Hyundai is relatively inexperienced when it comes to turbocharging gas engines, and that showed with the company’s last boosted powerplant, in the Genesis coupe. In addition to providing relatively tepid performance, the coupe’s turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder is sluggish and abrasive. While the Sonata 2.0T’s engine uses the same block as the Genesis coupe’s, the Koreans have made enough changes to craft what feels like an entirely new — and seriously impressive — engine.
You won’t miss a V-6.
Hyundai will position the Sonata 2.0T as a polished and powerful V-6 replacement, not as an edgier, sportier sedan. To deliver that refined character, there’s now a balance shaft that does wonders to smooth and calm the engine as you push it to the 6600-rpm redline. The new engine also benefits from direct injection and a higher compression ratio, and a larger, twin-scroll turbocharger runs 17.4 psi of boost to deliver 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque on regular unleaded. Those numbers beat every competitor’s mid-size sedan — whether equipped with a V-6 or a turbo four-cylinder — save for the 280-hp Volkswagen CC VR6. Peak torque is available from 1800 to 4500 rpm, but in most gears, the turbo can’t achieve full boost until about 2900 rpm–and output is limited in the lower gears to avoid overwhelming the front tires. Once underway, though, the Sonata 2.0T is more than hearty enough for its mission as a V-6 replacement. Factory-measured acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is a lively 6.5 seconds.
With such performance and power, it’s remarkable that Hyundai can also deliver fuel economy to shame less powerful, normally aspirated four-cylinders. The 22 mpg city rating is great, putting the Sonata on par with the most fuel-efficient, nonhybrid mid-size sedans. But 34 mpg on the highway is truly exceptional, with the nearest competitor being a 33-mpg, 169-hp Toyota Camry.
Comfortable, yet engaging.
Other than the engine, though, the Sonata 2.0T is essentially the same as a regular 2.4-liter Sonata. The turbocharged Sonata will be available in two trim levels, the taut SE and the more relaxed Limited. Our tests were confined to Hyundai’s pint-sized test track in Namyang, South Korea and didn’t allow much of an opportunity to explore the ride quality over various surfaces. However, our past experiences with the Sonata have proven that even the Limited provides confident body control, respectable handling, and decent steering effort. The Sonata’s ability to balance comfort and agility is one of its finer traits, and that character is made even sweeter with a powerful engine behind it.
Minor equipment changes.
The key differentiators of the 2.0T are dual exhaust outlets as well as steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to control the six-speed automatic. The interior is tastefully and ergonomically styled with only a small amount of cheap plastic around the controls. The seats, however, are still somewhat firm and flat. Pricing hasn’t been announced but will likely start around $27,000 when it goes on sale in October.
A glimpse of the future.
Hyundai’s turbocharged Sonata is an early example of the midsize sedan’s future. As fuel economy regulations tighten, expect to see more V-6 engines disappear with smaller, turbocharged units replacing them. Hyundai’s efficient and powerful 2.0T proves that the fuel-conscious future need not be dreary. The have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too engineering is a shining example of how cars can be engineered to be cleaner while packing just as much speed and fun.
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
On sale: October 2010
Base Price: $27,000 (est)
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged direct-injection, DOHC sixteen-valve I4
Horsepower: 274 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 269 lb-ft @ 1800-4500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
L x W x H: 189.8/ 72.2/ 57.9 in
Legroom F/R: 45.5/ 34.6 in
Headroom F/R: 40.0/ 37.8 in
Cargo capacity: 16.4 cu.ft
Curb Weight: 3338-3452 lbs (estimated)
EPA Rating (city/highway): 22/ 34 (estimated)