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- Zoomy new styling
- Well-damped ride
- Entertainment features
- Stylish cabin isn’t everyone's style
- Inconsistent steering feel
- If you have to have a V-6, you’re out of luck
It’s true in cars as it’s true in politics—to rise above the clutter, you need to make a dramatic statement. While Hyundai won’t be telling anyone it can “see Russia from its house!” anytime soon, it is giving its mainstream, mid-size Sonata a refreshing new look and a new mission. The goal: dislodge some Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion buyers (along with shoppers considering the Camry, Malibu and Accord) and bring them into the Hyundai fold.
In four previous generations of sedans (five, if you count one version not sold in the U.S.), the Sonata’s been a conservatively styled piece. For the 2011 edition, Hyundai’s chucked caution out the driver’s window and endowed the Sonata with an intriguing blend of crests and curves. They call it "fluidic sculpture" design language. We think it’s a daring look for a family sedan, with lots of curves and arcs accentuated by a deep sculptural strake in its side. There’s lots of movement implied in the side view, and the grille has some of the “wave” look of the latest Infinitis. In all, it’s exciting and engaging, particularly parked next to the more utilitarian 2010 Sonata—and with the Altima and Fusion, it’s among our favorite sedans to see. There are some imperfect details, though. You might notice the gathering of cutlines where the mirror meets the front fenders, and the unusual arrow of chrome that rolls down the front fenders. Overall, though, the Sonata’s handsome, jazzy, and a visual standout in its class.
The cabin takes its own chances, winning most of its bets, but it’s a little out there, on the edge of cutting edge for traditional family-sedan shoppers. The interior shares some themes with the big Hyundai Genesis sedan, including the vents that flank a big LCD screen atop the dash. The new Sonata has even more dramatic sculpturing in its steering wheel and dash cap than the Genesis, and gets cut-tube-style instruments as well as an iconographic climate control shaped like a human. It’s adventurous and functional, and maybe a little more dramatic than some families will want—especially in contrast with the 2010 Sonata’s sedately good-looking dash. The Sonata can be had with a variety of dash trim: the SE gets metallic, grained plastic trim that will wear well, but painted plastic trim on the steering wheel, which won’t. The Sonata Limited has piano-black trim, save for beige-interior cars, which get woodgrain.