During the lazy months of summer, the only thing harder to obtain than a paid day off at the beach was the key fob to our Four Seasons Hyundai Sonata SE. Since it arrived in Ann Arbor at the beginning of July, editors and friends of the magazine have collectively piled on nearly 8000 miles. That's no small feat. By contrast, it took our Four Seasons Nissan Cube twice that amount of time to begrudgingly hit 7000 miles. In August alone, the Sonata covered 4000 miles, reaching destinations as far as the mountains of North Carolina, as well as the urban jungles of Saint Louis and Chicago.
And unlike our Four Seasons Suzuki Kizashi, we don't seem to be the only ones to appreciate the Sonata's penchant for time on the roads.
"I see more and more 2011 Sonatas on the road every day, it seems," said copy editor Rusty Blackwell. "Hyundai seems poised to climb the sales rankings in the megacompetitive mid-size segment."
A recent conversation with Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcik revealed that Hyundai's factories are struggling to keep up with demand. In July, the Alabama plants produced within fifteen units of the number that dealers moved out the door. A quick trip to New England confirmed the Sonata's success outside our Midwest home office, according to senior web editor Phil Floraday.
"A surprising number of new Sonatas were on the road in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and they looked very good alongside much more expensive German sedans," Floraday said. "It's clear that Hyundai's styling has come into its own, which is a key factor in image-conscious markets."
Although our editors are in relative agreement on the Sonata's attractive exterior, not everyone is a fan of the courageously stylish interior. After returning from a weekend road trip to Chicago, which was accomplished primarily during nighttime hours, one editor bemoaned the lack of consistent lighting in the cabin.
"The blue backlit illumination is harsh on the eyes. It definitely adds panache to the interior, but makes the small, white text nearly impossible to decipher. Lighting throughout the cabin is also inconsistent. There are separate brightness adjustments for the instrument panel and the navigation screen, as opposed to one controller."
Issues of interior lighting haven't escaped the minds of other editors.
"My first drive in our Four Seasons Sonata was at night, and because some of the HVAC controls aren't illuminated, I had a hard time adjusting it in the dark," noted digital platforms managing editor Jen Misaros. "Even with the interior lighting at its minimum brightness, the PRND lettering next to the gear selector was so bright that, every time I saw it out of my peripheral vision, I thought it was my cell phone ringing."
"Hopefully Hyundai will fix the nondimming gear-selector lights that Jen noted," Blackwell added. "But it'll be harder, I imagine, for the company to address the low-quality sound of the doors shutting (particularly the driver's door)."
Our typically lead-footed drivers have lauded the Sonata for its noteworthy thriftiness. Friend of the magazine Marc Meyer piloted the Sonata 500 miles west of Ann Arbor, and he praised the Sonata for having "at least 100 miles left in the tank." While he, as well as our editors, have reported indicated average fuel economy as high as 36 mpg on the highway (higher than the EPA-estimated 35 mpg), we think the Sonata's internal computer might be reading too high. Our best calculated thankful, however, yielded 33.5 mpg on a journey of mostly highway miles.
If that kind of mileage keeps up, the Sonata could stand tall against a previous Four Seasons test car, the diesel-equipped Volkswagen Jetta TDI -- which averaged 37 mpg during its year with us. But before that can happen, though, we'll have to hold the Sonata down around the office a little longer.