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The Best Mid-Size Base Model Money Can Buy

One might think that the shapely, coupe-like roofline (yes, we said it) would take its toll on interior volume, but it's quite the contrary in the Sonata. Hyundai's clever packaging has made for a car that has more interior volume than most of its competitors, with good amounts of headroom for passengers both fore and aft. Rear legroom is a bit of a sore spot, though – at only 34.6 inches, even a Volkswagen Golf offers more comfortable accommodations.

Once you're settled in, the first thing you'll notice about the Sonata's interior is how the exterior design carries over onto certain parts of the cabin, namely the front doors, steering wheel and dashboard. The Hyundai easily has the most stylish interior among all mid-size sedan offerings, though all interior functions are still quite intuitive. The Volvo-esque airflow monitor, backlit instrument cluster gauges and Hyundai-standard soft blue lighting really make the Sonata's interior seem more upscale than its price tag would suggest. As you would expect, many of the touchable surfaces inside the GLS aren't as soft or smooth as what you get in SE or Limited trims, but they certainly aren't lacking in quality. The whole package is more attractive than what you'll find inside a Ford Fusion while being less cluttered than a Honda Accord. By comparison, the Chevrolet Malibu feels downright third-world.

Most people shopping the mid-size sedan segment value style, comfort and levels of standard equipment more than power or driving dynamics, but Hyundai still delivers in this regard. Gone for 2011 is any sort of V6 offering, and while hybrid and turbocharged powertrains are on the way, the vast majority of Sonatas will be equipped with the automaker's all-new direct-injected 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine. This engine makes its debut in the Sonata, and with an EPA-estimated 35 miles per gallon on the highway (22 in the city), Hyundai has topped the Ford Fusion for the title of most fuel-efficient non-hybrid mid-size sedan. That's a great line for a press release, yes, but it's also a huge selling point for consumers who demand frugality in new car purchases. These aren't fluffed-up numbers, either, as we easily managed an average of 33 mpg during our week-long test through metro Detroit.

Rated at 198 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the GDI 2.4 never feels underpowered, and unlike many older four-cylinder mills, you don't have to rev the bajeezus out of it to accelerate quickly. A relatively linear powerband coupled with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic make for pleasant cruising. Pleasantly quiet, too – Hyundai's abundant use of sound-deadening materials make for an eerily quiet ride, with very little in the way of engine or wind noise making its way inside the cabin. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, because while the 2.4 liter is a honey of an engine, it's certainly not an aural treat. Not that you'll really notice. Those of you clamoring for a manual transmission will be happy to know that Hyundai does, in fact, offer one on the GLS, but as of this writing, only one solitary percent of Sonatas sold have been equipped this way. Such is life.

Out on the road, the base Sonata's soft suspension makes for a comfortable, cushy ride, though it never feels disconnected or floaty. The majority of buyers will prefer this setup, but those with an enthusiast mindset will still prefer the slightly firmer, more involving setup in the sportier SE. Hyundai has fitted the Sonata with its new electronic power steering first seen on the Tucson crossover, and while this system still feels touchy and overboosted at initial turn-in, the helm is nicely weighted once you get past the first 10 percent of the overall turning radius. We wouldn't necessarily refer to the Sonata's dynamics as sporty or enthusiastic, but its perfectly acceptable for a car that has to appeal to a very wide range of potential customers. In other words, it isn't a total snooze.

Weighing in at 3,199 pounds, the GLS feels light and balanced when tossed about, and the throttle and brake inputs are easily modulated. Sure, the SE is still our Sonata of choice, but the overall dynamics of the GLS are quite good for a car in this class. From behind the wheel, you generally feel more in tune with the Sonata's mechanics than you would in, say, a Camry, but it's never a challenge to drive in any scenario. Like we said before – this is pleasant cruising.

The fact that our well-equipped GLS stickered at $21,665 (including the $720 destination charge) only strengthens the Sonata's selling power. Not only is it arguably the most stylish car in its class with the best-looking interior, it's decent to drive and plenty functional, to boot. All Sonatas come standard with a raft of goodies like Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, auxiliary and MP3 inputs, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and heated mirrors, not to mention the automaker's ten-year/100,000-mile warranty.

The 2011 Sonata proves that not only is Hyundai still capable of beating the competition in terms of overall value and bang for your buck, but that this Korean automaker is now creating vehicles that are best-in-class before pricing is even discussed.

Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

Second Opinion: 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE
by Sam Abuelsamid

While our cross-town colleague Mr. Ewing was rolling around in the base GLS version of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, this reviewer was exercising the sportier mid-level SE version. From the outside, the SE is distinguished from the GLS by the same chrome grille and door handles found on the Limited model. However, only the SE gets the maxed out 18-inch wheel-and-tire package plus the dual exhaust. Ewing's right: The uprated hoops are a necessity to fill the arches.

The Sonata wins in the segment for the most visually attractive cockpit, although we still rank the Ford Fusion ahead of it in terms of materials execution. For example, the steering wheel features leather covering the top and bottom sections while the mid section that we typically hold is mostly plastic. The SE is the only Sonata trim level (until the turbo arrives) to get steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic and we found them to be quite useful. The combination of cloth and leather coverings on the seats of the SE are far more comfortable and supportive than the chairs in the old Sonata and offer adequate thigh support, a first for the Sonata.

Our SE tester also came with Hyundai's optional touch screen navigation system that first appeared last fall in the Genesis Coupe. There is some degree of voice control available in the Sonata for both the navigation and the audio system, and we found it worked reliably. Unfortunately, compared to Ford's Sync system, the voice menu is far more limited and doesn't allow for entry of items like points of interest by voice while driving.

Hyundai claims the SE's extra exhaust tip adds an extra two horsepower and two pound-feet of torque bringing the direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine total to a nice round 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, but obviously the difference is indistinguishable. The compact six-speed automatic offered generally seamless shifts, although kick-downs while merging onto highways or making passes were a bit sluggish. We're guessing this has something to do with the programming required to hit 35 miles per gallon on the EPA highway rating. Fortunately, the SE's shift paddles gave us some measure of control, and while the shifts weren't instantaneous, they came much sooner than when the computer was left to its own devices.

While the extra power may not be noticeable under foot, the changes to the SE's suspension tuning definitely are. The stiffer springs and tighter dampers are a welcome upgrade even on decrepit Michigan roads. The Sonata never felt floaty, and while we were aware of the action going on below, it was not uncomfortable or obtrusive. Hyundai's calibration of the electric power steering assist is also one of the better implementations we've sampled. We didn't notice any dead spots on-center, and while we wouldn't mind a bit more effort, we can live with what's available in this family sedan.

The $1,400 premium for the SE over an automatic-equipped GLS is a worthwhile investment for both the visual and chassis upgrades. Our tester with the navigation system and sunroof package came out to a very reasonable $26,015, including destination and delivery charges, and averaged 28 miles per gallon. With its more controlled ride and excellent equipment level, the SE ranks at or near the top of the mid-size sedan heap.

Photos copyright ©2010 Sam Abuelsamid / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      the previous generation had the passenger volume of 105.4 cubic feet, technically making it a large car and had almost 3 inches more legroom. this generation has 103.8 cubic feet of passener space and since the front legroom is 45.5 inches, that will make up for the rear, since most people dont usually need more than 43 inches of front legroom, the front seats wont be as far back making more room in the rear! overall, the car looks better than it ever has! and if you are a power junky and are thinking about the new buick regal, dont bother! its turbo 4-cylinder has less power. 220-hp and 258 lb-ft! which means 54 -hp less and the torque is 11 less.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Sonata is the mid-size sleeper of Seoul that caught the established players napping. This Hyundai is proof that the Koreans are now reaping huge rewards for seeds sown a decade ago by Chung Moo Koo, Hyundai's brilliant CEO and quality guru. And dont think this Hyundai is a lucky shot. The product pipeline is bulging with the immanent incarnation of offerings that will send most automakers back to redesign or delay their upcoming segments offerings. Consider Honda's recent delay of the Civic for a year to clean up a design that would've done fine but for Hyundai/Kia (Ford and Chev's) resurgence.
      The Sonata, whether anyone will admit it or not, is a not a warning shot across the bow of the most important segment of the automotive industry but a first-strike from an arsenal that is ready for war. It is now the segment leader and even competes a segment up. One drive clearly displays this and I personally know two people who traded an Acura and a older model Lexus for a new Sonata Limited.
      If you could be the eyes and ear in the product planning depts of manufacturers you would see grave concern in countenance and hear scurrying and commotion.
      For years every rag has been talking about the Koreans, specifically, Hyundai, in the rearview mirror of the leaders. Now the leaders are wondering how Hyundai/Kia went from their small glass rearview to their windshield because the the Genesis, Sonata, Tucson(and coming Elantra, Veloster, Equus and a huge surprise vehicle TBA) is either alongside or ahead of the competition. I believe many despite this brilliant turnaround by Hyundai. The very name 'Hyundai' pisses people off because the company, once the brunt of jokes, is now laughing at the establishment for ignoring them when they were 32nd of 37 automakers, only 10 years ago but now they are #4!!! Whose laughing now with profits up 71% last month and their competitors hemhorraging market share. Hyundai/Kia is force and most don't even realize it. All you have to do is read the ignorant comments and the opening lines of most auto writers test drives and they almost always say something like 'Hyundai' or 'Kia is on a roll lately'. Where the hell have you people been?
        • 4 Years Ago
        nice PR. mong koo is the man. he is so gangsta.
        • 4 Years Ago
        They shouldn't even be aloud in this country without at least a 10% tariff!
        This is what is killing our country, cheap foreign companies that don't have to play by the same rules we do.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Opens like a PR release from Hyundai. hmmmm.
        • 4 Years Ago
        what's killing this country is people who can't use the right word in a sentence. koreans go out of their way to place education first, the same can't be said about your average american. korea's labor cost is certainly not what i would call "cheap", and a major reason why foreign cars didn't do well in korea is because registration and fees are based on engine displacement. luxury imports can do well by selling exclusivity but what good is it to bring large american cars to a country that has a population greater than california in an area the size of indiana? of course we finally have some better american cars coming out so we'll see where it goes from here.
        • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's amazing to me how many of the 2011 Sonatas I've seen. In Indianapolis I see maybe ten Geneses a year, but I see a Sonata every other day or so.
      It's a great change of pace from the Camrys and Accords
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Luis, if you are buying a car for the long haul it is great news. That means parts will be cheaper.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I rented one last month, drove 1400 miles in three days, and was BLOWN AWAY by how nice the car is. Easily the best rental car I've ever had. To have those features at this price point is nothing short of amazing. Plus, I averaged about 34 miles per gallon for the trip. When my G35x lease is up I'm taking a hard look at the turbo model.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I got to drive one of these as a rental and I was really impressed by it. Mid sized sedans have come such a long way over such a short time and this car just looked upscale inside and out. Only problem was when you touched the interior the illusion of being upscale breaks because of the plastic, but that's pretty much par for the course in this price range.

        I'm really impressed with how sophisticated mid sized sedans have become. I've been in old accords, older camrys, malibu's, stratuses, tauruses, and more and when I look at what's on sale today I'm floored by how terrible interiors were in the 80s and 90s. This isn't the most exciting segment of cars in terms of performance but I do enjoy seeing how quickly things evolve as brands try to one up each other.
        • 4 Years Ago

        You'll be thrilled to hear, I'm sure, that TTAC posted two articles that should ease your fears:


        Basically, Hyundai can't sell any more to fleets, because they can't meet enough to meet consumer demand now.


        Also, for the first seven months of 2010, the Hyundai brand has had 16% fleet sales vs. 15% for Nissan NA and 9% for all of Toyota. Well below the 31-39% for GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

        But also, let's put the fleet thing in perspective. One problem the D3 had was selling old stuff to the rental companies. Think Chevrolet (Malibu) Classic and the old Taurus. Hyundai's not doing that. Only what you can buy at the dealer. Also, they're not selling "program" cars that will be back for them to deal with with less than 25K miles. Even the D3 aren't doing that now. More often than not the rental company takes all responsibility for depreciation and selling the car and they're keeping them much longer than they used to.

        Hyundai realizes that their buyers do more research before buying a Hyundai than most other brands' buyers do because they've told Hyundai that. So it's no surprise that they want cars for people to rent, both to put Hyundai on the renter's radar and to let those already considering it have a way to convince themselves. But the contention that the YF Sonata is going to be a rental lot queen just doesn't hold water.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Luis, as i wrote above, if you are planning to keep it for long haul, 10+ years the resale value will be totally negligent. Plus market will be flooded with cheap, spare parts.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Luis is correct about there being a boatload (or several) in the rental fleets, though. While resale value might not matter to some buyers who hold on to their cars, it does hurt the overall resale value from the brand's perspective, not something Hyundai should ignore as they build their brand's long-term credibility.

        Recently got one as a rental (as well as a new Taurus) and while the Taurus was loaded and the Sonata was a base model, the Hyundai was pretty nice for a big sedan. The 4-cylinder certainly made its share of drama when you accelerated, though (and the transmission was none too happy), but fuel economy was excellent. Some curious design flaws, like the PRND indicator on the console is not connected to the dash lights so it remains at distracting full brightness at night (ditto for the cruise control lights in the dash), and I couldn't adjust the side mirrors high enough to be useful (I'm average height).

        It headlights were pretty marginal too, but not as bad as on the Taurus, whose high beams cast nearly the same pattern as its (already lackluster) low beams. But kudos to both for having amber rear turn signals. :)
        • 4 Years Ago
        I should give bonus points for the Bluetooth system in the Sonata. It not only synched my phone easily (once I did it where I could be stationary long enough for it to finish pairing...really, is there a danger of process completing itself once you start moving again?) but it also flawlessly recognized even the oddest-sounding entries in my phonebook by voice command.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yes, the good news is that they're not only selling to the rental agencies (unlike the Sebring, for example), and you're right, the bigger rental companies (Hertz, Avis, Budget) seem to be wanting to put their customers in nicer cars (perhaps to offset the higher mileage their fleets are now running with). The base Sonata GLS has XM, Bluetooth with voice-activated dialing, etc., but no automatic headlamps (which I despise in a car with a permanently illuminated dash) and manual seats. Still, it warmed me up to the car over the previous generation and I'd certainly not be unhappy renting one again. (I'd never, ever, be the buyer for a midsize sedan, but I might recommend one to a friend.)

        I don't see people saying about the Sonata what they used to say to people who bought a Taurus: "You bought one? Nobody buys a Taurus. You rent a Taurus." Maybe the new Taurus will end that for itself, too. I wouldn't hate renting one of those again either.
      • 4 Years Ago
      One of the must funny chapter of the the Hyundai saga , is chapter one.
      All the new Hyundais owner have owned at least 3 Hondas and one Acura.
      By a chance take test drive and leave the Sonata in Shock.Sold his Acura, got a
      Hyundai and wait for a new day just for drive his Sonata.
      Cmmon, Change the story. isnt a mazda 6 owner amazed with the Sonata, or
      a Altima owner.How in the hell a 2010 Accord owner will trade his car for the
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm a 2009 Honda Accord EX owner and I will be trading it in soon for a 2011 Sonata LTD. There goes your Honda Theory.....
      • 4 Years Ago
      Am I the only one who much prefers the more angular styling of Kia over the new Hyundai? I mean, the Sonata looks like a great car, especially that turbo version, but I just don't like the melted bar of soap styling. I'm waiting on the Optima version.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Sonata's are very popular here in Santa Clara, CA. I've seen them pop up all over the place. The Sonata is much more stylish than some boring as Camry or Accord. :D

      In the future, I'd like to see a clean diesel Sonata with all wheel drive. Not that it'll happen...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I finally got the chance to stare at this car in real life for a long time, and I have to tell you it looks good from every angle. Also, the car looks bigger than it actaully is (this is a good thing in my opinion, makes it look a lot more $$$). If I could change one thing, it would to make the taillights a wee little bigger, no biggie though :D
      • 4 Years Ago
      I test drove it and it doesn't have the interior room the Altima has, nor the acceleration and smoothness like the Altima, and many more things. The driver door doesn't open wide and it's hard to get in and out. My kids had a tough time in the small cramped back seat. The radio and climate controls are cheap and bunched together. The Altima has the intelligent key push button start and this didn't. Altima wins!
        • 4 Years Ago
        funny how your lies betray you Chris , the new sonata does have the key push button start ...If you took the time to look at the pictures here alone, you would have seen that on the dashboard . So you have not tested a 2011 Sonata, My coworker has a atima and I have a sonata, both 07 and when we take more then 3 coworkers, we use my sonata as there is far more leg room in the back seat and the doors open wider, and this new 2011 sonata has grown more in size, plus THE sonata is classified as a full size car"Hyundai just sells it as a mid size car" while the altima is classified as a mid size car and is not even the biggest of midsize cars , don;t get this wrong ,I think the nissan a tima is agood choice as a midsize car and if you like it better, fine but to lie and say something that is not true is just dumb...good try Chris but no dice .
          • 3 Years Ago
          Wow, you are very very rude! FYI the 2011 Sonata GLS dosen't have the push button start nor the smart key. However I do agree with your other arguments. But try to present your information in a less aggressive way next time.
        • 4 Years Ago
        also Chris, thers no way the sonata was slower or had less room
        inside.. both car manufactor websites numbers show the sonata wins,

        2011 Hyundai sonata GLS price 19,190
        2.4 16 vvvt DGI L4 198 hp@6300/184 lb ft@4250 24/35 mpg 6 speed man
        22/ 35 mpg auto

        Head room (in., front / rear) 40.0 / 37.8
        Leg room (in., front / rear) 45.5 / 34.6
        Shoulder room (in., front / rear) 57.9 / 56.7
        Hip room (in., front / rear) 55.2 / 54.9
        Cargo volume (cu. ft.) 16.4
        "Total interior volume (cu. ft.) 120.2 "

        2010 nissan Altima (base model , no 2011 on website)' price 19.900
        2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder 23/32 mpg
        Horsepower – 175 hp @ 5,600 rpm 170 in ca
        Torque – 180 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm 175 in ca
        Interior (inches)
        Head room (front/rear) without sunroof 40.6/36.8
        Leg room (front/rear) 44.1/35.8
        Hip room (front/rear) 56.8/52.5
        Shoulder room (front/rear) 55.7/55.5
        Cargo capacity (cu. ft.) 15.3
        Interior passenger volume (cu. ft.) 100.7 which is 19.5 less cu ft
        then the 2011 sonata ..

        also the altima v6 make 270 hp/ 258 lb ft
        sonata turbo l4 274 hp/ 269 lb ft

        the sonata wins
        • 3 Years Ago
        Chris you are correct and Farmer0904 is rude and should do his homework. The 2011 sonata GLS doesn't have a push button start and the 2011 sonatas (GLS not SE) that where made in early 2010 had less space then the ones made in 2011. However I found the ride a lot better in the Sonata then the Altima which BTW has push button start on all trims.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This Hyundai Sonata is really a great car from inside to the outside, as far as anyone who say this looks like that Toyota solaria or what ever that thing is called , is out of their mind, the solaria is not even a sedan , Beside that fact alone, last time I look , just about every car looks alike in many similarities . Don't be a hater because Hyundai is on a roll .

      Hyundai and KIA are like this big Juggernaut in the automotive world right now and I am sure a lot of other brands like Toyota, Honda, and etc are more then a little cautious about their offerings when compared to what Hyundai and KIA is offering in terms of price, refinement, reliability, style, and one of the automotives best manufactures car warranties. A buyer on a budget will always go with what works best for their pocket and can still make them happy, Hyundai and KIA has filled that void in the automotive world.

      My 2007 Sonata has about 116,000 miles on it now and with the exception of a back brake job, 4 new tires and oil changes , I have spent nothing else to keep this car going , the engine still sounds as quiet as the day I brought it. I know Hyundai back in the 80's was junk , but today that is just not true, Any one who buys a new Sonata is getting one hell of a great car for their money !
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'll break the trend of commenting on the looks and say... good job Hyundai.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nowadays your reviews are too positive and gushing.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The customers at Hertz will now have a more stylish ride !
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