2011 Hyundai Sonata Review – That's when I fell for the Leader of the Pack

Expert Reviews Hyundai

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?

2011 Hyundai Sonata

Driving Impressions

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.

2011 Hyundai Sonata


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.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

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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  • Derek says:

    Environmentally conscious Hyundai lovers should be happy with the MSRP of the Sonata Hybrid. Pricing for the Hybrid starts at under $26,000. This makes it competitive within its peer group ($2500 cheaper than the Ford Fusion Hybrid and cheaper than the Camry Hybrid that has fewer standard features).

  • Derek says:

    Biased in what way? Everyone has their personal preferences, but is that significantly skewing his review?

    BTW, the photos were take by me. Broken down buildings in the background are meant to juxtapose with the subject which is shiny and new. Plus, the lighting was better since it out of the direct sunlight.

  • hy says:

    The reviewer seems a bit bised. Not only in writting but he takes pictures in front of broken buildings. Is the place appropriate for showing a new car for a review?

  • derek says:

    You might like this economic price/power comparison since the Sonata will be offered with a 274 hp 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.

    Hyundai Sonata $/HP is 16.55. The closest competitors are the VW CC and Buick LaCrosse at 16.13 and 16.48 respectively. The worst of the bunch are the Chevy Impala and BMW 5-series.


  • KB says:

    Researched many cars and then drove just as many if not more cars. High end, low end, coupes, convertibles, sedans and you name it. Been an Audi kind of person for many years. needed a change … Green? Performance? Luxury? Efficient? Hybrid?…

    Well just picked up a 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE. Lets just say in the short term assessment of the first week the Sonata has added up to the hype so far.

    From its aerodynamic looks, its ergonomics and comfort, it fuel efficiency and performance to its cost. The vehicle is quite impressive! Not an Audi of course but what one gets is quite the nice all around complete vehicle package.

    My profession is that of a test pilot and with that lets just say I have for the many years grown to appreciate the details and quality associated to well designed and engineered products. So I hope this tangent to test out Korean engineering will bring me the kind of satisfaction I have had for many years with the German engineered product lines.

    Hyundai, again so far impressive!

  • stephen says:

    Hyundai sonata is good car. in really I’ve driven it it is very amazing.

  • Derek says:

    @Francios – Hyundai is adding turbocharged and hybrid versions. The turbocharged 4-cylinder option will cover those who seek V6 power, but not the lower fuel economy.

    Hyundai said the turbocharged, direct-injection engine will deliver 274 horsepower and achieve city/highway fuel economy of 22/33 miles per gallon. Pricing starts at $24,145, but that does not include a $720 destination charge.

  • Derek says:

    Recall Alert: Hyundai Recalls Nearly 140,000 Sonatas for Steering Problem

    Hyundai announced that it is recalling nearly 140,000 2011 model year Sonata sedans due to a potential steering issue. According to the NHTSA, Hyundai will recall 139,500 Sonatas built between December 11, 2009 through September 10, 2010. The problem? An improperly assembled or insufficiently tightened component on the steering column. If the component gives way, the driver of a Sonata could loose steering control either partially or entirely, which could obviously result in a crash.

  • jonny says:

    Just bought a 2011 Sonata today. Take note Honda. I have been a loyal to the Honda marque for nearly 20 years. I replaced two transmissions in my Odyssey prior to the one I have now. I bought my first auto Accord a V6 EX in 2004 and cared for it beyond the recommended intervals but last night my trans went at 137K. I asked the dealer if I could get a concession from the rep and he said doubtful. So, I paid him for the diagnostic work and traded the undriveable Honda for a new Hyundai.

    Honda: You make a great engine and suspension. But if you’re going to make auto transmissions that cost a fortune to replace and don’t last, you’d better go back to making cars where the clutch is cheaper to replace or I’m not buying them anymore.

    So far I like the Hyundai just fine. The 4 cyl has more guts than the Accord and it shifts more smoothly. Honda again: direct injection. Get some!

  • stephanielarry says:

    But the latest generation of products from Hyundai is home design in California and built in BAMA.

  • fcebedo says:

    >> Funny how the author of this piece, strugling to find something negative to say, puts under Pro’s…”Gutsy 4 cyl with V6 power” then under con’s…puts down, “missing a V6 option”

    Very astute comment. However, I there is a point to be made here in that a lot of buyers will eliminate this car from consideration because it doesn’t have that item in the checklist…”must have V6″

  • Bartman says:

    We went out to look for fuel economy and styling and looked at Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Camry and even peeked at the Malibu. On a mission to look at everything “out there” we stopped at the Hyundai dealer in north Edmonton. We were looking at the Tuscon when my wife looked over the Sonata and went over for a closer look.

    The test drive, the top to bottom – front to read examination I did and what a car I found. We honed in on the Limited model with navigation and at the end of the day today, we are now owners of the Sonata. For the money, the fuel economy, fit and finish, features and options, ride, quietness on the highway and the outstanding styling forced us to buy it. This is quite possibly the nicest car in the lower level luxury class and with the styling I think it jumps right up there with the best “higher end” nameplates in the market.

    I told the salesman and a number of others in the showroom that 10 years ago I would never have set foot on their lot, let alone buy a Hyundai, but here I am, now a proud owner of one. We traded our Chrysler Aspen on it and I don’t feel we took a step down in the luxury department in doing so. I loved the Aspen but it was time to say goodbye to the fuel mileage it offered but I will miss the Hemi.

    The Sonata should be giving the executives at Toyota, GM, Mazda, Ford and even Lexus nightmares because I think this will launch Hyundai into the very big leagues. If you see a someone driving around central Alberta with a smile across his face in a silver Sonata Limited that will be me. If my wife let’s me drive it (it is her car after all).

    The styling was the reviewers lowest rating? This is a showstopper in my opinion and mine is the one that counts. I paid for my vote.

  • Art Newell says:

    90% of the Gearhead reviewers are having fits trying to get over the new 4 cyl power options of the Hyundai…this company is miles ahead on this point…in a few years all cars will have to reach the mpg’s that Hyundai has already done with the 2011 Sonata…and that will mean the end of all the bigger, heavier, gas guzzling engines.
    Funny how the author of this piece, strugling to find something negative to say, puts under Pro’s…”Gutsy 4 cyl with V6 power” then under con’s…puts down, “missing a V6 option”

    The new 2 liter Turbo at 34 mpg higway, is just around the corner for the Sonata, I hope that 275 HP in a 3200 pound family sedan will stop the whining.

    And “stying has a bit too much going on” …Hah! not for the record amount of people who are actually putting down the cash and driving away with big grins!

  • fcebedo says:

    I just looked up the Equus. That is a silly looking car. It’s almost as bad as the car name.

    Anyway, back on topic. Sonata, rules!

  • Derek says:

    Hyundai was doing so well until they starting selling the Equus in the US. Old design, weak ergonomics, and sub-par materials make the Equus a loser in the luxury car market that the Equus is supposed to squeeze into. Hyundai should have waited until the redesign was ready to be released before attempting to force-fit themselves into that particular car segment.

    Giving away an iPad is not going to help sell the Equus once prospective buyers step into the car and see first-hand what is before them.

  • francois says:

    I just noticed the reviewer gave the car a 4.0 for the styling and it’s dragging the average down. I straight up believe that this is a 5.0 styling. It is truly groundbreaking and it looks good from any angle. It trumps any Lexus, Infiniti, Bmw around. The sheetmetal work is truly impressive!

  • francois says:

    If I can buy stock in Hyundai Motors, let me know now since I want to invest a bunch of money in them.

    Hyundai is absolutely killing it right now with their line-up of cars. In 10 years, the went from ridiculous, to trying too hard with ugly cars and now they are a category leader in many areas.

    This Sonata is just unbelievable. The exterior design is just miles ahead of everyone!! Interior is beautiful. It drives awesome and it delivers incredible value. And with the presence of the high end Genesis cars, the brand has been uplifted so no one but the truly prejuciced should be embarassed about driving a Hyundai.


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