Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, CanadianDriver.com
It’s no easy feat to compete in the midsize sedan market these days, a segment crowded with numerous worthy contenders. Hyundai has always been a player here with its Sonata, but for 2011, it enters with a redesigned model that’s quite a departure from what it was previously, both in its sleek new styling and with the unusual offering of only one engine, and a four-cylinder at that.
For 2010, the Sonata came with a choice of 2.4-litre four-cylinder or 3.3-litre V6. This time around, there’s only a four-cylinder, but it’s an all-new version of the 2.4-litre, marking Hyundai’s first direct-injection gasoline engine. The previous 2.4-litre made 175 horsepower and 168 lb-ft of torque; the new engine produces 198 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. That’s why no V6 is offered for 2011, the company says: although the six-cylinder used in 2010 made 249 horsepower, most buyers went for the more economical four-cylinder, and this new engine produces enough grunt that it should keep almost all buyers satisfied. It not only consumes less fuel than the outgoing V6, but also undercuts the previous four-cylinder, with a published rate of 9.4 L/100 km (30 mpg Imp) in the city and 5.7 (50) on the highway when hooked to the six-speed automatic. In combined driving, my GLS tester racked up 8.0 L/100 km (35 mpg Imp). Part of that is also due to these new transmission choices: six-speed manual and automatic transmissions replace the previous five-cog choices.
Rather than offer numerous options, Hyundai steps up the equipment list for each trim line. Pricing starts at $22,649 for the GL with the stick shift, the only model where it’s available, and $24,249 with the automatic. My mid-line GLS was priced at $26,249. You can also move up to a Limited, at $28,999, or to the top-end Limited with Navigation, at $30,999.
Long before you’re behind the wheel, you notice the styling, so radically transformed that the 2010 model already looks like it was built in 1987 by comparison. Hyundai has never been shy about nicking something that works for someone else, and so you’re likely to notice shades of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and – somewhat ironically – the Volkswagen Passat CC that likewise riffed on that model. The design does cut down somewhat on rear-seat headroom, and you have to watch your head getting in and out of those back doors, although there’s plenty of space for rear-passenger knees and feet.
The four-cylinder gets noisy when asked to make tracks at highway speed, but other than that, it’s a fine engine and a good fit to this car; I suspect it’s a rare driver who will bemoan the fact that he can’t get a V6 anymore. That said, a turbocharged four-cylinder version is in the works, as is a gasoline-electric hybrid model. The new six-speed transmission does its job quietly and smoothly. There is a manual shift mode, accessible strictly from the gearshift lever, but it really seems to be there more for looks than for performance. There’s a short wait between the driver’s request and the point that the transmission actually swaps the cogs.
Handling is more everyday driver than sports sedan; you pilot this car to get where you’re going in comfort, but it’s not all that exciting of a ride. That said, it has a target audience that really isn’t into spirited, communicative driving, and so that’s less of a criticism and more of just stating a fact. The variable-assist electric power steering could use a bit more weight at speed, although it’s nice and light when needed to spin the Sonata around tight parking lots. The suspension is firmer than in the last generation, which is both pro and con. It’s no longer lazy around corners, but there’s a trade-off with newfound harshness over uneven pavement – and the previous generation was noisy and bumpy on the rough stuff as it was. A generous helping of road noise also makes its way into the cabin. It’s doubtful that this will be a serious impediment to the Sonata’s main audience, though, since it’s a decent highway driver and great for running errands or commuting.
The GLS is a well-equipped model, sporting such features as 16-inch alloy wheels, a/c, Bluetooth, electronic stability control, two-stage heated seats with power driver’s adjustment, sunroof, fog lamps, USB and iPod connection, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. It naturally carries Hyundai’s long warranty, which covers pretty much everything for five years or 100,000 kilometres, with roadside assistance for the first three years.
Those familiar with other brands will spot a couple of doppelgangers inside the cabin, including an Acura-style instrument cluster, and a little stick figure for the climate control mode that would feel right at home in a Volvo. Everything fits together very well, and while there are a couple of lower-rent fixtures, such as the old-style buttons on the doors, it’s quite an improvement over the outgoing model, with far more soft-touch plastics. Cubby space is very generous, and I found the seats comfortable, with the cushions reaching right to the backs of my knees. The front seats are very roomy and it’s quite easy to find a good driving position.
With the 60/40-split rear seat in place, the trunk is 114 cm long; when the seats are folded, the cargo space stretches to a length of 180 cm. It’s not completely flat, though, as the seat riser gets in the way. The trunk is slightly more spacious than in the outgoing model, but oddly, the old model’s exterior strut hinges have been replaced with the interior gooseneck variety, which offsets the gain in trunk volume. Even so, this should get you home from the warehouse grocery store with room to spare.
Despite a few shortcomings, the Sonata remains a decent car for the cash – in fact, looking it over and driving it home before checking out the price sheet, I estimated its tag at several thousand dollars over its actual cost. It’s competing in a jam-packed segment, but it has several things in its favour, including price, warranty and its stunning good looks. Some of its competitors throw in two extra cylinders, but before you write off the Sonata for its single four-banger choice, give it a drive. You might be pleasantly surprised at what a lowly four-cylinder can do.
Pricing: 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS
Base price: $26,249
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $27,914
Crash test results
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com
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