SAN DIEGO — Want to win ’em over?
Here’s Hyundai’s formula: Give consumers the styling, performance, fuel economy, quality and extra features they want in a new car without having to dish out a lot of a cash.
Yeah, I know, sounds like the pitch a lot of carmakers are making these days to reel in customers, and whether you buy into it is more a matter of personal opinion depending on what you like, right?
Kinda like pulling in a group of Beyoncé fans who have every song she’s made downloaded on their iPod and asking who’s hotter – the former Destiny’s Child lead singer, Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift. Chances are they’ll say “Beyoncé” even though all three artists are big music stars with the credits to prove it.
Thing is, Hyundai’s overall car strategy in recent years has been so much more different than most automakers. That slanted “H” identifying the nameplate, which in the past would’ve only been an afterthought, now clearly marks a brand worth taking note of when first thinking of buying a new car, even if you aren’t a Hyundai fan.
It’s a new day for the carmaker and no vehicle in the lineup better highlights that than the all-new 2011 Sonata.
When it comes to mid-size cars, the new Sonata definitely sets a new standard for the segment. Sure, that’s a pretty big statement to make about a new car. But the new Sonata puts up a pretty convincing argument for making the claim.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
For starters, let’s talk about the styling which is about as sharp of a departure as you can get from the previous model. Chances are, unless you’ve seen one of the TV ads for the new Sonata, (the company’s spending $160 million on the launch), you wouldn’t even recognize the 2011 model on the street.
Designed to look more like a coupe, Hyundai started with a clean slate when designing the 2011 Sonata. The car’s exterior styling is distinguished by a high belt line and a sleek roof line accented by a third window. Other key details include Hyundai’s signature chrome accent that on the new Sonata extends from the headlamps, just up along the hood and through the belt line.
The goal for the new Sonata, says Hyundai’s design team, was a drastic shift from the “traditional” idea of its mid-size sedan.
It’s a design language that started taking shape with the full-size Genesis sedan. Then with the 2011 Sonata and Tucson projects, Hyundai set out to push the envelope a little more with a design language the automaker describes as “Fluidic Sculpture.” It gives the vehicle a look like it’s in motion.
Some will likely note some design similarities with other sedans, especially considering Hyundai’s rep for using some of the styling cues of other cars. But the new Sonata’s still has a distinctive presence on the road.
Wheel options include 16, 17 or 18-inch multi-spokes.
Inside, the Sonata, available in three trim levels (GLS, SE and Limited), features a lot of the styling elements of the exterior in everything from the instrument panel to the door panels. Simple, but clean. The coupe-like design elements are even noticeable in the foot wells when driving or riding in the front passenger seat.
Set on establishing a new standard for mid-size sedans, the 2011model even features push button start on the SE and Limited — a first for Sonata. The sportier SE is equipped with steering wheel paddle shifts as well.
The Limited features a “piano black” trim inside. I prefer the “metal grain” trim featured in the SE model tested. Both are plastic, but the “metal grain” has a richer look. Of course, much like Beyonce’s fans opinion regarding who’s hotter, that might be more of a personal preference. A “Limited camel” interior features a “wood grain” trim.
Leather seats are only available on the Limited model, which is another way Hyundai manages to keep the costs lower on the car. To make more features available at a lower price point, Hyundai’s also developed a new premium audio system (Dimension) available on lower trim levels. The Limited model features an Infinity audio system.
Bluetooth hand-free phone interface is standard on all models.
Even more impressive, that while the Sonata falls in the mid-size segment, Hyundai’s managed to pull off the type of interior space that would classify it as a “large” sedan.
Options include a power sunroof, a navigation system with a 6.5 inch touch screen, rearview camera, and XM traffic and streaming Bluetooth radio. Heated front and rear seats are standard on the Limited.
The new Sonata is powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 198 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque. It’s currently the only available engine option. But don’t worry, the 4-cylinder engine, which is matted to a 6-speed manual (standard) and automatic transmission is more than enough power. It’s also pretty quiet for a 4-cylinder even when gassing it hard without a lot of that whiny noise you tend to get with a four-cylinder.
We tested the front-wheel-drive sedan on some fairly windy roads. Ride and handling is significantly better than the previous model. Hyundai notes a drastic improvement in body rigidity to give the car a more solid feel on the road. The new Sonata also has “segment-leading” turning radius, according to Hyundai, which makes it easier to park and maneuver.
The sedan averages 23 mpg city/35 mpg highway, which Hyundai notes is the best in segment. Expect a Sonata hybrid by the end of 2010. Next year Hyundai will add a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine to the lineup.
Safety features include active front head restraints, six standard air bags and standard electronic stability control.
Tally all these features up in a mid-size sedan priced from $19,195 (base) to $27,395 for the Limited with all the extras, and the 2011 Sonata is something practically anybody can appreciate, Hyundai fan or not.
MPG: 23 city/35 hwy
Available 19-inch wheels
Available push button start
Log on to www.WheelSide.com for more car reviews, news and views by Marcus Amick.