For just under $20,000, the base 2011 Hyundai Sonata is a smart buy. The sleek styling, with a slight curve on the side and a low-angled front, recall a BMW 5-Series. A few choice tech features, including a dedicated 30-pin cable for your iPod Touch or iPhone, help keep you connected. And, fuel economy is outstanding at 24MPG in the city and 35MPG for highway driving. Yet, for those who want more muscle, the new Sonata Limited Turbo 2.0L, priced at $27,245, almost matches the BMW for speed as well, and only shaves 2MPG off fuel economy.
Now, to clarify: Hyundai is not in the same class as a BMW. The South Korean car company has set its sights on Honda and Toyota for some time. Some would argue that Japan fell asleep at the wheel and Hyundai is encroaching on their space. Still, you should not expect any luxury features such as a high-performance surround-sound stereo system or adaptive cruise control. Both the Sonata and the 2011 Kia Optima do have a BMW look and feel, though, especially compared to the 5-Series.
The Sonata’s muscular 270-horsepower engine is frighteningly fast, and surprisingly so. We were not believers at first, questioning whether the “turbo” moniker (which forces air into the engine for increased pep) was more of a marketing concept. According to Hyundai, the Turbo accelerates from 0 to 60MPH in about 6.5 seconds – fast enough to cause the tires to squeal and push your head back.
Around corners, the Sonata Turbo provides a comfortable, assured ride. There’s no sense of the vehicle slipping, even going 70MPH on a bend meant for 45MPH, or pushing with too much force. Sure, the Audi A8 uses some advanced tech to relieve even more force on high-speed turns and makes them feel effortless, but the Sonata still does an admirable job of maintaining grip and suspension.
With the Turbo model, Hyundai added paddle shifters to give you a sense of control. They work well and are even easier to find. We had no trouble down-shifting to slow the car slightly around corners. Once again, we’re not talking about a Volvo or BMW transmission; you don’t feel any hesitation when you shift manually and you can willfully change gears anytime you want. But the Sonata does provide a better driving experience for those who want a little more control over the gears.
A few extra features on the Sonata Turbo are not quite as impressive. Like the Kia Optima, the Sonata Turbo comes with an Infinity sound system that lacks power and sounded a bit distorted, especially at high volumes. Curiously, the Sonata also felt a bit low to the ground, especially compared to other smaller sedans like the VW Jetta and the BMW 5. Some drivers will prefer this more cocoon-like feel. (One passenger said they felt safer in the car because more of the interior surrounded her.)
We tested the 30-pin iPod and iPhone connector with several Apple models, including an iPhone 4 and an older iPod, and never had any trouble. Unlike some Ford and Infiniti models we have tested, you can use your iPhone both as an audio player and for phone calls over Bluetooth without any hiccups. The touchscreen is one of the most responsive we have tested – when you press on an option to use the GPS navigation system or select a new artist, you only have to press once – not a few times.
Other pleasant surprises: Rear seating is ample for a family sedan that measures about 190 inches in length. Our rear passenger testers, both over 6-feet tall, said they had plenty of headroom. Trunk space is also quite adequate at about 16 cubic feet – enough for several large duffel bags.
So what’s not to like? Other than the average sound system, we had a hard time using some of the dashboard controls. Part of the issue is that, with the lower ride, the Sonata Turbo dash is angled too low for American drivers who might be taller. Some of the interior accents look a little cheesy – a spiderweb design on the door panels looks like it needs to be updated for 2011.
And then we started wondering about price. At just over $27,000, the Sonata Turbo is priced higher than the Honda Accord, which also gets outstanding fuel economy. The Chevy Cruze Eco, which is in an admittedly different class and has a manual transmission, costs just over $16,000. Yet, the Eco gets 42MPG on the highway – almost 10MPG better than the Sonata. Also, one of our favorite cars of the year, the 2011 VW Jetta, is not nearly as fast as the Sonata but was a bit more fun to drive.
That said, the Sonata Turbo has some serious muscle for your daily commute. There are few extra frills beyond Bluetooth and a 30-pin iPod connector, but we had a blast showing friends how quickly this vehicle moves off the starting gate. Unlike the upper-end version of the upcoming 2011 Ford Focus, the Sonata has a good mix of amenities with a sporty drive. It’s a good pick for those who want the fast acceleration, reliability, space, and styling that makes obvious hints at German engineering.