It’s been said that it costs the same amount of money to create and build an ugly car as it does to produce a beautiful one and certainly Hyundai designers have taken it to heart (unfortunately somebody forgot to memo Citroen). In a world of bland econoboxes that can barely register a pulse, let alone raise it to excitement levels, Hyundai are doing their bit to clean up the automotive landscape.
Probably the hottest car company around right now is Hyundai, with last year’s launch of the amazing Genesis Coupe (my favourite sports car of 2010) and the Genesis sedan, then along came the Sonata and Tucson, followed by the 2012 Equus & Elantra … and there’s the soon to be released Azera – can they do no wrong?
From the moment I saw the Sonata at the International Auto Show in Toronto I’d been itching to drive one. I had to wait until late in the year to get the keys because I had scheduled a summer of sports cars and convertibles to keep me amused – priorities and all that – you understand, right? As it turns out, before I got to publish this road test, I also had the opportunity to get a hold of the Sonata 2.0T model for a week, so I’ve actually combined both models in this review – a two-for-one if you will.. and I’ll differentiate them by the 2.0T where any significant changes occur.
Prior to getting the keys to the Sonata I had the opportunity to drive three of its major competitors – the Mazda6, Ford Fusion and the Suzuki Kizashi. I’ve driven the Toyota Camry a couple of times, so other than the Nissan Altima and Maxima I’ve pretty much driven the key players in the mid-size four-door sedan segment (I haven’t driven the Honda Accord because.. if there’s a good excuse not to be bored to death behind the wheel of a car that’s the route I prefer to take).
So how does the Sonata stack up against the rest of the competition?
On looks alone I’d say it’s at the top. This has to be the best looking mid-sized car at any price point. From the pointed nose to the coupe-like silhouette to the shapely rear end, there are no bad points or unattractive bits to this car. Some people have said that it’s a copy of the VW Passat CC, but that would be doing it a grave injustice. I pulled up behind a CC one day and took a good look at it – have you had a look at the back end? It looks like a pigs ass, all big and round and the ugliest set of taillights since the last ugly taillights VW put on a car. The front end is not unattractive, but it won’t win any awards for beauty – so I have to ask, which parts of the design did Hyundai “steal” from VW? None! Thank goodness!
Inside, the Sonata continues its classy look. All the plastics are of high quality with the lines and panels flowing naturally – even the colours and contrasting treatments flow nicely. While I’m no fan of “camel” coloured leather – it works exceptionally well in this car. I really like the continuity of carrying the colour on to the steering wheel and bringing all of the interior elements together. All too often you see a hodgepodge of colours and materials making you wonder if the interior was designed by a committee of kindergarteners instead of an artist. This interior wouldn’t look out of place in a Lexus and I certainly prefer it to a number of BMW’s I’ve driven lately.
Usually the big disappointment at this point would be the driver’s seat, but again Hyundai have done a superb job. The seat is perfectly bolstered and comfortable even without the use of the lumbar, but the lumbar adjustment makes it even better. Once set, I didn’t have to adjust it again – that’s the best praise I can give a seat.
The steering wheel is just the right size and all the HVAC and audio controls are perfectly placed and easy to adjust at a glance. Once I’d set the mirrors up, I was off into traffic in a heartbeat. One thing about driving a different car every week is that you have to continually adapt and get used to a car’s personality before you get comfortable enough with it to toss it around and drive like a mad-man. Not so with the Sonata.. within seconds of getting behind the wheel I was terrorizing the brain-dead commuters of Toronto. Just kidding!
But seriously, it felt like I’d driven this car for months – that’s how comfortable and familiar this car is. My wife said the same thing when she drove it the next day. The steering is perfectly weighted – nice and light for slow speeds such as a parking lot and heavier when you get into higher motorway speeds. It’s one of the easiest cars to park thanks to the light steering and the tight turning radius. Again, it’s one of those adjustment things when using different cars all the time – sometimes you over-shoot a spot or have to take a couple of attempts to get into a parking spot because every car is different, but the Sonata doesn’t give you any surprises.
Whether it’s leaving everyone behind at the traffic lights or entering the motorway on-ramp, the Sonata has more than enough power under the right foot to satisfy just about anyone. I wasn’t sure if Hyundai were too clever by only offering the Sonata with a 4-cylinder engine while all the competitors have an option of a V-6, but after a few minutes behind the wheel I fully agree with their decision. Propelling the Sonata is the revolutionary Theta II 2.4L 4-cylinder GDI engine. GDI stands for Gasoline Direct-Injection – a fuel delivery system that allows for greater control of the fuel mixture, resulting in best-in-class fuel economy while delivering increased and best-in-class 198 horsepower. [2.0T gets a turbocharged version of the engine with a whopping 274 hp]. Press the pedal and there’s no hesitation – you’re off! The 6-speed Shiftronic automatic is completely seamless and very responsive. I kept reaching for paddle-shifters that sadly weren’t there to increase my fun quota – this car just screams out for the driver to enjoy it and push the limits. Unfortunately, you have to step up to the turbo version in order to get the paddle shifters, but that said, the usual shifter is perfectly located right where your right hand can grab it and switch it into sport mode – something I used continually throughout the week, and I don’t recall ever using that feature on any similarly equipped vehicles in the past. 2.0T – the paddle-shifters were fun to use, but I think it was more fun using the regular shifter – believe it or not. The regular Sonata was fast, but the Turbo version was a rocket ship! Drive with one hand on the steering wheel at your peril! Incidentally, the 2.0T had a slower 0-100 km/h time of 7.9 seconds, compared to the regular versions 7.5 seconds. It was simply a matter of the turbo taking longer spool up and to get up to speed, but beyond 100 km it just took off.
Just as important as going fast – is stopping – and the Sonata does a great job of bring the car to a halt. The brake pedal is nicely balanced and easy to modulate making it easy to bring the car to a stop quickly and smoothly. In addition to ABS, the Sonata also comes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control System (TCS) as standard across the range. Other safety features include Dual Front and Front Seat-mounted side-impact airbags, Side Curtain Airbags (front & back) as well as Front Active Head Restraints. These safety features are standard on all 2011 Hyundai Sonata’s.
The 2011 Sonata has been awarded an overall 5-Star crash test safety rating by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program (www.SaferCar.gov). The Sonata was one of only two models to earn the prestigious rating under the agency’s New Car Assessment Program, which involves more rigorous 2011 testing procedures.
Storage in the Sonata is very good. The useful door pockets incorporate a bottle holder and there’s a two-stage centre armrest console between the front seats that is quite large as well as a nice sized covered cubby below the HVAC controls, with the Aux/USB plugs and power outlets below that. The glove box is an average size, which means once you’ve crammed the monstrous owner’s manual in there, there isn’t much room for anything else.
Rear seat accommodation is superb to say the least. There’s plenty of leg and knee room and the seat angle is very comfortable. Getting in and out is very easy when you consider the sharp slope of the roof. Very tall passengers may brush against the headliner if sitting in the back, but I’d say they would have to be NBA basketball players to be effected. There is a wide armrest that folds down and provides passengers with cup holders and the rear seat folds 60/40 for added cargo capacity. The hole created when the seats are folded forward isn’t the biggest I’ve ever seen, but it is certainly useful – especially considering a lot of cars don’t even offer this feature. One surprising feature was that the rear seats are heated in addition to the front – that’s a true luxury touch in a vehicle of this stature.
One rather odd anomaly I found with the Sonata was with regards to the fuel gauge (it has little lit bars, not a needle). When I picked it up at Hyundai, the gauge read that I only had ¾ of a tank of fuel. In order to get an accurate fuel reading it needs to start and end full, so off I went to the gas station. Nine litres later and the tank is full. By the time I got home I’d travelled 100 kilometres and the gauge was back to ¾ full. Perfect, I’ll fill it up before I return the car and drop it off with the tank at the same level I got it. So 75 kms into my return journey and the gauge hasn’t moved – at the 85 km mark the bar disappears and I’m getting closer to the targeted level. I had to make a quick lane change and using the Shiftronic automatic, I gear down twice and boot the gas pedal. Returning the selector to drive, I notice the fuel gauge is now at the full mark!! By the time I reach Hyundai the tank is still showing full even though I’ve driven a total of 95 kilometres.
The Dimension audio system in the Sonata is terrific and much better than I’d anticipated. Along with the usual AM/FM/XM/6-CD/MP3 unit you get 7 speakers and an external Amplifier, as well as an Aux and USB input jack. The plugs are right below the heating/AC buttons which I really like – I hate having to scramble in the armrest to change out my jump drives while driving. There are also 2 power outlets conveniently placed beside the jacks for charging a phone and your mp3 player at the same time. The sound is crystal clear with just the right amount of base to keep me happy. The steering wheel controls are nice and easy to operate with the buttons right where your fingers land intuitively. 2.0T – the stereo kept randomly changing between the USB and the radio. Without warning it would go back and forth between them and then it would just change to the next song in the jump drive. Sometimes it would even change the radio station too. VERY strange! The SatNav was as good and had the added bonus of a backup camera.
The 2011 Sonata comes in four models starting with the GL (base) model at $22,649 Cdn. The long list of standard features includes: 6-Speed Manual Transmission; Keyless Entry/Security Alarm System; AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 Audio with 6 Speakers; Air Conditioning; Power Windows and Door Locks; Cruise Control; Trip Computer; Tilt & Telescoping Steering Wheel; Steering Wheel Audio Remote Control; iPod and USB/Aux. Audio Input; Bluetooth® Hands-Free Phone System; Power Heated Mirrors; 16” Steel Wheels with Covers
GLS ($26,249) adds: 6-Speed Automatic Transmission; Power Driver’s Seat; Heated Front Seats; 16” Alloy Wheels; Fog Lights; Power Sunroof; Front Windshield Wiper De-Icer.
Limited ($28,999) adds: Dimension AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 Stereo with 7 speakers and external Amplifier; Heated rear Seats; Leather Seating; Heated rear Seats; Dual Zone Automatic Climate Control and Air Quality Control System; 17” Alloy Wheels; Side Repeater Mirror.
Limited Nav ($30,999) adds: Proximity Entry with Electric Push Button Start; Navigation System with High-Resolution Touch Screen Display and Voice Commands and a Backup Camera.
2.0T ($28,999), AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 Audio System with 6 Speakers, 18” Alloy Wheels, Front Windshield Wiper Deicer, Fog Lights, Power Sunroof, Side Repeater Mirror.
2.0T Limited ($31,749) adds: Dual-Zone Automatic Climate Control, AM/FM/XM/6 CD Changer/MP3 Audio System with 7 Speakers & External Amplifier, Proximity Entry with Electric Push Button Start, Leather Seating, Heated Rear Seats.
2.0T Limited Nav ($33,499) adds: AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 Audio System with 7 Speakers, External Amplifier, High-resolution Touch Screen Navigation System, Back-up Camera.
What a car! There is no doubt this is the new car to beat in the all-important 4-door mid-sized sedan category. It does so many things well that you wonder why so many other cars in the luxury category can’t emulate it – especially since they cost in some cases tens of thousands of dollars more than the Sonata. Power is plentiful and instantaneous, so Hyundai has proven that there is absolutely no need to have a 6-cylinder engine in a car in this segment. If more power is needed then get the turbo version and in that instance, Hyundai have gone better again because it runs on regular fuel – none of this over-priced super unleaded business. I would buy this car with my own money if I were in the market for a 4-door car, and I’d recommend the regular version over the turbo version – because the turbo is just sooo much more powerful you’ll either lose your license within a month or you’ll wrap yourself around a tree – seriously. Normally I wouldn’t ever say a car has too much power, but the turbo is bordering on insane.
Mid-size on the outside, full-size on the inside – what’s not to love about that?
Only comes one way – loaded
Fabulous 6-speed automatic transmission with a very useful sport feature
A blast to drive
Awesome stereo system
There’s a Turbo version available for even more power..
.. and a hybrid for even better fuel economy
The power door lock button doesn’t light up
Unfortunately you have to go with the base model to get the manual transmission
Paddle-shift transmission is only available with the turbo version
Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Mitsubishi Gallant, Nissan Altima/Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Suzuki Kizashi, Toyota Camry
By The Numbers…
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.
For more information visit: www.hyundaicanada.com
Powertrain: 2.4L 16-valve DOHC I4 Engine with Dual CVVT & Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI); 6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC; FWD
Horsepower: 198 @ 6,300 rpm // 2.0T – 274 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque lb-ft: 184 @ 4,200 rpm // 2.0T – 269 @ 1,800- 4,500 rpm
0-100 kph: 7.5 seconds // 2.0T – 7.9 seconds
Wheelbase: 2,795 mm
Curb Weight: 1, 454 – 1,507 kg (3,205 – 3,322 lbs) // 2.0T – 1,517 – 1,569 kg
Cargo Capacity: 464 litres (16.4 cu.ft)
Towing capacity: N/A
Fuel Consumption: (Regular / 87 Octane)
City: 9.4 L/100 kms // Highway: 5.7 L/100 kms // Combined: 7.7 L/100 kms
I averaged 9.5L/100 kms during pretty aggressive driving
2.0T – City: 9.3 L/100 kms // Highway: 6.0 L/100 kms // Combined: 7.8 L/100 kms
I averaged 8.0 L/100 kms during pretty aggressive driving and a lot of highway driving.
Pricing for the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited ($ Cdn)
Base Price/ As Tested: $28,999
Destination & Delivery: $1,565
Pricing for the 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T ($ Cdn)
Base Price: $28,999
As Tested: $33,499 – Limited w/Navigation
Destination & Delivery: $1,565
Comprehensive Limited, Powertrain & Basic Emissions – 5 yrs/100,000 km. Major Emissions – 8 years/130,000 kms. Road Side assistance – 3 years/unlimited kms
Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland