Five years ago this month, I wrote about the 2006 Hyundai Sonata, saying, "It isn't beautiful, elegant, or at all innovative, but neither is it ugly, clumsy, inelegant, or embarrassing," and I concluded that, "One more generation of Sonatas, if the designers continue in this trajectory, should see Hyundai becoming downright desirable."
I think Hyundai has achieved desirability with the 2011 Sonata, but not on the basis of its styling. Instead, it is a combination of ever-higher quality and perfectly normative "international" styling that makes this bigger and, yes, better-looking car something that people can buy with the same expectation of reliability that traditionally has characterized Toyota.
When you buy a Hyundai, you don't expect class-leading handling and performance, and you certainly don't get the prestige attached, rightly or wrongly, to old-line European makes. But if you're not a serious car enthusiast and just want predictably dependable transportation, Hyundai is perhaps the best answer on offer today.
The new Sonata's proportions are good, with the front wheelhouse far enough forward to allow a moderately long hood. The Peugeot-like headlamp clusters add visual length, and only the convoluted chrome grille really offends my aesthetic sensibilities. The roof is long, with an elegant sweeping arc from hood to deck, and the sides are commendably plain, with one prominent crease running through the door handles. The third piece of side glass is in the body, not the door-much nicer than the outgoing Sonata's awkward solution.
The interior looks very good, with a steering wheel bearing multiple controls in what appears to be a logical arrangement, although one would have to live with the Sonata awhile to fully appreciate it (or not). There's too much black for my taste, but the sides of the console spreading into face-level vents mitigate that with a nonglare, lighter tone. The instrument panel-one of the best in an affordable car in the past ten years-is at once original and functional.
The rear body surfacing is decent, although the sweep down from the rear lamps is exactly like those seen on at least twenty cars from seven or eight countries. The carefully designed twin exhausts that I praised five years ago are even better now, and the result of all this is a nice car that you'd never have to explain away. But no one would think you'd been seduced by a pretty face, either. I'll repeat: Hyundai is on the right track, but it still needs to develop an individual, indigenous automotive style. I am confident that it will do so, and I wait impatiently for the next Sonata.