than Camry and Fusion.  Second, the Sonata’s base engine, rated at 200-horsepower,  is  30-horsepower up on Camry/Malibu and 25-horsepower up on Fusion/Accord.

The Sonata, which equals rivals at 22mpg city also tops with more highway fuel economy. Even with a horsepower advantage, Sonata is rated at 35mpg on the highway. That’s 4-mpg better than Accord and Altima,  2mpg better than Camry and Malibu, and 1mpg better than Fusion. Have no doubt that 35mpg in a four door family sedan is impressive but we found that advertised economy allusive.  Our best observed highway mileage was 31mpg.

Design Execution, Appearance, Fit & Finish

2011 Hyundai Sonata

There’s something new, yet familiar about the styling on the 2011 Sonata.  Its sweeping exterior side profile is semi-reminiscent of a Mercedes CL and the HVAC “torso-body” button on the interior center console is a close duplicate of what you’d find in a Volvo.  However, set next to a  Toyota Camry or Chevy Malibu the Sonata looks crisp and refreshing. It’s a touch of style that makes a statement without coming off as in your face. The Sonata’s styling will appeal to a wide audience.

Hyundai calls the new design “Fluidic Sculpture” and has also started using the design philosophy in other models, such as the new Tuscon.  Sculpture like or not, we really enjoyed both the interior and exterior styling of the new Sonata.  It felt stylish and interesting without being too busy or distracting. Every button and switch was easy to use and fell within arms reach.

While Hyundai has done many things right with the Sonata, it didn’t take very long to find a few things that felt needed improvement.  Many of our gripes centered around the interior. The choice of plastic found around the cup holders is prone to scratches. At night, we also found that many of the interior indicator lights did not dim as much as they should. For example, the gear shift selector back-light stayed too bright for our eyes.  The same was also true for the headlight/fog-light/high-beam indicators in the gauge cluster.   After dark when night adjusted vision is at a premium these brightness issues were annoying and compromised our ability to see the road in front of us.

Audio, Electronics, & Technology

2011 Hyundai Sonata - Photographer: Zane Merva

The new Sonata continues to impress with its technology offerings. Standard Bluetooth hands-free is a segment first.  Standard USB/AUX input jacks are also well appreciated. For $35 Hyundai offers a iPod/iPhone integration cable that plugs into the USB and line-in port at the same time. While we appreciate that Hyundai and Apple are playing nice, we’re confused why you need the special cable. The Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu allow customers to use their existing USB cable for iPod/iPhone control. If you try that on Sonata, it just won’t work. If you don’t have an iPod/iPhone, you can always load up a spare USB drive with music for your listening pleasure.

If you splurge for the optional integrated navigation system you’re in for a treat. A high-resolution display allows for easy readability at a glance.   Hyundai has also partnered with Sirius XM to offer Weather, Stocks, and Sports information.  Just like Sirus/Ford Travel-link, you can view weather maps, warnings, sports scores, and stock prices on your screen. Stock and sports information is handy and weather features are not only cool but could be life-saving in severe situations.

Comfort & Ergonomics

2011 Hyundai Sonata - Photographer: Zane Merva

In concert with the typical job of everyday commuting, the new Sonata is comfortable and easy to live with. Steering wheel controls are comfortable to use without contorting your thumbs, audio and navigation operation are intuitive, and Hyundai’s switch-gear feel is solid and precise.  We did find it odd that Hyundai does not offer an automatic climate control option.  We found the manual system to require small adjustments every 10-20 minutes to stay comfortable.

The seats in the Sonata are comfortable for long and short hauls alike. During our week with the car we always arrived at our destination without cramps or aches. That’s not something we’ve always been able to say of the other cars in this class.

>>See our full 2011 Hyundai Sonata Road Test Photo Gallery<<

Conclusion

A right-sized car with a beefy base engine and a thrifty price.  Engaging driving attributes, good looks, and great fuel economy make the Sonata deserving of careful consideration for anyone in the mid-size sedan market.  Hyundai has taken everything good about family sedans and improved on it while simultaneously injecting the Sonata with a spark of style and fun.

Strengths

  • Lowest base price & highest fuel economy among Camry, Accord, Malibu, and Fusion.
  • Standard iPod/AUX/USB input
  • Optional Navigation system includes XM Weather/Sports/Stocks
  • Class leading engine feels more powerful than 200-hp

Weaknesses

  • Semi-soft plastic on steering wheel and center console scratches easily
  • Gear-selector back-lights and gauge cluster headlight/foglight indicators are  too bright for sensitive eyes
  • iPod/iPhone audio control will only work with exclusive Hyundai cable

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About the Author

Obsessed with cars since he was a kid, he's long loved tinkering with a wide range of vehicles, from trucks to sports cars. His passion for writing about cars was kick-started by a S-10 ZR2 and a Chevrolet Corvette.



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