Quick Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

One of the hotter cars to come out of the Korean automaker, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata seems to have it all:  good looks, fuel economy, creature comforts, a fair price.  Its paint is compared to that of Mercedes-Benz, and its sights are set squarely on the most popular midsize sedans – the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.  What did I think of my test drive?  Click past the jump to find out.

Approaching the car, it is reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, with a low, sweeping roofline.  This design is very popular these days, making sedans resemble coupes, even though they retain four doors.  This usually leads to a lack of head room in the rear, but my rear passenger didn’t have any trouble with that regard.  Your taller friends may wish they got the front passenger seat, though.

The seats in the new Sonata are quite comfortable, with plenty of power adjustments on the model I test drove.  The front seats feature a 2-level heating option, which worked well.  Surprisingly, a lot of the interior that you’d touch on a regular basis was made of soft touch materials, whether it be leatherette or plastic.  It’s good to see a car in this price range (under $30,000) with such a great interior.

The dashboard is a funny thing in the Sonata.  While it has a gimmicky-looking “mode” button for the climate control, which just cycles through the different vent mixes, it has really nice radio controls, a slick shifter, easy-to-read instruments, and cleverly-hidden cubbyholes to store your cell phone and other detritus.

The model I test drove was equipped with the push-button start, another surprise in this price range.  It’s things like this that have made Hyundai a very popular seller since the economy went south, and even a little before that.

Pulling out of my parking space, the things that hit me right away were the power and steering of the car.  Traditionally, the Sonata has been available with 4 and 6-cylinder engines.  For 2011, Hyundai is using 3 different 4-cylinder engines which use new technology to produce plenty of power and still deliver great fuel efficiency.  The turbocharged and hybrid variants of the Sonata aren’t available yet, so I was driving the regular one, and anyone who buys this car should not worry about a lack of power.  While it won’t win you any races, with 3 people in the car I had no problem merging with freeway traffic and speeding up to change lanes in busy city traffic either.  I mentioned the steering.  It’s quite light, and was a breeze to use both on the highway and in a crowded parking lot.

Once up to speed, I opened all the windows and the sunroof.  While just opening the side windows an inch or so didn’t add any unpleasant amounts of wind noise to the cabin, the sunroof surely did.  Hyundai needs to redesign the air foil at the front of the Sonata’s sunroof or something, to quiet that down.  I definitely noticed myself raising my voice at highway speeds to talk with my passengers.

With the windows and sunroof closed, the cabin gets a lot quieter, but other cars and some road noise get in.  I guess that sound deadening is where Hyundai sliced a few pounds out of the redesigned car, since they say that the 2011 model weighs less than the 2010 one.  I would’ve rather paid more for a quieter V6 model than save weight and a couple MPGs.

Overall, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata is a compelling car.  I value quiet, comfort and good in-car electronics over most anything else in a car, since I spend a lot of my driving either on the highway for long stretches or commuting.  In either case, you don’t want a lot of outside interference with your driving.  In the case of this car, you get all but one of those.  The Sonata is definitely comfortable and has good in-car electronics, with bluetooth audio, iPod connectivity, satellite radio, etcetera.  I would like to try out their navigation system, so I may have to go back and drive another one.  If only it were a few decibels quieter overall, it would definitely dethrone some of its rivals.

by John Suit

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