Hyundai's upward climb will be bolstered by the addition of the 2011 Sonata to showrooms this January. Riding on the success of the Genesis sedan and coupe, the Sonata finally gives Hyundai a very competitive entry into the hugely important midsize sedan segment -- and it doesn't hurt that this time, the Sonata looks great.
A Sonata worth staring at sounded like a huge stretch for Hyundai, until images of the Korean-spec Sonata trickled out a few months ago. Some people even doubted the car was a Hyundai. On the outside, the new Sonata almost looks like a Volkswagen CC from some angles. Indeed, the Sonata is the latest car that can be described as a four-door coupe and the transformation is certainly breathtaking.
Hyundai's new Fluidic Sculpture design language debuts on the Sonata and will quickly migrate to other Hyundai models as part of the brand's ambitious plan to unveil seven new models in the next 24 months. Stronger lines and more dramatic shapes are part of the Fluidic Sculpture design language, which is supposed to simulate motion even when the car is standing still. Hyundai hasn't sacrificed much space in the pursuit of good design, though passengers taller than six-feet will not be completely comfortable in the back seat.
Though the sheetmetal will surely attract many more potential buyers, the Sonata is truly impressive underneath its skin. All Sonatas will be powered by four-cylinder engines to help Hyundai meet its goal of being the most fuel efficient automaker. Initially, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata will only be available with a 2.4-liter engine that produces 198 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The Theta II engine utilizes direct injection along with advance valve timing and intake geometry to provide better power and efficiency. Later in 2010, Hyundai will unveil 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and advanced hybrid models.
The engine is backed by either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Hyundai designed the automatic transmission in-house and the company is quite proud of that fact. With some clever engineering, the new six-speed auto is smaller, lighter, and made of fewer parts than the outgoing transmission, and helps deliver a nine percent improvement in fuel economy. Hyundai also promises there is no need to change the transmission oil for the life of the vehicle.
Hyundai claims to have spent a considerable amount of time tuning the suspension on the SE model to up the fun-to-drive factor. The last facelift for Sonata produced an SE model with considerably better handling than other Sonatas, though enthusiasts were still looking for a little more performance. Now SE models use stiffer springs and larger antiroll bars, which Hyundai says results in a 20-percent increase to roll stiffness. Unique dampers are part of the package as are 18-inch wheels. If the SE model doesn't quite live up to our expectations, there's still hope for the forthcoming 2.0-liter turbo cars to offer more excitement.
Inside, every Sonata will feature Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity right from the factory. An optional touch-screen navigation unit is available on every trim level and features Hyundai's new Dimension audio system. Hyundai hopes to turn its Dimension audio system into a premium name, though the top-spec Limited models still offer Infiniti-sourced sound systems as an upgrade.
Hyundai finally has the right mix of looks, technology, and pricing to go from being a sensible choice to a highly desirable midsize sedan with the 2011 Sonata. We're looking forward to the rest of the Hyundai Sonata line being unveiled at the 2010 New York auto show next spring.