More Expert Reviews
|2011 Hyundai Sonata
|2011 Hyundai Sonata SE Auto Specs
By Anson Tse
- Gutsy 4-cylinder with V6 power
- Lots of value for the money
- Huge interior space
- Styling has a bit too much going on
- Navigation system could be improved
- Missing a V6 option
Hyundai continues to improve its product line up in the US by leaps and bounds. Typically it takes an automaker several generations to make some serious headway in to the US market and Hyundai has been at it for over 20 years. However, the latest generation of products that have come from Hyundai are homegrown–designed in California and built in Bama. The Hyundai Sonata has been getting progressively larger just like the average American. Is this another Korean game changer?
The Sonata is a family sedan that comes very well equipped with features that you’d expect on a luxury sedan. The interior has a slightly high class look to it. For example, the push button keyless ignition system is the first thing that you’ll encounter when you get in the car. No need to take your keys out of your pocket or purse. Just put your foot on the brake, hit the big button on the dash and the engine fires up. No V6 under this hood, although you might not miss it either. Instead you get a direct-injection 4-cylinder engine which generates 198 HP and 186 lb-ft of torque. This engine is a pretty smooth operator and power delivery is excellent for a 4-cylinder and comes close to matching a V6’s power just a few years back. A 6-speed automatic is paired up with this engine which makes for a perfectly matched combo. The result is a refined powertrain and many passengers will not initially realize that there are a few cylinders missing.
The Sonata handles well and feels light on its feet. It should since the Sonata is the lightest vehicle in its class tipping the scales at around 3200 pounds. The 2.4L four cylinder engine minimizes the weight over the front axle compared the additional heft of a V6. The electric power steering allows a high amount of power steering boost at low speeds and makes the car feel easy to drive. The Sonata SE doesn’t quite handle as well as a Mazda 6, but it is better than a Toyota Camry. That’s not a huge achievement since the Camry has never been known for its handling prowess anyways. The test vehicle that I drove was a Sonata SE which included power seats, 18 inch wheels and more aggressive tires, stiffer springs and roll bars, and a dual exhaust which adds 2 extra horsepower, totaling to 200 HP.
In the styling department, the Sonata seems to take some styling cues from Mercedes and Toyota. The design aesthetic is a bit busy with extra details on along the top of the hood into the grille as well as the sides of the hood by the fenders converging to a point in front of the bumper. The front of the vehicle really seems a bit overdone, while the rear and sides look fairly attractive. In my opinion, Hyundai got this 85% right, but there are a couple details that just don’t look right.
Hyundai was able to make the new Sonata lighter than the outgoing model despite the fact that the new version is quite a bit larger than the previous version. Extensive use of ultra high strength steel has increased the torsional stiffness of the vehicle while shedding extra weight and improving safety. The body structure felt stiff with no apparent body flex although normal road conditions in northern California didn’t permit me to subject the vehicle to more challenging situations. The doors feel very light weight and don’t shut with the same solid quality found on European vehicles. However, that shouldn’t present a big safety concern since the Sonata has earned top ratings from the IIHS for their battery of crash tests.
The choice of interior materials is pretty good for a family sedan. The quality and texture of the plastics is well done. The fit and finish inside is high quality with no squeaks and rattles and good isolation from wind noise and outside elements. One thing to note is that the cloth used on the seats strikes me as being a bit low grade.
Fit and finish of exterior body panels was excellent, although I was totally unimpressed by the paint quality on the sides of the car. There was a fair amount visual roughness in the paint, commonly referred to as “orange peel” derived from the surface of an orange. I bring this up because Hyundai is running TV commercials about how great the paint job is on the new Sonata and how it’s better than the Mercedes CLS. Vertical surfaces are very difficult to get a good smooth paint finish for high volume vehicles and it appears that the finish on the Sonata is no better than average. I’m not even sure why Hyundai decided to brag about this since there are far more important things consumers in this segment care about. I wouldn’t have even brought this point up if I hadn’t seen these commercials on TV.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The new Sonata has a cavernous interior which is the biggest mid-size interior for a vehicle in this class. There’s ample amount of rear seat space to seat a total of 5 adults comfortably and their luggage. For front seat passengers there is plenty of leg room and storage space in the center console below the radio and underneath the arm rest. The Sonata SE comes standard with cloth seats, the next trim level has leather seats as standard and I think that would really upgrade the already nice visual appeal of the interior.
All the gauges are backlit in blue hue and the controls are located in positions that are easy to locate and make sense. Hyundai chose to layout the climate control in the form of a human which makes sense, although I’m not sure how long this aesthetic treatment for a climate control interface will really last.
The Sonata that I tested had the $2600 navigation system and power sunroof. The navigation system is a touch screen display that features XM® NavTraffic which displays real time traffic from XM® Satellite Radio. The radio has a 6 disc changer and is capable of receiving HD radio. The navigation system includes an external amplifier and subwoofer. This system works well and is what you’d get in a luxury sedan costing a lot more than the Sonata. However, I didn’t find the system as intuitive as some other systems and there are lots of buttons to press in addition to using the touchscreen. The touchscreen itself didn’t seem to be as sensitive as it should be and re-centering the map seemed counter intuitive — you have to touch the area that you want to be the new center of the map. This is a problem if that new area is not on the map. I also found that the nice lady’s voice isn’t as clear as it could be when giving me route guidance. Optional cables provide for the connection of a USB jack or iPod to the radio and control the playlist using the vehicles controls.
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