May 20, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 26 May 2011 12:29
If American automakers had improved their products since, say, the 1950s, at the same pace the Koreans have set in recent years, we’d all be flying around in anti-gravity cars powered by air and good thoughts.
The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord remain frontrunners in the midsize-sedan category, but the Hyundai Sonata is considered by many to be perched at the head of its class. The Sonata’s stable mate from Kia, the Optima, recently beat the Accord in a head-to-head review by Consumer Reports magazine.
Nose around the Internet and you’ll find your share of folks who hold the Korean cars in disdain for one reason or another. But the debate over Korean quality is over. These cars and SUVs are very much for real.Case in point: Our latest test car, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE. We drove a Sonata a few years ago and found it competent, but dull, cramped and even a little thirsty. But Hyundai has stepped up its game. The new Sonata is roomy, comfortable and even sporty, with its optional 2.0-liter turbocharged Four. It handles crisply and is — dare we say it? — fun to drive.
Built in Montgomery, Ala., the Sonata’s standard engine is a 2.4-liter, 198-horsepower Four. Turbocharged models like the one we drove are rated at 274 horsepower. No V-6 is available, or necessary.
The base Sonata GLS, with the 2.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission, starts at $19,350. Our not-quite-top-of-the-line SE had a sticker price of $27,600. With one major option package — navigation system, sunroof and various audio goodies, for $2,600 — it was loaded with features by any definition. On the standard-equipment list were 18-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, steering-wheel-mounted cruise, audio and phone controls, XM satellite radio and more.
We put quite a few miles on our Venetian Red Sonata, including a drive from western Connecticut to Fenway Park in Boston with three passengers. Tall passengers in the back seat reported head room was tight but adequate. But they praised the Sonata for its brakes, which stopped the car straight and true when interstate traffic suddenly slowed; and its handling, when two deer raced across Interstate 84 near Hartford just yards from the Sonata’s front end. The car’s ride and seating comfort also earned compliments from the group.
Rated at 22 mpg city, 33 highway, on regular gasoline, our Sonata’s fuel-economy readout stayed around the top end in mainly highway driving. The base 2.4-liter engine is rated as high as 35 mpg.
The Sonata earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick designation. Sonata owners surveyed by Consumer Reports magazine say the car’s reliability is above average.
And the numbers don’t lie: The Sonata, once a back-of-the-pack contender in the midsize sweepstakes, overtook the Nissan Altima last fall and challenged the dominant Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Clearly, Hyundai and Kia have emerged as a force in the North American market.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged Four, 274 horsepower, 269 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,338 lb.
Suspension: Four-wheel independent, MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Tires: P225/45VR18 BSW performance AS
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 16.4 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular
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