LA 2009: 2011 Hyundai Sonata debuts with style, four-cylinder only and less weight

2011 Hyundai Sonata SE – Click above for high-res image gallery

Cheap and inexpensive are not necessarily synonymous. Inexpensive is generally considered a positive thing. Cheap? Not so much. Hyundai automobiles have always been relatively inexpensive compared to their direct competitors. In recent years, the Korean company has worked extremely hard to rid itself of any talk of cheapness by improving quality, introducing an unprecedented 10-year/100,000 mile warranty and engaging in some remarkably clever marketing campaigns.

It wasn't always so. Way back in 1983, Hyundai first entered the North American market when the Pony hatchback went on sale in Canada. Two years later, the replacement for the Pony, dubbed "Excel" went on sale in the United States. To say that the launch did not go well would be the understatement of the decade. While those early Hyundai models were indeed cheap, the company nearly met the same fate in this market as Yugo.

Unlike the abysmal Yugo, Hyundai persevered. The company kept redesigning its cars, making each subsequent generation better than the last and extending its warranties to generate confidence in its products. More than two decades later, Hyundai is introducing its latest challenger, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, into what is arguably the most fiercely contested segment in the U.S. market - that of the family sedan. Check out our high-res galleries below, and then click through to the jump to read more of our impressions and check out Hyundai's press release and specifications.

[Source: Hyundai]

The previous generation Sonata went a long way towards cementing Hyundai's reputation for making affordable and reliable cars. The Sonata was roomy, well equipped, reasonably fuel efficient and absolutely, positively forgettable to look at. Come on, we dare you – describe a current-model Sonata. It has all the features of the top sellers in the class (the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord) and, if possible, it is even more appliance-like. Oh, it received a mid-cycle refresh just 18 months ago that gave it a new grille, but that didn't go nearly far enough.

Enter the new sixth-generation Sonata, which goes into production in mid-December before going on sale early in 2010 as a 2011 model. Visually, at least, even if this is an appliance, it's a premium, highly styled one. The pedestrian three-box sedan profile of the last model has given way to a shape that looks more inspired by the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen CC than any Camry. Hyundai designers have adopted the increasingly popular coupe-like sedan profile with a low, sweeping roof-line that blends neatly into a short rear deck.

We've seen some photos of the new Sonata from Korea since its introduction there recently, but when you see it in person, it is truly striking. The design language was described by product planning director Scott Margason as "Fluidic Sculpture." It's not an entirely unique direction or concept as we head into 2010, but it does seem very well executed on this sedan. Starting at the grille, the Sonata gets a stylized three-bar look (what is it about three bars these days, Ford, Honda... and now Hyundai?) that departs from implementations done by other brands. A pair of longitudinal creases in the bars flow back into the hood giving an effect of two waves moving toward the center of the car – a visual trick similar to that employed on the hood of the new BMW Z4.

Sculpting of the body surfaces on the front fascia and along the car's flanks help catch the light and give the design the appearance of motion. A rising crease that starts behind the front wheel and ends at the taillights gives a wedge-like look to the body with a bit less of the fall-away rear you get on the CLS. One interesting detail is the chrome strip that begins at the trailing edge of the headlights and continues along the lower edge of the hood cut-line before following the belt-line to the C-pillar. This will evidently be standard on certain trim levels of the 2011 Sonata.

Speaking of which, the 2011 Sonata will come in three trim levels: GLS, Limited and SE, with the latter being targeted as the sport-minded model. Only the Limited and SE get the chrome grille. The GLS will receive the same design, albeit painted body color. Speaking of paint, Hyundai has been doing some notable work on colors for this important new model.

At a preview prior to the car's LA Auto Show debut, we saw the sport-minded Sonata SE model, which gets a dual exhaust system and paddle shifters. The car was painted in what Hyundai calls Iridescent Silver Blue. In the dim light of the facility where we saw the car, it was still apparent that this was one of those paints that changes color dependent on the viewing angle. The display model was a pilot build unit from the Alabama factory where Hyundai is building North American market Sonatas. At the time this car was built, the engineers were still doing some tuning on the paint shop, and the bumper cover didn't quite match the fender from some angles. Depending on how you looked at it, the bumper appeared darker than the adjacent body work. Shift 18 inches to the left and they matched perfectly. Hyundai promises to have this worked out before cars hit dealerships in a couple of months.

While most of the Sonata's competitors have been growing steadily from one generation to the next, Hyundai has decided that the current model is large enough. Overall dimensions of the new YF Sonata are virtually the same as that of the model it is replacing. The biggest difference is in overall length (where it is less than an inch longer) and the wheelbase, which has grown by 2.6 inches to 110 inches. In spite of that sloping greenhouse, the YF only loses 0.4 inches of rear headroom as compared to the current model. This was achieved through a combination of scooping out the rear headliner and lowering the seat cushion slightly. We sat in the back and although the seating position is marginally lower than before, it didn't strike us as uncomfortably so. We'll have to judge it in more detail at a later date.

Aside from the wheelbase, the most significant dimensional difference with the new car is its mass. The YF Sonata is actually about 130 pounds lighter than its predecessor (Huzzah!!). This was achieved through increased use of aluminum in the suspension and ultra-high strength steel in the body. The new materials also contribute to body rigidity increases of 19% in bending and 25% in torsional resistance.

At launch, the new Sonata will only be available with one engine, a 2.4-liter direct injected four-cylinder. With over 90 percent of current Sonata sales coming with I4 engines and a firm commitment by Hyundai to meet future CAFE standards early, the company has opted to take a pass on a V6. In single exhaust form (read: GLS and Limited), the four banger yields 198 horsepower and 184 pound-feet. The dual exhaust system on the SE adds two units to each of those numbers.

All transmissions in the new Sonata will receive six forward gears and the base GLS will be available with a manual transmission. As previously mentioned, the more sporting SE model will be equipped with steering wheel-mounted paddles for those so inclined. The pilot build SE that we saw at the Hyundai KIA America Technical Center in Ann Arbor had a gated shifter for the automatic, but we have been told that production models will get a straight PRNDL shifter with a leather boot. Final EPA numbers aren't in yet, but Hyundai is estimating that the Sonata will be rated at 23 mpg city and 35 mpg highway compared to the 22/32 mpg of the 2010 model. That would also beat all of the Sonata's major non-hybrid competitors by 1-to-4 mpg on the highway.

At this point, Hyundai doesn't acknowledge any plans to put a V6 in the new Sonata. Nonetheless, there appears to be plenty of room in the engine compartment to accommodate one. There will however be one additional powertrain option later in 2010. The Sonata will be the first U.S. market Hyundai to get the company's new hybrid system.

One thing is clear: Hyundai's 2011 Sonata adds a huge dose of style to its segment. Any questions of performance, dynamics and execution will have to wait until we get a chance to drive it in a couple of months, but we like what we see.



Sonata Injects Emotion, Advanced Powertrains and Superior Quality into Bland Segment

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 2, 2009 – Hyundai today introduced its all-new 2011 Sonata at the

Los Angeles Auto Show. This marks the North American debut of the latest version of the popular midsize sedan, introducing Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture" design language and an all four-cylinder engine lineup to the U.S. market.

Sonata is the second vehicle in Hyundai's 24/7 version 2.0 product initiative (seven new models in the next 24 months) following on the heels of the all-new Tucson. Production of Sonata will begin later this month at Hyundai's U.S. plant in Alabama with retail sales beginning in January.

The 2011 Sonata represents a modern approach to the traditional midsize sedan segment by using only advanced four-cylinder engines, emotional design and luxury features offered with Hyundai's strong value proposition. The 2011 Sonata poses some intriguing questions:

Why can't a smart, solid sedan also have modern, sleek, sophisticated style?

Why pay so much to get a taste of luxury?

Why can't an efficient four-cylinder engine give V6 power?


Beginning with the 2011 Sonata and 2010 Tucson projects, Hyundai designers set to work about three and half years ago on Fluidic Sculpture. Fluidic Sculpture is a consistent, cohesive design language that will ripple through the entire Hyundai showroom. In developing the initial Sonata sketches, Hyundai designers considered the interplay of natural, fluid elements with more rigid surfaces and structures to create the illusion of constant motion. Inspired by nature, Fluidic Sculpture injects sophistication and dynamic angles into the shape of a vehicle and now serves as the core of Hyundai's future design identity.

The exterior of the all-new Sonata is long, light and low. The high beltline allows for a long, sleek roofline accented by the third window. A monoform side profile includes flowing lines highlighted by a Hyundai signature chrome accent that spans the length of the car. Normally, this type of trim is only found around the windows. On the new Sonata, this trim extends out from the headlamps, juts up along the hood and through the beltline. The face is bold with a large powerful chrome grille and headlamps that integrate precise details. The stance is completed by 16-, 17- or 18-inch multi-spoke wheels.

The sophisticated look continues inside where Hyundai has created an upscale ambiance thanks to a flow-through center console and instrument panel. These flowing surfaces complement the exterior design and wrap around the driver and passengers.


The sleek design, combined with Hyundai's expertise in interior packaging, has produced an interior that delivers class-leading comfort, functionality and practicality. A sleek roofline typically compromises headroom and interior volume but, at 120.2 cubic feet, the Sonata has the most interior volume of its key competitors. It is so spacious, Sonata continues to be classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Large car, truly a "class above" Camry, Altima, Fusion and Malibu (all are categorized as Midsize cars). Even in trunk room, the Sonata shines. Sonata's 16.4 cu. ft. of trunk space gives it a 9.3 percent advantage over the Camry, and a 17.1 percent advantage over Accord.

2011 Sonata2010 Camry2010 Accord2010 Altima2010 Fusion2010 MalibuPassenger volume (cu. ft.)







Cargo volume

(cu. ft.)







Total interior volume (cu. ft.)







EPA size classification








The new Sonata will launch with Hyundai's new Theta II GDI 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a Gasoline Direct-Injection (GDI) fuel delivery system, which contributes to improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Sonata is the first midsize sedan to adopt GDI technology as standard equipment in a naturally aspirated powertain. This shorter, more direct path of fuel delivery, allows for greater control of the fuel mixture at the optimum moment, thus improving efficiency. The fuel is injected by a camshaft-driven, high pressure pump that operates at pressures up to 2,175 psi. Direct injection also utilizes a higher than normal 11.3:1 compression ratio for increased power. The pistons are "dished" to increase combustion efficiency in the cylinder. This powerplant will deliver best-in-class fuel economy, best-in-class four-cylinder horsepower and best-in-class torque.

Sonata delivers an impressive 23 mpg city/35 mpg highway estimated fuel economy rating* with the available six-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC®. (When equipped with the six-speed manual, the Sonata achieves an estimated 23 mpg city/34 mpg highway fuel economy rating). The preliminary horsepower and torque ratings for the Theta II GDI are 198 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. In the SE trim which includes a standard dual exhaust, the engine delivers 200 horsepower. This high-tech, all-aluminum, 16-valve engine features Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) on both camshafts and a Variable Induction System (VIS) for better engine breathing. A version of this engine also meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards.

2011 Sonata (est.)2010 Camry2010 Accord2010 Altima2010 Fusion2010 MalibuEngine

2.4L I4

2.5L I4

2.4L I4

2.5L I4

2.5L I4

2.4L I4


198 @ 6300

169 @ 6000

177 @ 6500

175 @ 5600

175 @ 6000

169 @ 6400

Specific output (HP/Liter)








184 @ 4250

167 @ 4100

161 @ 4300

180 @ 3900

172 @ 4500

160 @ 4500

Fuel economy (A/T)







Next year, Hyundai will add a 2.0-liter Theta II turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine and a 2.4-liter Hybrid Blue Drive model featuring Hyundai's breakthrough lithium polymer battery pack. Details about these powertrains will be announced at the 2010 New York Auto Show. Sonata's innovative segment first powertrain lineup is a key driver of Hyundai's goal to be the most fuel-efficient automaker on the planet.


Hyundai's commitment to making the Sonata extremely fuel efficient continues with a six-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC manual control or a standard six-speed manual transaxle.

Hyundai's all-new six-speed automatic A6MF2 transaxle helps the company meet its goals of improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. Shifts are silky-smooth with an option of manual control through the SHIFTRONIC feature.

Drivers can access the SHIFTRONIC feature by moving the gear selector into a separate gate. Pushing the selector forward or pulling it rearward will shift the transmission up or down sequentially, adding to driver control. The SE trim will also feature steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A clear LCD readout on the instrument panel shows the gear being used.

Designed for transverse engine applications in passenger cars and SUVs, the new compact transmission puts Hyundai into an elite class of auto manufacturers who have designed their own proprietary six-speed automatic transmissions. The strength of the design is its unique layout which makes it smaller, more compact and lighter than any other six-speed transmission on the market today.

For the customer, the new six-speed delivers a performance edge. In this application, it helps brings a nine percent gain in fuel economy (35 mpg* versus 32 mpg). The gearbox has no dipstick because it is filled with automatic transmission fluid that is good for the life of the vehicle under normal usage conditions, thereby reducing maintenance costs.

Developed over a four-year period, this new six-speed automatic is 26.4 pounds lighter than the five-speed it replaces. It also is 1.6 inches shorter and considerably simpler, having 62 fewer parts, which is a key to increased durability, lighter weight and lower cost.

When it comes to transmissions, more gears are definitely better. The addition of a sixth gear enables closer spacing between gear ratios providing a better balance of performance and fuel economy while the wide overall gear ratio helps deliver strong acceleration.

The gearbox has three planetary gearsets and a unique flat torque converter that shortens the unit's overall length by 0.47 inches. Four pinion differentials improve durability and further minimize size.

Another example of engineering ingenuity is found in the design of the hydraulic pressure control unit. Slight manufacturing deviations from one solenoid valve to the next often times cause fluctuation in the hydraulic pressure and affect shift precision and quality. The transmission featured in the Sonata cleverly integrates adjustment screws in the valves that enable each of the eight valves to be calibrated at the factory. This feature ensures stable hydraulic pressure at any shift point which facilitates a high degree of precision and control needed to deliver fast, smooth and precise shifts throughout the rpm range.


An advanced four-wheel independent suspension system combines a supple ride with precise handling and steering response for Sonata GLS and Limited models. Sonata uses MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension systems with increased travel for improved wheel control and a smoother ride. All four wheels are controlled by coil springs, fade-resistant gas-charged dampers and stabilizer bars. The suspension has been optimized to keep the vehicle flat during corning and provide quick turn-in response. The rear suspension uses aluminum components to reduce weight and improve suspension performance. The GLS and Limited models also use advanced low-rolling resistance tires to improve fuel economy while maintaining good ride and handling performance.

The Sonata SE is an even more exciting and willing partner for drivers who prefer sportier ride and handling dynamics. The sport-tuned suspension features stiffer springs and larger stabilizer bars, resulting in a 20 percent increase in roll stiffness. Unique SE dampers, including monotube shocks in the rear are used to control the more aggressive suspension. Low profile 18-inch tires round out the unique chassis components of the Sonata SE.

All Sonatas have column-mounted, motor-driven electric power steering that adjusts instantly to changing driving conditions while improving fuel economy over a conventional steering system. A quick-ratio steering rack is used for crisp feel on turn-in. Sonata's turning diameter of 35.8 feet is better than Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion and Malibu.

2011 Sonata2010 Camry2010 Accord2010 Altima2010 Fusion2010 MalibuTurning diameter (feet)








One of the program targets for the 2011 Sonata engineering team was world-class power-to-weight ratio. Power-to-weight ratio pays dividends in both performance and fuel economy.

Vehicle2011 Sonata2010 Camry2010 Accord2010 Altima2010 Fusion2010 MalibuCurb weight (lbs.)319933073269318033423415Horsepower198169177175175169Power-to-weight ratio16.219.618.518.219.120.2Sonata is rich in ultra-high-strength steel, leading to world-class body rigidity. The 2011 Sonata is 25 percent stiffer in torsion and 19 percent stiffer in bending rigidity than its predecessor, yet it is lighter than many midsize sedans, also offering more interior room.

This focus on power-to-weight ratio pays dividends across the board. The Sonata owes its ability to deliver both strong performance and excellent fuel economy in great part to its impressive power-to-weight efficiency.


Sonata is built from the ground up with safety in mind, with a hot stamped ultra-high-strength steel body structure, advanced airbag technology and Electronic Stability Control (ESC), delivering on Hyundai's commitment to both active and passive safety technology leadership. The prior generation Sonata was the first midsize sedan with standard ESC when it launched in March of 2005. ESC was not standard equipment on Honda Accord until the 2008 model year and the 2010 model year for Toyota Camry. Once again every 2011 Sonata has lifesaving ESC as standard equipment. This is important because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that ESC results in 35 percent fewer single-vehicle crashes and 30 percent fewer single-vehicle fatalities in passenger cars.

The Sonata also features a state-of-the-art braking package. The package includes four-wheel disc brakes and an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) including Brake Assist, which provides maximum braking force when a panic stop is detected, and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) to automatically adjust the braking force to front and rear axles based on the vehicle loading conditions.

Sonata features six airbags-including dual front, front seat-mounted side-impact, and front and rear side curtain airbags-along with active front-seat head restraints. The 2011 Hyundai Sonata is projected to earn the NHTSA's top rating of five-stars for front and side impacts. Other passive safety features include shingle-style rear-seat head restraints for improved visibility, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, front-seat seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, and a rear-seat Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for child seats.


An AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers comes standard in the Sonata GLS and SE.

AM/FM/XM/ DVD/MP3 audio system with touch-screen navigation and Dimension® premium sound with subwoofer and external amplifier is optional on the GLS and SE models.

The Limited model comes standard with an AM/FM/XM/6-disc CD-changer/MP3 with HD Radio Technology and Dimension premium sound.

The optional AM/FM/XM/DVD/MP3 audio system with touch-screen navigation that includes a 400-watt external amplifier system on the Limited comes with Infinity audio.


Dimension is a new branded audio system created by Hyundai Mobis and features a Variable Equalizer with normal, dynamic and concert settings. The last generation equalizer provided only one fixed sound field. The new Variable Equalizer, tuned by renowned audiophile Ken Pholmann, is a function for controlling the sound qualities sensed by listeners. For example, Pohlmann added bass response to the concert mode typically not found in other systems.


Audio enthusiasts with even more demanding tastes will be impressed by the AM/FM/XM/DVD/MP3 audio system with touch-screen navigation that includes a 400-watt external amplifier, dedicated Dual Voice Coil (DVC) subwoofer, eight-channels and nine Infinity speakers available on the Limited. Infinity and Hyundai engineers worked together during the early stages of development to integrate the speakers into Sonata's interior. The team spent hundreds of hours fine-tuning the system for the cabin's unique acoustic attributes.


2011 Sonata comes standard with three months of XM Satellite Radio, real-time XM NavTraffic and XM Data Services

Sonata also will be the first popular midsize sedan to offer the clarity of digital HD Radio Technology from the factory

First vehicle in its class to offer a Bluetooth hands-free phone system standard

Standard auxiliary iPod/USB inputs allow drivers to fully control and charge iPods directly from the head unit

Touch-screen navigation is available on all trim levels and includes a high-resolution screen. This system provides new features including Bluetooth streaming audio capability. This easy-to-use unit can be controlled via 6.5-inch WVGA touchscreen or voice-activation by headliner-mounted microphone.

The system features 8GB of flash memory and comes matched with a sound system that plays compact discs, accesses digital music files via Bluetooth streaming audio or allows driver and passenger to access their personal listening devices through the iPod/USB/auxiliary inputs. Bluetooth audio wirelessly streams music from select mobile phones to the head unit. Also, with a Bluetooth-enabled phone one can look up a local restaurant and call for reservations before plotting the route. The XM Satellite Radio interface is also integrated into the navigation unit and features channel logos, real-time NavTraffic and XM Data services such as WX Satellite Weather®, XM Stock Ticker and XM Sports Ticker. The system is also updateable via the USB.


Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. of Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced through more than 790 dealerships nationwide.

2011 Sonata



DOHC CVVT (Continuously Variable Valve Timing) 4-cylinder


Aluminum block and heads

Bore & Stroke

88.0 mm x 97.0 mm


2.4 liters / 2,359 cc


GLS/Limited: 198 @ 6,300 rpm – ULEV

GLS/Limited: 190 @ 6,300 rpm – PZEV (est.)

SE: 200 @ 6,300 rpm – ULEV (est.)


GLS/Limited: 184 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm – ULEV

GLS/Limited: TBD lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm – PZEV

SE: 186 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm – ULEV (est.)

Valves per cylinder



6-speed manual

Gear ratios















Final drive

4.33:1 (1,2,R) / 3.25:1 (3-6)

6-speed electronic automatic with OD lock-up torque converter, shift lock and SHIFTRONIC™ manual shift mode

Gear ratios















Final drive




MacPherson strut with gas-charged hydraulic twin tube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar (24-mm for GLS/Limited/SE)


Independent multi-link design with coil springs, gas-charged hydraulic twin tube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar (15-mm for GLS/Limited)

Independent multi-link design with stiffer coil springs, gas-charged hydraulic monotube shock absorbers and larger stabilizer bar (17-mm for SE)



Motor-Driven Power Steering (MDPS) column mounted, Rack-and-Pinion, Engine-RPM-Sensing

Overall Ratio


Turns, lock to lock


Turning circle, curb to curb

35.8 ft.



Power-assisted 11.8-in.ventilated disc


Power-assisted 11.2-in.disc


4-wheel, 4-channel and 4-sensor with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)


P205/65R16 (GLS)

P225/45R18 (SE)

P215/55R17 (Limited)

T125/80D16 (Compact temporary use spare tire)


16 x 6.5-in. steel wheel with full covers (GLS)

16 x 6.5-in. alloy wheel (GLS Optional)

18 x 7.5-in. hyper silver alloy (SE)

17 x 6.5-in. alloy (Limited)



110.0 in.

Overall length

189.8 in.

Overall width

72.2 in.

Overall height

57.9 in.

Tread width (front/back)

16-in. wheels

62.9 in. / 62.9 in.

17-in. wheels

62.6 in. / 62.6 in.

18-in. wheels

62.5 in. / 62.5 in.

Coefficient of drag (Cd)



Head room


40.0 in.


37.8 in.

Leg room


45.5 in.


34.6 in.

Shoulder room


57.9 in.


56.7 in.

Hip room


55.2 in.


54.9 in.

EPA passenger volume

103.8 cu. ft.

EPA cargo volume

16.4 cu. ft.

EPA total volume

120.2 cu. ft.



18.5 gallons


4.86 quarts


2.7 quarts


4-cyl. manual

3,161 lbs

4-cyl. automatic

3,199 – 3,316 lbs





4-cyl. manual

23 mpg (est.)

34 mpg (est.)


4-cyl. automatic

23 mpg (est.)

35 mpg (est.)



Maximum towing capacity, with trailer brakes


Maximum towing capacity, without trailer brakes


Maximum trailer tongue weight, with trailer brakes


Maximum trailer tongue weight, without trailer brakes


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