2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited

You may have seen those throwback TV commercials that are airing: “Hyundai [Uncensored],” those Big Brotherish spots that are predicated on the conceit of “We’ve placed a hidden camera in these cars, and here’s what happened.” Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that reality TV is too much with us, but these commercials are a far cry from the remarkable “Hyundai Assurance” ads, the one that put the Korean carmaker on the side of all Americans who lost or were on the precipice of losing their jobs.

You may have seen those throwback TV commercials that are airing: “Hyundai [Uncensored],” those Big Brotherish spots that are predicated on the conceit of “We’ve placed a hidden camera in these cars, and here’s what happened.” Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that reality TV is too much with us, but these commercials are a far cry from the remarkable “Hyundai Assurance” ads, the one that put the Korean carmaker on the side of all Americans who lost or were on the precipice of losing their jobs. Maybe they figure that they’ve accomplished their goal and now want to get people to think about their sheet metal in a more mano-a-mano way, because those caught on camera, not surprisingly, hold forth on (1) how good the Hyundai is and (2) how they’re comparatively disappointed with the cars that they actually own, which are invariably something that is built by Toyota or Honda.

All of that said, I must confess that if there had been a hidden camera inside the Sonata in question here, it would have captured more than an occasional “Holy [expletive deleted]!” because this really is a remarkable car. The last-generation Sonata was a good car that truly put Hyundai in the hunt for customers looking for a stylish, comfortable and well-equipped midsize. With this, the company’s sixth generation (and I think that many people would be hard-pressed to go back any further than gen 4) Sonata, they’ve not only managed to build a car that is competitive, but must be ranked at or near the top of the competitive set that includes not only the perennial placers Camry and Accord, but the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu, as well. And speaking of the latter, I suspect that if Howie Long or Mike Rowe, the respective Chevy and Ford pitchmen, were to be put inside a Sonata for a little “Hyundai [Uncensored]” their reactions would have to be censored, as well.

 

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Exterior: Here’s where I break with many of many of my colleagues and friends. The car has what Hyundai is calling its new “Fluidic Sculpture” design language that will be used on future Hyundai models. While the fluidic nature is clear, what also seems clear to me that given the number of intersections and surfaces that are on the vehicle, the exterior strikes me less like a yacht knifing through water and more like the wake left behind by one of the paddle boats that you pump in ponds at public parks. There is far too much churning and too little in the way of cohesiveness. While it is quite distinctive and less derivative than previous Sonatas (think about the first time you saw a fifth-generation Sonata: You must have thought, “Gee, that really is a well-preserved Accord. . .”), it generally seems to lack the overall confidence that would come with a less fussy execution.

 

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Interior: This is where you spend most of your time, and you won’t mind spending lots of your time here. If the “H” on the center of the steering wheel was masked, chances are better than good that if you were to ask where the car was built, you would likely come up with a city in Germany and not Montgomery, Alabama. Yes, the Sonata is built in Alabama, U.S.A. It is not just about the quality of the materials and the way they harmoniously come together, but everything is ergonomically oriented for optimal use and effect. And there are seemingly little things that they’ve done that would be considered huge things by the competitors in this space, like not only heated front seats, but leather-surfaced heated rear seats, as well. And let’s not overlook the cargo volume, which is certainly an important thing for people buying cars in this segment. The Sonata’s cargo volume, at 16.4 cubic feet, is second only to the Ford Fusion’s, which is 16.5 cubic feet. (I had an uncensored moment when I saw that the Accord’s cargo volume is 14 cubic feet, but then recovered when I noted that Honda put more in the passenger’s compartment, 106 cubic feet versus the Sonata’s 103.8. However, the total interior volume of the Sonata, 120.2 cubic feet, is 0.2 better than the Accord.)

 

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Power: This is the real story of the Sonata in some ways. If you were to go back not all that long ago, when Honda put out a new Accord, it was criticized by the automotive buff book writers for not having a bigger engine. Finally, in 1995, for the fifth generation, it put in a V6. Which slightly mollified the guys who were lusting for 8s. Hyundai is offering the Sonata with only a four. That’s right, a 2.4-liter I4 that produces 198 hp. While that is a more powerful engine than any of the base engines in the competitive set, the real story is the power-to-weight ratio. Less mass to move means that it can be done smartly with a smaller engine. And the Sonata has a power-to-weight ratio of 16.2. The Malibu is at the other end of the spectrum at 20.2, with the others failing in between. Not only is the Sonata responsive, but this engine and its accompanying six-speed automatic provide a thriftiness with a EPA rating of 22/35 mpg, with the top end being massively eclipsed when I drove the car from Detroit to Cincinnati and back: even with the air running, I easily got 40 mpg.

Question: What’s not to like? The car driven here has a base price of $25,295. A navigation system and an upgraded Infinity audio system add $3,100 to the sticker. And, of course, $100 for the carpeted floor mats. It seems to be a far more costly car in every aspect. There are undoubtedly a whole lot of executives at competitor companies that are having their Hyundai [Censored] moments, as well.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.4-liter, DOHC continuously variable valve timing I4

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 198 @ 6,300 rpm

Torque: 184 lb-ft@ 4,250 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 110 in.

Length: 189.8 in.

Width: 72.2 in.

Height: 57.9 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.28