2010 Hyundai Sonata Expert Review:Autoblog
If you've been keeping up with Autoblog lately, we've had a lot to say about the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. We've tested the top-rung SE and Limited trims out in California. We've even had the chance to sample the upcoming Sonata Hybrid and Turbo versions in the automaker's homeland. But when you get down to brass tacks, the majority of dealership transactions will be made up of the volume GLS model. Sure, a loaded-up $28,000 Sonata Limited is one heck of a nice car, but since 50 percent of all 2011 models sold to date have been fitted to GLS spec, it's important for us to see if Hyundai's swoopy new sedan is worthy of such high praise even without the extra gee-whiz goodies.
With that in mind, we recently invited an Iridescent Silver Blue Pearl (what a mouthful) Sonata GLS into the Autoblog Garage to find out what sort of goodness lies within the bargain bin. Hyundai has always prided itself on being able to offer outstanding overall value in all of its models, but when it comes to the new Sonata, its success extends far beyond the price tag. Follow the jump to learn why.
Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL
By now, you've already read countless lines of digital ink discussing how attractive the 2011 Sonata is thanks to Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design language. We've grown quite fond of the rakish roofline and sloped beltline, and we love how the profile's creases carry over to form the shaping around the taillamps. What impresses us, though, is how the $19,190 base GLS still looks upscale – the body-colored grille and empty foglamp housings don't simply look like placeholders here. If we're honest, metallic silvery-blue isn't the Sonata's best color, but the fact that this car still looks outstanding while wearing a less-than-flattering color is a testament to the strong styling. Imagine if this GLS were painted Phantom Black or Venetian Red. Sharp, no?
However, what Hyundai has done is mask a relatively large car into a sleek and svelte package. At 189.8 inches long, the Sonata is lengthier than a Subaru Legacy or Toyota Camry, though the naked eye wouldn't initially peg it as such. The most prominent reminder of the Hyundai's size is really only noticeable on GLS models, though. Those 16-inch wheels look downright puny, especially in profile view. Our test car included the $750 popular equipment package, which swaps out the standard 16-inch steelies for a set of alloys, but we'd greatly appreciate some thicker socks and larger shoes, sort of like the 17- or 18-inch sets found on higher trim levels.
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
New Car Test Drive
Economical midsize sedan improved for 2009.
Hyundai Sonata gets a host of revisions for the 2009 model year. Already on our list of best commuter cars and many high-value lists, the revisions should solidify its standing. Although you can't see many of them, more than a thousand parts have been changed for the 2009 model year.
The Hyundai Sonata is a four-door, five-passenger sedan priced at the low end of the mid-size market, where it competes primarily against the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Kia Optima, and Ford Fusion. Despite moderate prices, every Sonata comes with a full slate of safety equipment and none is optional; it has earned the federal government's five-star crash-test rating for front and side impacts, the highest awarded.
Sonata is big inside, with so much interior volume it the EPA classifies it as a large car. It's roomier in almost every dimension than most of its mid-size competitors, many of which are larger outside, and it offers a full-size edge in creature comfort.
For 2009, the Sonata is perhaps one percent heavier and prices have gone up, some by $1500. However, the new models come with more standard equipment such as the sunroof on the Limited model, so the relative value remains high.
Instead of spending a lot outside Hyundai kept all the sheetmetal and merely updated lights and trim.
On the inside, however, they've improved the seats for 2009 and added an entirely new dashboard/console layout and introduced a voice-operated navigation option.
Under the hood each engine remains the same size but makes more power on less fuel, and the four-cylinder has been upgraded from an optional four-speed automatic to a five-speed automatic. Last but not least, the suspension has been retuned to deliver the same good ride with better precision and driver involvement.
The most-expensive Sonata will set you back less than $28,000 with navigation, but you can get a comfortable, efficient commuter like our test car for about $21,000. You'll be hard-pressed to find more room with that economy for anything near the price, and it won't have Hyundai's warranty package.
The 2009 Hyundai Sonata comes in three trim levels. A 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine comes standard (168 hp in PZEV states at no extra cost), a 249-hp V6 is optional. The four-cylinder is available with a five-speed manual or a five-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission ($1200); the latter is standard on V6s.
Sonata GLS ($18,120) is the base model. It comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control, power heated outside mirrors, power windows, central locking with keyless remote, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, XM Satellite Radio, tilt steering wheel, 60/40 folding rear seat, and 215/60R16 tires on 16-inch steel wheels. The four-cylinder automatic ($19,320) is similarly equipped, while the V6 automatic ($21,570) adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, solar control glass and chrome dual exhaust tips. The Popular Equipment Package ($650) adds automatic headlights, chrome window belt moldings, upgraded interior accents, power driver seat with adjustable lumbar support, steering wheel audio controls and a trip computer. The same package is available with a power tilt-and-slide sunroof ($1,550).
Sonata SE ($21,720) and SE V6 ($23,170) come with leather-bolster/cloth-center seats, five-speed automatic, larger disc brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels fitted with 215/55VR17 all season performance tires, firmer suspension, eight-way power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, leather-wrapped shift knob, tilt-and-telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, solar control glass, fog lights, automatic headlights, chrome window moldings, rear spoiler, and a trip computer. The Premium Package ($1,650) for SE adds an upgraded AM/FM/XM/6CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, subwoofer and component amplifier; power tilt-and-slide sunroof; and an electrochromic auto-dimming rear view mirror with HomeLink and a compass.
The Limited ($23,970) adds leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, automatic climate control with filtration, the top-line audio system, electrochromic auto-dimming rear view mirror with HomeLink and compass, door sill trim and a sunroof. A chrome grille, chrome-accented exterior door handles, and bodyside moldings identify Limited from the outside. Wheels and tires are the same size as those on the SE, but use a different tread pattern. The Limited V6 ($25,670) is similarly equipped. A new voice-activated navigation system is available ($1250).
Safety features on all Sonatas include dual-stage front-seat airbags; front-seat side-impact airbags for torso protection; and full-coverage side curtain airbags designed to provide head protection. Antilock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with traction control also come standard, as does a tire-pressure monitor.
Although it's just a couple of years old, the Hyundai Sonata has been given a mild facelift for 2009. The front fascia remains refreshingly clean and spare, with sharply angled headlight housings and a deeper, clean-cut grille topped with a sliver of chrome. Wide and deep openings beneath the front bumper provide a home for tightly focused fog lamps and visually pull the front end closer to the ground, while directing cooling air into the radiator. The striking, concave hood reduces the car's perceived mass without cramping the engine compartment.
The side treatment avoids the all too common wedge look with an almost horizontal beltline riding above softly shouldered fenders and door panels. Mirrored Z-seams where the end corners of the bumpers meet the quarter panels add interest, while blacked-out window surrounds play down the tall side glass. Moldings vary by model and all reflect the Sonata's subtle styling rather than going overboard.
Extended C-pillars shorten the deck lid, which itself presents a rounded, gently sculpted profile vaguely reminiscent of the much maligned posterior of today's BMW sedans. The flat-flanged rims on the up-level 17-inch wheels suggest a high-end European import more than an affordable Asian nameplate.
The taillight outlines repeat the headlight shapes and bookend a broad, trapezoidal license plate inset; the backup light portion of the lens is smaller but output is the same. Again, there's a hint of other cars' architecture, most notably segment heavyweights like the Camry, Accord, and Malibu. Sporty, California hot rod-idiom dual exhausts mark the V6-equipped versions.
The Hyundai Sonata continues to refine its signature design cues, the sculptors looking in the right places without offending conservatism.
The 2009 Sonata interior is a significant step forward from the previous model, although housed in the same cabin space. It is judged a large car by EPA size standards and is the largest among midsize sedans in terms of interior volume.
The cabin feels more integrated, with new flowing lines for 2009. A tapered center stack rolls gently off the dash into the center console, replacing the blocky look of the previous dash. The overall look is competitive with most in the class and reminds us of some Nissan and Acura interiors. Materials seem to have more depth, as even the hard plastic trim common on lower door and console panels looks better.
Lighter materials frame the vents and center stack. The center stack houses the clock, audio and navigation systems, and climate controls. There's also a sizable bin that holds 10 CD jewel cases above the ashtray ahead of the shifter. Splashes of trim grow from the console outward mid-height on the dash and are mirrored on the doors; on cars with woodgrain trim the shifter gets a slice of the same material. The woodgrain trim may not be real like some cars, but it feels, works, and looks just as good. Entire trim pieces change by model, so, for example, cars without seat heaters do not have two blank outlines to remind you of something you wish you'd ordered.
Three round dials in the hooded instrument cluster display the basic operational data. The largest is the speedometer, to its left is the tachometer, to its right conjoined water temperature and fuel gauges. In the lower dash to the left of the steering column is a bank of five switch plugs, only two of which are employed in the U.S. version; one is an on/off for the ESC (electronic stability control), the other the dash-light rheostat. Beyond that is a flip-down storage bin. The ignition key slides into a slot placed where it should be, in the dash to the right of the steering column instead of on the steering column itself, easier and more elegant when starting or shutting off the car.
For 2009, the Limited model is available with a voice-recognition navigation system. We found it easy to use and the screen easy to view, and many will appreciate the option price of $1250 for what typically costs more and sometimes isn't offered until you're into models that cost more than a loaded Sonata Limited.
Most models get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, with adjustment for reach to complement the tilt on all but GLS. Redundant controls for the audio are to the lower left-side of the hub. On the other side of the hub are the standard cruise controls, with a helpful Cancel function. All stalk functions are straightforward and require no adaptation.
Outward visibility is good, although some will find the wide C-pillars constrict quick, over-the-shoulder traffic checks for lane changing. Rear side windows roll all the way down, thanks to small, fixed, rear quarter windows that move the windows' rear tracks forward in the door, ahead of the wheel well. There's a roof-mounted, hinged assist handle inside every door.
Seats are comfortable, with adequate bolstering for the style of driving to which the Sonata aspires. For 2009, the front seats are roughly a half-inch larger in most dimensions, and the position has changed slightly for better long-distance comfort. GLS models use cloth, while SE models get leather bolsters and cloth centers for an excellent compromise between occupant retention and easy sliding in and out. The Limited model's leather adds a touch of class without pretending to be luxurious, and the front seats have seat heaters.
The height adjustment on the driver's seat, both manual and power, pivots on the seat's front mounts, which effectively moves the seat forward as it rises. This compels taller drivers to choose between rearward seat travel and forward sightline, not always a happy compromise. On the upside, this adds inches to rear-seat legroom behind the driver, o.
Both of the engines available for the Hyundai Sonata, a four-cylinder and a V6, have been revised for 2009, achieving the dual benefits of lower emissions and higher fuel efficiency. Both engines are rated LEVII ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) by the Environmental Protection Agency or PZEV in those 13 or so states with stricter standards. Additionally, both engines now use a variable-length intake manifold to fatten the torque curve and make more zip available over a broader range of engine speeds.
Acceleration is brisk with the four-cylinder; with the new five-speed automatic both performance and economy are slightly improved. Fuel economy for the four-cylinder GLS is 21/31 mpg City/Highway; only the Nissan Altima with CVT and 23/31 does better. The four-cylinder gets a 6/13 hp boost over last year in PZEV/37 states.
The V6 brings a grin to the face, benefiting from a 15-hp increase over last year. Hyundai officials say the V6 can accelerate from 0-60 miles per hour in about 7.5 seconds, with a top speed of more than 130 mph. Six-cylinder models are rated 19/29 mpg, matching the best in the class.
Shifts are executed easily with the five-speed manual, and chirping the front tires is easy.
The Shiftronic automatic transmission moves between gears smoothly, unlocking the torque converter or kicking down for passing with minimal hesitation. The automatic offered responsive performance while tackling the hills of San Francisco and the mountain roads of Malibu. In manual mode, the Shiftronic will upshift automatically when the engine bumps up against redline; it declines to downshift at all (unless you stop), leaving that to the driver's preferences.
Brakes are mostly linear, and equipped with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, which improves stability and reduces emergency stopping distances by balancing brake force on the fly between the front and rear tires. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control under hard braking. Yet we noticed little of the interference we've found with some more complex EBD-equipped systems, and then only in the final stages of a stop. In the same vein, the electronic stability control (that relies a good deal on the braking system) is seldom noticed and comes on progressively when needed.
Steering is light and direct, with good on-center feel, directional stability. Response to turn input is more precise than before because every tunable element in the fully independent suspension, springs, shocks, antiroll bars and bushings, has been tightened up by roughly 10 percent over the 2008 model.
In terms of ride quality, the 17-inch wheel/tire combination makes its presence known on rough pavement, where the shorter sidewalls transmit more of the road's imperfections into the cabin. The GLS four-cylinder, the lightest model and on 16-inch wheels, offers the best ride quality for those who do most driving on marginal roads. Wind and road noise is decently muted, the engine in the background.
The V6 boasts a larger front anti-roll bar to handle the larger engine's weight, and the SE models get larger anti-roll bars for a bit more roll stiffness; the SE spring and shock rates are also 10 percent to 15 percent higher, but there is still no indication anything is too stiff.
That shows how soft and compliant the Sonata was before, tuned more like your father's Buick than a modern mid-sized sedan. As a result the 2009 Sonata won't set any fast times against its competitors (and some will be slower, too), rather it keeps the good ride comfort it had while taking out the sogginess. Take off in a hurry and the nose doesn't rise so much; hammer the brakes and the nose doesn't dive like a dolphin; take a twisty road and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Long highway ventures are smooth and effortless, just as you'd hope for with decent economy and a long warranty.
The 2009 Hyundai Sonata delivers full-size, family-style room and comfort with 30 mpg highway fuel economy. The new interior for 2009 and available navigation system take appearance to contemporary standards while retaining Hyundai's strong cost/warranty/features value statement.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from San Francisco; with G.R. Whale reporting from Santa Monica.
Hyundai Sonata GLS ($18,120); GLS automatic ($19,320); GLS V6 ($21,570); SE ($21,720); SE V6 ($23,170); Limited ($23,970); Limited V6 ($25,670).
Options As Tested
Popular equipment package ($650) including power driver seat w/lumbar, trip computer, woodgrain trim, automatic lights, steering wheel audio controls.
Hyundai Sonata GLS 2.4 auto ($19,320).
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