Drive Time


2011 Hyundai Sonata: Raising the Bar

Jessica L. Anderson

Hyundai’s sixth-generation family sedan is a head-turner -- and a better value than its competitors.



Midsize family sedans are like running shoes -- you can log serious miles without sacrificing comfort and reliability, but no one would call them sexy. All the more surprising that the sixth-generation Hyundai Sonata -- from a carmaker that for years has represented stodgy utilitarianism -- actually evokes passion.

The 2011 Sonata has a bold design, with a raked roofline and taut lines. The design is more reminiscent of luxury makes than of the usual family-sedan suspects.

But it’s not only about looks for Hyundai. It’s also about quality, reliability and safety. Hyundai has had to work hard to overcome its tin-can image of the 1980s and ’90s. Its five-year comprehensive warranty has helped convert the naysayers, and so has the introduction of the Genesis, its first true luxury sedan, at a value price.

Hyundai advertises heavily for big events such as the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, touting vehicle quality and its tag line, “Think about it.” The new Sonata offers even more food for thought.

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Hitting the road

On a recent test drive in sunny San Diego, I started out skeptical. Sure, it looks great — hands down the most compelling design in its segment. But could it carry that boldness inside, and, more importantly, into the driver’s seat? The short answer: Yes, it can.

Stepping inside, you’ll find all the basics of your average family sedan, plus some notable extras. The Sonata’s base-model, the GLS (starting at $19,915 for the manual transmission), has standard XM satellite radio, USB input for MP3 players and Bluetooth wireless phone connection with phonebook transfer. All these creature comforts are optional or not available on the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

The straight-aways allowed me to test the surprisingly peppy 198-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. As I left the Pacific behind and headed inland to San Diego wine country, the twisting roads put the car through its handling paces. The Sonata proved responsive, with nicely weighted steering and plenty of road feel.

The Sonata has more horsepower and torque than any of its four-cylinder-engine competitors, but it still gets the best mileage in its class: 35 mpg on the highway (city mileage is 24 mpg for manuals and 22 mpg for automatics), thanks to direct injection.

Value play

The new Sonata’s resale values are higher than ever -- 53% after three years, according to Automotive Lease Guide. That ties the Altima and falls just below the Accord’s 55%, but it beats the Camry and the Ford Fusion (both 49%), as well as the Chevrolet Malibu (46%).

Hyundai’s Assurance guarantee includes five years of roadside assistance and a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with Hyundai’s ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty -- along with the job-loss return guarantee.

Safety is tops as well. The Sonata was the first midsize car to have standard electronic stability control, back in 2005, and for 2011, traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags are also standard. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded Sonata one of its coveted Top Safety Picks -- an honor not bestowed on any of its Japanese competitors.

A few things leave room for improvement. Though the body grows slightly for 2011, Sonata’s rear legroom drops by nearly 3 inches. Some of it was transferred to the front row, but that won’t make rear passengers feel better.

Headroom also takes a small hit. And though the SE ($23,315) and Limited ($26,015) models are nicely appointed throughout, the base GLS pales a bit in comparison—interior materials aren’t as high-quality and the statement-making grille is body-colored, not chrome.

The Sonata starts at $1,850 less than the base Accord LX, $705 less than the Altima and $205 less than the Camry.

Better-looking, more fuel-efficient, safer and cheaper than the competition. Think about it.



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