Driven: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

September 14, 2010
Not too long ago, the Sonata was strictly a follower. Toyota and Honda would introduce a change, or a new feature, and Hyundai would follow. But with the latest 2011 Sonata, Hyundai follows no more—it's actually sprinted out to the front in many respects.

In straight-line acceleration and fuel efficiency, among four-cylinder non-hybrid mid-size sedans, Hyundai is out at the front of the pack. Simply put, we love the responsive yet responsible performance afforded by the new 198-horsepower, direct-injected 2.4-liter four in the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata. It performs better than any of the other base non-turbo rivals, and nearly as well as rival V-6 models (because it's lighter); and it's on par if not better for responsiveness than VW's 2.0T.  

Base engine doesn't feel like a base engine

And even more power—and fuel efficiency—is on the way. Hyundai has decided to omit the customary V-6 engine and this time go with an all-four-cylinder lineup for the 2011 Sonata. Along with this base engine, a turbocharged engine will join the lineup later in the year, and a hybrid is expected next year.

When cold, or just starting up from a stop at low rpms, the Sonata's engine sounds notably more coarse than the base engines in the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or Ford Fusion. It's one of the known tradeoffs of direct-injection designs.

We also liked the six-speed automatic transmission, which works with the engine's impressive torque curve and kept revs low, spinning into the higher rev ranges only when needed. nearly full throttle, promptly downshifts when your foot slams to the floor, and the manual controls—accessed through a manual gate, with simple plus/minus action—work exactly as expected.

Ecobox mileage in a big, refined sedan

Over a week and about 220 miles with the 2011 Sonata, we averaged well over 30 mpg (in a rare discrepancy, the trip computer showed 33 mpg, while our manual top-off suggested just under 31 mpg). In either case, that's excellent mileage for a mix of interstates and two-laners along with a bit of in-town driving—and close to the 35 mpg highway rating.

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