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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
The new four-cylinder powertrain is just fine. Sure, it's no dragster, but it will chirp its front tires pulling away from a corner…the in-house six-speed transmission shifted nearly imperceptibly as it conducted the engine delicately through its paces.
[With turbo]…there's no catastrophic torque steer, no untoward turbo whining, no premium fuel requirement, no selling your first born to gypsies…There's also none of the whining or whooshing usually associated with turbocharged engines.
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid does indeed deliver its power in a more natural manner than many hybrids thanks to its use of discrete gear ratios.
…Like most direct-injected engines, its engine note is more mechanical growl than melodic symphony.
Still, this isn’t a sports sedan and it doesn’t quite match sporty-handling family sedans like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Mazda6.
The 2013 Hyundai Sonata offers a full roster of direct-injection four-cylinder powertrains that altogether are powerful yet fuel-efficient. There's no V-6 option, but odds are you won't miss it.
On base-model Sonatas—and on most of the model line, really—is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, making up to 200 horsepower. That's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The manual-gearbox version has been dropped for 2013; luckily, the automatic is perfectly appropriate for the class, and is a responsive, seamless gearchanger. The front-wheel-drive Sonata feels very perky with this engine, and stronger than most other mid-size sedans in base guise. It's a few hundred pounds lighter than several of its rival models, which adds to that impression, and its 35-mpg EPA highway rating stands to sweeten the impression.
Step up to the 2.0T model and you get a somewhat smaller 2.0-liter engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger, providing 274 horsepower. Its 269 lb-ft arrives low in the power band, which thankfully helps this engine work very well with the automatic transmission (the only way to get it) and largely skips the turbo lag completely; although it doesn't feel as instantly responsive as a V-6, it beats some V-6 models in flat-out acceleration. This model comes with shift paddles, too, and is intended as the more economical parallel to upscale V-6 models.
The third powertrain option comes in the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. With it you get a 2.4-liter four with electric motors and a lithium-polymer battery pack, plus a high threshold that lets the Sonata Hybrid run on battery power alone at highway speeds. Hyundai says this version will hit 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, well within the acceptable range for a family sedan, while delivering gas mileage of 36/40 mpg. Unlike most full hybrids, like the Ford Fusion Hybrid or Toyota Camry Hybrid, the Sonata Hybrid uses a conventional automatic transmission to change gears. Over a few driving experiences now we've found the pre-2013 Sonata Hybrid's powertrain to lack the smooth transitions of these rivals, though, with some lumpy transitions between gas-electric and electric-only modes. We'll update this review once we've been able to obtain a 2013 Sonata Hybrid and to evaluate its updated drivetrain.
Overall, ride and handling in the 2013 Sonata are unremarkable—and adequate for most family needs. Driving enthusiasts are bound to be a little let down by the steering response, which could use some more feedback and tends to wander and need frequent adjustments on some highway surfaces. Most of the model line is damped rather firmly but sprung softly—for crisp response in the parking lot, but not at the ragged edge, on a mountain road. Also, beware that the Sonata SE gets monotube shocks and 19-inch wheels that don't enhance handling all that much but can contribute to ride harshness. .
The Sonata has strong, refined, and economical powertrains, but driving enthusiasts won't love the steering.