2011 Sonata SE: Mid-size sedan, full-size hit

August 31, 2010

Sonata SE:  Ramp Up Output

Hyundai has a problem! It cannot mint enough Sonatas.  Due to soaring demand for its swept-side sedan, Hyundai shifted production of its Santa Fe crossover to Kia’s Georgia plant.  This change and more workers should increase Sonata output at Hyundai’s Alabama plant where the sedan and crossover were built.

Why are car buyers gaga for Sonatas?  The answer:  a happy confluence of style, substance and value.  My SE tester, the sport-tuned variation, fluidly motored through everyday chores.  Its 200-hp four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic with paddle shifters and racy 18-inch tires felt responsive.  After a cold start, the mill sounds like a vintage electric can opener.  Otherwise, it’s commendably quiet confirming Hyundai’s claim that a V6 isn’t needed.  A turbocharged version will provide more go for a bit more dough.

The automatic tranny is a top-cog hog.  This ups highway fuel economy.  Therefore, it’s not as swift shifting as a Toyota setup but it’s not drone-prone like Chevrolet’s Malibu:  a happy medium.  Fuel economy is better than some compacts—beating its smaller corporate cousin, the Kia Forte.  I eked out 28 mpg overall (trip computer confirmed).  EPA numbers:  22 mpg city; 35 highway.

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2011 Sonata SE

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While Hyundai has made significant progress toward producing satisfying vehicles, my early production sample had a few flubs: a “stiction-prone” turn signal stalk, an askew transition at the dashboard/center console and protruding edges near the interior door grips.  An intermittent overhead squeak and an occasional suspension rattle marred this otherwise composed car.  And the wiring loom dangled where one might snag it when using the step-on parking brake.  Road noise: noticeable.

Drivers get generous legroom and power seat adjustments.  The massaging bead-effect seat upholstery allows comfy air circulation.  You conduct this car with smooth steering.  There’s some feedback; effort increases when cornering.  This improves one’s confidence when tackling construction-zone zigzags.  Body lean: modest; ride quality polite.

The curt-talking navigation system’s voice-operated menus were easy to learn.  Most controls are smartly placed, although shift paddles made stalk-switch twisting awkward.  Hyundai’s designers got carried away with nightlights.  Vivid green indicator lamps and a very bright shifter placard were distracting after dusk, helpful dayside.  While the instrument cluster has a crisp-white upscale look, daytime reflections make gauge reading tricky.

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Thumb twister

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In back, the outboard positions are adult friendly, despite the low roofline.  The center spot proved problematical due to an intrusive dome light that pats you on the head.  Hyundai doesn’t offer cup holders or face-level vents at the center console’s unadorned rear.   Trunk hinges crush luggage.

Price:  $26,000.  This includes navigation system, sunroof and Hyundai’s proprietary satellite radio/tunes player.  That’s a reasonable price of admission for this better-than-average mid-size performer.

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