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New Hyundai Sonata 2.0Turbo; Why would anyone want a V-6?

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2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0 Turbo

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

The SoCal weather is beautiful and I’m doing my navigational best to arrive at our destination as my buddy Jim puts his boot to every one of the 274 turbocharged horsepower available from Hyundai’s latest Sonata, the Sonata 2.0T.

Behind us is the ultra-forthcoming “buck stops here in the US,” president of Hyundai USA, John Krafcik. Furious fast fun, gleeful conversation and I can’t concentrate because the door trim is black. Huh? Black, as in Steinway grand piano lacquer, Michael Bublé’s tuxedo, or the Atacama desert at midnight.

Black that sparkles, glitters, and unwillingly drags me into comparisons with interiors from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. Yes, well-seated, comfortably seated in a modest car and I’m emotionally connected to top shelf, single barrel luxury cars costing far, far more than its $27,000 price tag.

This fourth generation Sonata was upgraded in model year 2009 to contend with scrappy competitors like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Ford’s Fusion in a feisty, important market segment. It’s an arena where public fist fights over miles per gallon, horsepower and torque, driving pleasure and cornering ability, even 0-60 times make for some bloody noses in manufacturer marketing departments.

Internationally and in the USA Sonata is a huge sales success so we asked John why would he mandate stuffing a turbocharged direct-injected I-4 into their premium performance Sonata instead of a husky V-6? After all, Sonata already had a 2.4-liter mill that cranked out a class leading 200 horsepower.

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First, let’s ask why a V-6? Larger engines produce more torque, the power that pushes you up the onramp and away from a stop light. More torque is the explanation for traditional engine upgrades from I-4 to V-6 (or V-6 to V-8), along with some “more of anything is better” logic. That was true when we hitched horses to a carriage but, unfortunately, more cylinders (or horses) consume more fuel.

With 35.5 mpg CAFE standards mandated for 2014 a more fuel efficient engine is a smart play; Krafcik says it was his decision that four-cylinder engines were the right engines for Sonata. The ace in his pocket was Dr. Donghee Han’s pursuit of a twin scroll turbocharged direct injected engine producing V-6 power with I-4 fuel economy. Its fuel economy target was a 15-20% improvement over a V-6 while delivering similar or better power.

Competitors like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima enhance their premium sedans with V-6 engines. Hyundai’s 2.0 turbo enhances Hyundai’s brand image with a more modern interpretation of power and prestige as its premium engine delivers more power—274-horsepower 269 pound feet of torque—along with an EPA rating of 33 mpg highway and 22 in the city.

Direct injected engines with turbochargers are not exclusive to Hyundai. Though more costly than conventional motors, particularly the necessity of expensive 6-hole injectors and the turbo itself, note that Audi, BMW, Nissan, Ford, and others use TGDI engines in their premium models. Experts agree, these small and powerful motors are the future.

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Hyundai’s unique contribution to the turbocharged, direct injected species is combining the manifold that conducts spent exhaust gas with the twin-scroll turbine housing and making the whole piece out of austenitic stainless steel. (The fact Hyundai owns its own steel company and has collaborative materials engineers onsite in the automotive technology center is an often overlooked asset.) This steel saves weight and allows 100°C higher operating temperatures compared to more conventional cast iron designs. Higher temperature operation capability means greater power can be produced by an engine. Simply put, this I-4 TGDI engine delivers V-6 performance and four cylinder economy. Expect similar engines in other top-of-the-line Hyundai’s, as well as competitive vehicles.

If your eyes glazed at the technical information, you only need know that the engine is a joy and responds to the your right foot with zero delay, feeling like a bigger engine with plenty of power.

And the fun does not stop with the engine, it continues with a six-speed automatic transmission that allows manual shifts at the gear selector lever, or using steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Where many “manual” automatics require moving the console shifter into another gate before manually selecting gears (as can be done on the 2.0T), manual shifts are available at the paddle shifters without selecting manual on the console.

For those who enjoy spirited driving, this is great and it is a standard 2.0T feature, not an extra cost option.

After a downshift from the paddle shifters you can upshift or let the transmission do it when you, as did we, forget. When engine demand stabilizes the transmission shifts back into its highest gear automatically. Hyundai says the gearbox is lighter, smaller, individually calibrated and filled with transmission fluid that is good for the life of the vehicle; there’s no transmission dip stick. We say have it checked in 3-5 years if you drive it hard and hot.

Hyundai will make this engine available on two of its Sonata models, the SE and Limited. How can you tell if the Sonata ahead might blow your doors off? If it’s a Limited, look for dual exhausts and 18” silver alloys, and of course some telltale badges.

We saved the very best for last. Starting price for the Sonata SE with the turbo is $24,865 including destination fee. The upmarket Sonata Limited 2.0T begins at $27,765.