The Hyundai Sonata was a serious contender for our 2011 Automobile of the Year award, which went instead to the Chevrolet Volt. But the Sonata is a game changer all the same. In the past two decades, the passenger-car market in America has been ruled by three cars: the Ford Taurus, the Honda Accord, and the Toyota Camry. As we all know, Ford ignored the Taurus after its initial success, so Americans took the hint and ignored it, too, leaving the Accord and the Camry as perennial best-sellers. Only the Nissan Altima managed to make serious inroads into a market utterly dominated by those two household names.
Twelve years ago, we attended the media launch of the then-new Hyundai Sonata, an utterly mediocre car from what had been an utterly mediocre carmaker. But Hyundai used the occasion to announce a brave new campaign. Its ten-year/100,000-mile warranty was an opening salvo in the company's battle to succeed in the hypercompetitive American marketplace.
And nothing says "we've made it" in the hypercompetitive American marketplace better than a hypercompetitive family sedan, which is what Hyundai unveiled at the 2009 Los Angeles auto show. The Sonata has emerged as an unquestioned leader in a segment that's bursting with excellent automobiles. Painstakingly conceptualized, designed, and engineered by Hyundai Motor America and its parent company in Korea, Hyundai Motor Sales, the Sonata meets and exceeds the varied needs and wishes of demanding American buyers. It also happens to look great inside and out and drive exceptionally well, with a responsive chassis, an efficient and powerful direct-injected four-cylinder engine, and a crispness that heretofore had eluded not just Korean cars in general but most vehicles in this segment. The new turbocharged and hybrid powertrains are icing on the cake; the Sonata would be a shoo-in as an All-Star even without them. Now, the Sonata is a car that sells purely on its merits rather than on its warranty, and increasing numbers of savvy Americans are beating a path to Hyundai's door.
- Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
BASE PRICE RANGE: $19,915-$27,000 (est.)
ENGINES: 2.4L I-4, 198 hp, 184 lb-ft; 2.4L I-4 electric/hybrid, 206 hp (combined); 2.0L turbocharged I-4, 274 hp, 269 lb-ft