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2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited Review (Updated)

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SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide 2000-2010

Updated Review and Weekly Road Test
Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

If you check archives you’ll find that I’ve already written about the new generation, 2011 Sonata. I attended the launch in San Diego in February and was as impressed as most of the assembled media. It earned excellent reviews there and has been selling well since. I just had the opportunity to spend a week with the car so I feel the need to update my initial review.

This happened to be the week of my grandson’s first birthday party in suburban Chicago so we made a good, 4-hour road trip with it. (Little Max is our first grandchild, so we couldn’t miss that party.) When we evaluate a car at a launch event we often get an overly rosy view with all the hype, specially prepared and selected cars and schmoozing. With the Sonata, though, I must say my original assessment of the car was accurate.

The new Sonata may be the best looking in its class - that is, mid-size, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger, main-stream sedans – think Fusion, Malibu, Camry, Accord, Altima and a dozen more. The new Suzuki Kizachi is as boldly styled and is in contention for that accolade as well, but the Sonata has a certain confidence in its modernity, in my view.

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The design jumped out at me as I came out of our little local theater at sunset and my Sonata test car was parallel parked in a line of other mainstream cars. It stood out from the others glowing in the evening sun. Most distinctively, the character line along the side of the car slopes dramatically upward toward the rear accentuating the swoopy lines of the front and rear fascias.

Inside, the materials, design, fit and finish are surprisingly good for a mainstream sedan. Though, with the new Malibu a couple of years ago, Chevy began to raise the bar for interior quality and design and Hyundai has no trouble keeping up. The leather seats are heavily stitched like more expensive cars. The shiny panels on this one were the “piano-black” style, both attractive and durable. The center stack is trimmed boldly as well as being functional.

I was happy to have the optional navigation system while passing through Chicago on a holiday weekend. With the XM NavTraffic® it showed exactly where the slowdowns and backups were. In Chicago, as you probably know, that’s important, though there’s usually not much you can do about it in terms of alternate routes, because there is usually congestion on all the freeways. The Navigation Package costs $2,100 extra and includes a 90-day trial of all the XM services. The tradeoff is that the Navigation hardware leaves no room for the 6-Disc CD changer, so that goes away.

Our test car is the top-of-the-line Limited model and shows a base price of $25,295. The Navigation Package, special floor mats and $720 freight and handling charge bring the total sticker to $28,215. You can get the entry level car with cloth interior, 16-inch wheels and a few less niceties, but still well-equipped, for just under $20,000. Only one engine is available in all models now but a turbo version is due later this year. No V6 is, or will be, available. You can get a six-speed automatic or a six-speed stick at the same price.

The reason no V6 is available is that in designing this all-new platform the smart engineers at Hyundai saved lots of money in the engine cradle and front structure. They preferred to put the resources into other content. Of course, the overwhelming trend now is to downsize powertrains.

This engine is a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder making just about 200 horsepower mated to the automatic transmission. You can’t necessarily count on better fuel mileage with the manual transmission anymore because of the efficiency of newly designed automatics. While I wouldn’t say there is plenty of power, it is perfectly adequate. If I were considering this car I would wait for the turbo. But, of course, I’m a performance kind of guy. Most drivers would be very happy with this standard powertrain. On hard acceleration it feels a tad buzzy, and if you don’t use the manual mode on the automatic transmission to downshift for a pass you’ll be annoyed by the slowness of the shift. Do the downshift yourself in anticipation and you’ll be happy with its competence.

Fuel mileage was great. Rated at 22-mpg in the city and 35 on the highway, I managed 38.9 on the highway coming back from Chicago. And, at the risk of incriminating myself, I’ll admit I averaged between 75 and 80-mph, flowing easily with traffic on I-94. My first reset of the onboard trip computer helped me measure some around town use (though for me around town is from my little town into my medium-sized town) and I got nearly 28-mpg. The whole week I averaged just about 34-mpg. Impressive!

Final assembly for the new Sonata is at the Montgomery, Alabama plant. US and Canadian parts content is less than half with many components shipped over from Korea. The Koreans, by the way, consider the US to be a low-labor-cost location. Styling and design work was done in Hyundai’s California studios.

Warranty covers the whole car for 5 years or 60,000 miles and the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

There is no question that each new version of a car beats the old by orders of magnitude. Nowhere is this more evident than with Hyundai and the new Sonata. Hyundai has a talent for offering cars that have as much or more content than its competitors for a lower price. Now they’re becoming known for style as well as content.

If I were buying a new car in this class the 2011 Sonata would be on my short list for sure.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved