That the Sonata has been a runaway success for Hyundai is no secret. Annual sales are on pace to exceed 200,000 units this year, placing the Sonata among the most popular vehicles on the market, and it’s a 2011 Automobile Magazine All-Star. On top of that, we are currently about to wrap up a successful Four Seasons test of a 200-hp four-cylinder Sonata SE, which has proven to be a staff favorite. As further testament to its popularity, the Sonata is ubiquitous on the streets of Ann Arbor. In fact, as I write, I can see a Sonata parallel parking on Liberty Street just outside my office window.
In short, the Sonata is a very good car. If the 274-hp turbocharged model didn’t exist, it’d still be a very good car, as the normally aspirated four-cylinder is sufficient for almost any task you set it to and returns impressive fuel economy (our Four Seasons car has seen mpg in the high 30s in freeway driving). But the turbocharged Sonata does exist, and it settles the question of whether a mid-size sedan needs to offer a six-cylinder with a firm, “No.”
The turbo four doesn’t exactly turn the Sonata into a sports car, but it feels great on the freeway as you accelerate from 65 mph to 85 mph or more with a modest dab on the accelerator – no drama, just a nice rush of power. Other than that extra dose of power, the turbo Sonata feels the same as the normally aspirated car: seats that are a little more firm that I’d like; there’s a very well-executed center stack with a user-friendly entertainment/navigation interface; the ride is a nicely balanced. I can’t honestly say that I’d pony up the extra money for the turbocharged engine if I were buying a Sonata, but for those who savor horsepower, the $1500 premium is a reasonable price to pay.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Hyundai has done very well with the Sonata. There’s a price leader with great fuel economy in the form of the base car, a hybrid to appease the greenies, and now a turbo model that eliminates any argument for a V-6 engine in a mid-size sedan. Notice I didn’t say the turbo will appease sport sedan shoppers, because it doesn’t come close to reaching that level.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Hyundai’s turbo four-cylinder is the existence of the Volkswagen/Audi 2.0T engine. Hyundai delivers a very strong powerplant for a reasonable price, but it doesn’t offer nearly the same level of refinement or smooth power delivery that VW does. Hyundai’s engine feels less impressive because it’s backed by an automatic transmission that, in the interest of increasing fuel economy, is hesitant to downshift. With 22/33 mpg ratings, the Sonata Turbo certainly delivers impressive fuel economy, but those figures come at the expense of responsiveness when you floor the accelerator. We used to have to wait for boost to build to get strong acceleration from a turbo car, now we’re waiting for a transmission to drop a gear or two.
If I were shopping for a mid-size sedan right now the Hyundai Sonata SE would be at the top of my list. I don’t think the $1550 premium for a turbo model is unreasonable, but the 2.4-liter non-turbo Sonata SE we’re currently testing in our Four Seasons fleet never feels like it needs more power. The transmission programming that prioritizes fuel economy over acceleration also feels more appropriate in the non-turbo Sonata. I still haven’t warmed to the Sonata’s grille, but everything else about this car is great.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
One of the most impressive things about the turbocharged Sonata — besides the fact that it’s an award-winning entry from a hot company in arguably the toughest class in the market, of course — is its impressively high horsepower figure. For those who like extra power, the turbocharged Sonata is definitely worth the extra $1550 (on the SE trim level). As Phil noted, though, the engine is not as refined as Volkswagen’s turbo four. Still, for the normal consumer who wants more pep at a decent price, this is a great option — and a seemingly better approach than the previously de rigueur six-cylinder option in the segment. Hyundai has clearly started a trend here, as, for instance, the next Chevy Malibu will have a four-cylinder-only lineup.
Like other Sonatas I’ve driven (normally aspirated and hybrid), the turbo model sometimes hiccups on the 1-2 upshift, especially where traction is compromised.
I achieved an indicated 26.5 mpg over 250 weekend miles, which included very little highway driving; 26 mpg is the EPA combined rating. Impressive indeed.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T
Base price (with destination): $24,865
Price as tested: $27,600
2.0L turbocharged direct-injected 4-cylinder
6-speed automatic transmission
Electronic stability control with traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Daytime running lights
Sport-tuned suspension and steering
18-inch alloy wheels
Chrome-tipped dual exhaust
Proximity key entry with push-button start
Power windows/locks/mirrors/driver’s seat with lumbar
Sport seats with leather bolsters and cloth inserts
60/40 split-folding rear seat
Metalgrain interior accents
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Dual automatic climate control
AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with 6 speakers
XM satellite radio
iPod/USB/Auxilliary input jacks
Options on this vehicle:
● SE navigation and sunroof package — $2600
* Power sunroof
* Navigation system with touchscreen display, XM NavTraffic, and XM NavWeather
* Dimension premium audio system
● Carpeted floormats — $100
● iPod cable — $35
Key options not on vehicle:
22 / 33 / 26 mpg
2.0L turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 274 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 269 lb-ft @ 1750-4500 rpm
Curb weight: 3452 lb
Wheels/tires: 18-inch alloy wheels
P225/45R18 all-season tires