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2011 Hyundai Sonata

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.5

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HYUNDAI's ANSWER TO CAMRY'S GAS PEDAL WOE'S


by bigtruckseries:      Mar 5, 2010 - Updated Feb 5, 2011


Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Attractive inside and out.  Competitively priced.
Cons: Look, but, don't touch those cheap plastic parts. Unpowered passenger seat. Smaller than Camry inside.
The Bottom Line: The 2011 Sonata is coming to pick up where the Toyota Camry left off. Though Camry is larger, this car definitely makes waves in this segment.


As I explained in my review of the Hyundai Genesis and the Genesis coupe,  Hyundai is definitely doing plenty of things right  in terms of putting “brand name equity” in their latest line of automobiles.
Not too long ago, I considered anything branded Hyundai a joke not even worth looking at based on negative owner comments and equally negative critic reviews.  Now, Hyundai has challenged my prejudices by producing lower-level cars that offer either just as much, or more technology and luxury than cars in their  segment.
 
GENESIS  http://www.epinions.com/content_438811790980

COUPE  http://www.epinions.com/content_471885909636

The 2011 Sonata might just be the most attractive car to ever come out of their factories.  But, that’s not to hard to accomplish since it borrows many of its design cues from the Mercedes Benz CLS ‘ “4-door coupe” concept. Up front, that’s almost exactly what it looks like,  with very pronounced, serpentine grill and light fixtures, while out back it looks more like a Lexus IS (to me anyway).

I’m not a fan of huge “gillete razor” style grills such as that on the last generation of Fords. This car has one and to me its ugly due to the “H” logo on the center.  This is a cosmetic opinion  and I’m sure an aftermarket manufacturer will have optional grills for the car that you can buy if you want one.  Otherwise, the car has very aggressive, very sporty looks.
 
If you are going for the cheapest base model (I’ll discuss pricing later), the car only comes with 16” wheels which don’t hide the darkness of the wheel wells. If you care about such things,  and can afford to spend a little more, there is a package that adds attractive 18” wheels to fill those ugly gaps.
 

INTERIOR
 
I was disappointed with Hyundai for copying major elements of the S550’s interior into the Genesis. Fortunately, plagiarism aside, the Genesis featured some excellent design with higher quality fit and finish than I’d ever expect to come in a car so relatively inexpensive.  The outgoing Sonata’s interior design wasn’t bad either  with a clean design not unlike the currently damned Camry and less cluttered than the current Accord.
 
The 2011 Sonata improves upon the design of the outgoing Sonata in virtually every way by using materials as high in quality as those in the Genesis, tightening up panel and button gaps and managing to look far more upscale than you’d expect from a car that starts in the $22,000 range. There are chrome trims on the exterior to establish a beltline and solar control glass to reduce the amount of UV penetration into the cabin.

Unfortunately, most of this "luxury" is appearance only.
Touching the materials produces the feeling of unyielding hardness. Once Hyundai is able to get leather stitched surfaces or use more soft touch material, then and only then will it graduate to the entry-luxury level.  The plastic fantastic interior doesn’t have to be a bad thing however… its easy to keep clean.

The steering wheel is one of the most attractive steering wheel’s I’ve seen in a car yet,  clearly placing radio buttons, cruise control buttons and hands free phone buttons in specific quadrants which makes them easy to learn and easy to use.  It feels great in the hands, with soft material where you need it, and plastic only where the buttons are.  Even the base models include the steering wheel controls.
 
The Driver’s information display perfectly makes use of the space afforded it with a 3 section information center. The first is your Speedometer with a digital LCD fuel meter and gear selection display; the second is your Tachometer with a digital LCD engine thermometer, while the center LCD panel shows your Odometer and  trip computer as well as “miles to empty”.
 
The center console features either a decent AM/Fm radio with MP3 capable CD player, HD radio receiver and Bluetooth,  or the premium upgrade that gives you a Navigation system.  The Navigation system upgrades your speakers  to an Infinity sound system with a powered subwoofer and gives you XM Nav-traffic/  Nav-Weather  for traffic avoidance  so long as you subscribe to XM radio. (A 90-day trial subscription is included when you purchase the car).

Fortunately, standard entertainment features include both a line-in jack and a USB connection. That means you can charge/play music from your iPod/Zune/iPhone/etc. The Navigation system looks exactly like what you’d find in an Infiniti/Nissan due to its placement high in the center stack. Frankly, I’m disappointed with Hyundai for going this "plagiarism" route  even though it is easy to use.  Fortunately it does include a backup camera to help you pull into a parking space since the coupe-like roof can obscure visibility.
 
The 2011 Sonata moves the gear shift lever closer to the driver by taking away the parking handbrake and making it a foot operated pedal. In the center armrest area, we return to regular looking plastic spaces though. In more expensive models, there are sliding covers for the cup spaces, but not if you get the base model.
 
The last thing I will say is that, I’d have liked Hyundai to have kept the LCD display for the HVAC system of the outgoing model instead of placing a plastic human figure on the HVAC section to symbolize the direction of air flow.  It looks weird. 


INTERIOR SPACE
 
As far as I’m concerned, the Toyota Camry still holds the crown for interior space in this segment. Neither Ford’s Fusion, the Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord or this car can touch it. The 2011 Sonata’s coupe-like roofline decreases headroom in both the front and the rear. It also makes getting into the rear slightly interesting for the taller among us. Of course, if you are a taller person, you aren’t going to like it back here very much since there’s not much space leftover behind the driver’s seat, unless you have a very short driver with the seat moved way up front.
 
The “5th seat” is not very wide either.  Therefore, regardless what they say, I believe this car is for 4 passengers only, unless the 5th passenger is no bigger than a 3 foot tall kid. That is, unless you have 2 small children and a car seat in the center.  Its definitely not something I could see 5 adults carpooling in.
 
I also would have preferred Hyundai left the gear shift in the centerline and placed the heated seat buttons for the driver and passenger on either side of it. Moving it closer to the driver takes away some leg space.
 
Trunk space is far more generous. Every single one of these coupe rooflined cars I've been in seems to offers excellent trunk space due to the sloping rear forcing the back of the car to be elongated. You could get plenty of Walmart items in the trunk or even golf bags. Official estimates are approximately 16.4cu ft.



TRIMS
 
Hyundai offers 3 different versions of this car: GLS, SE and LIMITED.
 
The GLS starts at  roughly  $20,000.  For this price, you get  the 190HP I4 with a standard manual transmission that is upgradeable  to automatic for $1000.  For another $750 the driver’s seat gets power movement/lumbar, while the door handles get chromed and your ugly steel wheels are upgraded to 16” alloys.   Fortunately, you can add yet another $1700 to upgrade your AM/FM/CD player radio to Navigation. Typically, Navigation systems aren’t available on base trims (Good job Hyundai !)
 
The  $23,000 SE offers the 200HP version of the 2.4L engine  and upgrades those wheels to 17” alloys. The Navigation package gets increased to $2600 but, includes a moonroof. The powered driver's seat and chrome trim upgrades are also included. The SE also includes fantastic features such as wireless proximity Key chains with remote start and paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.  SE models include a dual exhaust which adds the 2HP.
 
The $26,000 Limited offers you roughly everything you’d get in the SE, with the addition of attractive 18” wheels to properly fill those wheel wells and fully leather seats, rather than the mixed leather cloth of the previous models.  Navigation is $2100 extra if you want it.
 
An Ipod interface cable is roughly $35 and a Homelink rear view mirror with a digital compass and garage door buttons is about $250 but most dealers will already have them factored in.

The 2011 Sonata is also the first in class to offer rear heated seats. (optional on GLS and SE, standard on LIMITED)
 
The sticker price of the Limited model (without Navigation) that I saw was  $26,200. The EPA estimates that this car gets 22mpg CITY and 35mpg Highway.  That’s actually pretty impressive and I’m sure those with tight fuel budgets will look at this in admiration.  A fully loaded Sonata will bring you to roughly $28,000 which seems to be the going rate for a car in this segment with moonroof and Navigation. (I can’t buy a car without them).



DRIVING IMPRESSIONS
 
The 2011 Sonata’s only available engines are Inline 4’s.  There is a 198HP direct injection engine  for the base models with a 200HP version available in the “SE”  (not really a big difference right?).
 
Fortunately, the Sonata isn’t as heavy as many cars in its class. Compared to the I4 versions of the 3342lb Fusion, the 3307lb Camry and the 3408lb Accord, the 3316lb Sonata’s  I4 gives it a competitive power to weight ratio.  It simply doesn’t “feel” slow. In fact, at relatively low revs  (below 4500rpm), the car manages to offer plenty of thrust for highway entrance  and passing. It becomes obvious while you are driving that the transmission is steadily doing its best to keep power delivery constant. It manages to do an almost flawless job. Definitely on par with what I experienced in the Genesis.
 
Steering manages to be much more engaging than that in the Accord and the Camry.  Lets face it: driving a Camry is like loading up on sleeping pills. As I mentioned, I loved the design of the wheel and the weight behind it feels perfect for this size car. In fact, I can say with confidence that steering feel borders on par with that of a small European car.  This car can be taken through curves with very little body roll.  You won't mistake this for a sports car but it does what it does pretty well.

Its even quieter than most cars I’ve driven in. Like the Genesis, Hyundai has stuffed this car with noise reduction foam.  Even at 55 mph, its very quiet.
 
The road isolation is also pretty good. Going over all but speed bumps never produces strong jarring. You get more isolation with 16” wheels than the 18"s, but the 17"s are probably the way to go for those of you who want to balance style with ride comfort.
 
A properly developed direct injection V6 would have given this car an awesome sense of overwhelming power if one had been offered. 
Fortunately, Hyundai claims there is a turbo engine on its way - probably the same engine from the Genesis Coupe. If and when that does happen, this car just might be the most desirable in the segment.

0 - 60 in the SE takes roughly 8 seconds. Take off power is decent, but the car is really geared more towards low end torque. fortunately,  stopping distance is good and the brakes feel responsive enough to inspire confidence in Sonata's safety.



WHAT I DID NOT LIKE
 
The “supervision” information cluster looks fantastic, but for some reason, I prefer to see an analog fuel  meter  rather than digital.  What really would have made the guage cluster awesome is if Hyundai implemented a fuel economy color scheme where the gauges display is blue while driving conservatively, but changes to Yellow and then Red signifying aggressive driving and lower fuel economy.  It would be more subtle than Ford’s LCD ecometer and would be very appropriate here.
 
Gooseneck hinges in the Trunk?  Really?  You mean to tell me car makers are still using those?
 
Pricing of the Navigation system could have been a little cheaper.   If Hyundai could somehow drop $2000 off of a loaded Sonata, this car would be a bang out deal.  As it is, the base version of this car as well as the loaded versions are still slightly cheaper than the equivalent Camry.

Why is it that you can't get all of the luxury features on either the SE or the Limited?   The Limited comes with a single exhaust pipe but the SE comes with dual exhaust pipes.  Manuals are only optional on the base model. The Infinity sound system is standard on the Limited but isn't optional for the SE. The SE and GLS only get an optional Dimension system with less watts than the Infiniti.  If i wanted to get a Sonata completely loaded, I should be able to get every single feature I'm willing to pay for. 
 
The most glaring absence is that there isn't an option for a powered Passenger seat.  Why?



WHO SHOULD BUY THIS CAR
 
With Toyota currently suffering from gas pedal recalls and some dealers unable to even show you a Camry, the Sonata just might be the answer to the prayers of anyone searching for a car in this segment.  With prices ranging in between $20,000 and $28,000, this car has plenty to offer people who need a car but want something that looks upscale and feels exciting.  Its almost perfect for anyone whose shopping in this segment.  In fact, I have an in-law who needs to replace her beat up old Camry with something newer to drive to work in and despite her infatuation with Camry, even she was interested in what she'd seen of this car. 
   
As I stated, I’d really like to see the turbo version. Hyundai could really turn heads if they took the same Brembo brakes they have on their Genesis Coupe, tossed em’ onto this model and produced a “limited edition super sport”.  More power would make this car perfect.
 
This car is definitely not for the brand name conscious or the power hungry. It looks upscale outside, looks attractive inside, and will get you from point A to point B. But, there are some people who refuse to go for anything not-Camry and anything  not-Honda. Hyundai does have some excellent buyer assurances such as the sticker’s:  
5-year/ 60,000 mile  new vehicle warranty;  10- year/ 100,000 mile powertrain warranty;  5-year/ unlimited mile  roadside warranty;  and a 7 year/ unlimited mile anti-perforation warranty.
   
I don’t see myself ever in the market for a car with an I4 in it, nor a car this size. But, if I was, I personally could see myself driving this car on a daily basis. In that respect, once again, Hyundai has challenged my prejudices of its vehicles and come out a winner.



OTHER CARS LIKE THIS:

Honda Accord   http://www.epinions.com/content_496249507460


Honda Accord Coupe  http://www.epinions.com/content_447442292356
  

Honda Accord Crosstour   http://www.epinions.com/content_496249507460
 
Chevrolet Camaro  http://www.epinions.com/content_479981309572

Chevrolet Malibu  http://www.epinions.com/content_412862549636

Ford Focus  http://www.epinions.com/content_408875994756

Ford Fusion HYBRID  http://www.epinions.com/content_473714232964

Amount Paid (US$): 28,000
Model and Options: Limited
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
Roominess:  
Build Quality  
Seat Comfort:  

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