Hyundai Sonata – Making the good life affordable

By Al Vinikour 

The largest vehicle segment in North America are midsize cars and to play in this neighborhood you have to not only be tough but offer more than the next guy. Thus is the case with the all-new 2011 Hyundai Sonata, the six-generation of the midsize sedan. It’s not only mixed in with a gang of vehicles that’s the best of the best…it’s becoming the leader of the pack.

The 2011 Sonata is an American design for the American market…and is even American-built at Hyundai’s Alabama plant. Its styling would never convince anybody it’s a domestic product but it does give the impression of being an exotic import that probably costs more than most peoples’ homes. The truth is there are few households that will be unable to afford this vehicle.

The new Hyundai is very sleek and it’s the shape that gives Sonata such excellent road manners. No matter what speed is attained the quietness is everlasting. Granted, there’s still the acceleration noise one hears in a small, high-revving engine but once you’ve reached “altitude” it’s as if the elements stopped speaking to you.

Through a combination of country roads, urban congestion and freeway driving the 2011 Hyundai strutted its stuff while I enjoyed the clear tones emanating from one of the four audio systems available with various features. There’s also an available HD radio that can be ordered in the top trim line. And no matter what trim level you select there are iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks in all of them.

Where previous versions of Sonata offered a 4-cylinder and a V6 the 2011 model has one – a 2.4L GDI DOHC 16-valve Inline 4-cylinder. Most customers ordered the 4-cylinder anyway so Hyundai made the new 4-cylinder a much-better powerplant and dropped the V6 altogether. I don’t think that was a bad decision. Unless you’re using jackrabbit starts at stop lights as training for this year’s Formula 1 Season you’ll have adequate power for whatever you’re doing with the Sonata.

Fuel economy is improved to the point that the manual transmission and the automatic both achieve 35 mpg on the highway. With gasoline prices predicted to rise again to over $4 per gallon, possibly this summer, this mileage achievement arrived in the nick of time and depending on how much driving is done the cost-savings along make Sonata an even better deal.

Though identified as a midsize sedan, the EPA classifies the interior in the “large” vehicle category. I’ve driven the Sonata with three large creatures (counting myself) inside – two in the front and one in the back – and all of us were more than comfortable with our stations in life. Legroom – both front and back – is more than sufficient. The only complaint I can find in the interior is the relative shortness of the front passenger and driver seat cushions. This was a common comment from my colleagues as well.

The interior is feature- and luxury-laden with standard equipment – too many to list here. The 2011 Sonata comes in three trim levels – GLS, SE and Limited. Other than the usual array of upscale and premium touches there’s nothing that goes wanting with either of the two lower trim levels. The standard sound system is obviously better on the Limited and some optional features are trim level-specific, as one would imagine. Sonata’s excellent instrumentation is also the same throughout the models. So are safety and security features – and they are numerous.

I like to watch other vehicles on the road to see if there’s a “gawk factor” associated with cars that I drive. I noticed it was very high in the new Sonata. A new, sleek design will usually do that for you. Not all the time, however. Once I was road-testing a new Maserati convertible with my buddy Ed, and after a while I said, “Ed, we’ve been driving this thing for 45 minutes in suburban traffic and nobody has looked at us.” Maybe two old guys like us shouldn’t be out in the open like we were but it says something when a Hyundai accrues more looks than a Maserati.

Hyundai has priced the Sonata at a great point. A base GLS starts at $19,915; an SE begins at $23,315 and a Limited has a base of $26,015 ($28,115 with the Navigation Package). Prices include destination and delivery charges. With a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty – coupled with 5-year unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan that adds up to a lot of security for every member of a family.

Base price: $19,915 - $28,115 

Engine:  2.4L DOHC CVVT 4-Cylinder

Horsepower: 190-200 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 184-186 pound-feet @ 4,2,50 rpm
Transmission:  Six-Speed Manual/Six-Speed Automatic w/OD and SHIFTRONIC

Seating: 5

Wheelbase:  110.0 inches

Length: 189.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,161 pounds (Manual); 3,316 pounds (Automatic)
EPA Cargo Volume:  16.4 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons 

EPA rating: City/Highway - 24/35 (Manual); 22/35 (Automatic)

0-60: About 8 seconds 

Also consider: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu

The Good:

• Great looks and lines of a vehicle three times its cost
• Comfort and standard accessories among the best in the industry

• Extremely quiet on the highway
• Luxury availability to rival a much more expensive import sedan
The Bad:

• Seat cushion could use some lengthening 

The Ugly:

• My driveway doesn’t have one sitting on it