Hyundai has figured out the U.S. market, which is why it’s growing so fast. The formula seems pretty simple: Deliver a good, reliable car at a bargain price and back it up with a big warranty.
Now it’s adding a new wrinkle. It’s creating good-looking vehicles.
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE is a gorgeous family sedan that looks like a blend of Mercedes and Lexus styling with a racy nose and accent creases down the side.
This is a Camry- and Accord-beater that does nearly everything well, yet isn’t perfect.
With a 110-inch wheelbase and stretching to 189.8 inches in overall length, the Sonata is officially a large car, according to the federal government. Yet it manages to top the fuel efficiency charts in this size segment at 22 mpg city and 35 highway. How? With a 198-horsepower 2.4-liter I4, and that’s the only engine choice you can get.
The biggest plus is that laudable fuel economy. I managed 26.2 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving and letting the six speed automatic do its job. There’s a Shiftronic feature that lets you shift manually with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, if you want to control the shift points.
That’s not a bad idea, at least some of the time. The transmission works fine, and the I4 gives you sufficient acceleration. But the sedan seems to lag in that 30-40 mph range, no doubt erring on the side of greater fuel efficiency. That’s fine if you’re in no hurry, but if you need to move into another lane or are just trying to slot in between cars as you move up the road, holding third gear longer can help.
Sonata feels solidly built, but at 3,316 pounds is not overly heavy. But Hyundai has given the car extremely heavy steering. The wheel’s feedback makes you feel like you’re driving a car that’s easily 1,000 pounds heavier.
That’s too bad because the four-wheel independently-sprung sedan handles well and moves through corners well, just with way more steering effort than should be required.
Ride also is quite nice with no major jiggle or jolt on rough roads. The car cruises over railroad tracks like the luxury car it appears to be. The Hyundai rides on 18-inch Hankook tires, which helps soak up some road imperfections.
Brakes are four-wheel discs with traction and stability control, good for a car in the moderate price range.
Inside, the Sonata’s styling is extremely well executed and, like the exterior, makes you feel as if you’re in a pricier car.
The metallic gray test car came with fabric seats that were a mix of gray and black dots, with a hint of blue. They were trimmed in leather, or a facsimile that added to an upscale look. The car’s black textured dash was attractive too, accented by a gray plastic dash face and door trim with the console and center stack using a matte gray trim and chrome-look door handles. Hyundai has created a stylish blend of shades and materials.
Two round gauges are directly ahead of the driver and easy to see, using blue trim rings inside and a silver perimeter band along with white numbers on a black background. Push-button start also is standard, along with a tilt/telescope steering wheel that features a trip computer control and buttons for cruise control and the radio on its hub.
Seating is firm but comfortable too, with mildly contoured seats front and rear. Folks riding in back said they would be comfortable for longer trips and head and legroom is good for four or five adults. Sonata offers a huge 16.4 cubic foot trunk that would carry sufficient luggage for a five-person family on a trip.
Radio and climate controls work fine with the radio’s channel selection buttons being on the touch screen mid-dash. The test car added a fancy Dimension stereo with all sorts of satellite radio features along with a navigation system and a power sunroof overhead. Cost is $2,600, so that one’s your call and certainly not a necessity if on a tight budget.
There’s a nice sized glove box too, a dual-layer storage bin/arm rest and overhead are solid visors that also slide. Everything has a high-quality feel.
The only downside is a bit more road noise than you’d expect with the rest of the look and build quality being so high. It would not be a deal breaker for me, though.
A base GLS model with a manual transmission starts at $19,195. The tested SE with an automatic transmission starts at $22,595 and with options came to $26,015. You can go higher, with a Limited PZEV (lower emissions) checking in at $25,295. Horsepower is just a tad lower on that model.
Overall what you get with Sonata is a family sedan with rock-star styling and a quality build inside and out.