During our annual All-Stars testing, we spent a week with the turbocharged Hyundai Sonata 2.0T gaining a fresh perspective on our normally aspirated long-term car. In addition to our Ann Arbor staff, our judging panel included our most respected contributors and remote editors, giving us new insights on the entire Sonata package. The notes from France-based automotive design editor Robert Cumberford could just as easily apply to the turbocharged or naturally aspirated Sonata: "Drives with a precision, suppleness, and an earnestness previously missing from Korean cars. Crisp. Nice."
"The Sonata definitely benefits from being ahead of the product cycle of the other cars in this brutally competitive segment," observes contributor Preston Lerner. "At the moment, though, it's as good if not better than all of the competition. The faux-coupe styling is extremely handsome, and while I've got some quibbles with the interior design, I've got nothing but praise for the quality of the materials and the fit and finish."
The Sonata 2.0T isn't intended to be a sporty alternative to our 2.4-liter Four Season car. Rather, the boosted 2.0-liter engine is a V-6 alternative that delivers impressive power and even more impressive fuel economy. Even though it makes an additional 74 hp and 83 lb-ft of torque (for a total of 274 hp and 269 lb-ft), the turbo matches the city fuel economy of the normally aspirated engine at 22 mpg. Highway fuel economy in the Sonata 2.0T is rated at 33 mpg (down 2 mpg from the base Sonata), which still beats out the less powerful four-cylinder offerings from Toyota and Ford.
The turbo may not be quite as polished as a six-cylinder engine, but it is civil in power delivery, noise, and vibration. Power is actually limited in lower gears to counter torque steer and wheel spin, but Hyundai still allows enough gusto to break the tires loose. When driven with a judicious right foot, though, the Sonata 2.0T delivers strong acceleration to back the confident handling and steering. "It's as quick as a six but sips gas like a four and the chassis doesn't fall apart when pushed to its limits," admires senior editor Joe Lorio.
That said, the 2.0T didn't leaving anyone feeling like we'd been slighted with our slower Sonata. "It seems unnecessary," Lerner concludes. "I've spent a fair amount of time in normally aspirated Sonatas, and I thought they were perfectly adequate for the task this car was designed to perform-getting families from Point A to Point B efficiently, comfortably, and reliably."
"After driving the Sonata Turbo, I'd say we picked the right one," postures assistant editor David Zenlea. "Our four-cylinder provides perfectly adequate power and is well matched with the suspension. The turbo, much like most powerful front-wheel-drive midsize cars, has more torque than it can put to the ground."
It's important to note that no one wished for a V-6 in place of the turbo four-cylinder, an acknowledgment to the masterful job Hyundai has done balancing power and civility. With the fuel economy numbers to round out the package, Hyundai's progressive four-cylinder lineup (with base, turbo, and hybrid cars) should serve as inspiration to other automakers working on their next-generation mid-size sedans. Still, when the base engine is so good, we're hardly compelled to recommend the 2.0T. We're perfectly happy with our 200-hp 2.4-liter.
Having answered the question of turbo 2.0-liter or normally aspirated 2.4-liter, Lorio has a new question of Hyundai-Kia's mid-size sedans: "Does the new Kia Optima do everything as well as its corporative sibling while looking better to boot?" We're waiting to get one in the office before we pass judgment.
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