First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Drop down a few gears to head into a curve, and the Sonata turns in crisply, resisting body roll and understeer better than you'd expect from a mainstream midsize sedan. Body motions are well damped, both on winding roads and on the freeway. We were also pleased that Hyundai has moved far away from the one-pinkie steering efforts prized in Korea, as the Sonata's helm has pleasant heft and commendable precision.

The driving environment is easy enough to adapt to, with straightforward controls and clear gauges housed in the currently voguish deeply hooded twin binnacles. Storage space is plentiful, and the (standard) iPod input is readily accessible. Also standard, on even the base trim level, is Bluetooth phone connectivity, a feature that is fast becoming a necessity due to hands-free cell-phone laws. We aren't fans of the cloth seats in the GLS or the cloth-and-leather combo in the SE, which makes leather, and therefore the Limited, a necessity. The good news for those in northern climates is that the Limited includes heated seats for both front and rear passengers. Whatever the weather, rear-seat riders will enjoy vast legroom, although the Audi-like arching roofline makes for precious little head clearance for those over six feet. Still, the Sonata has enough space inside to join the Honda Accord as the only large cars in this class, as measured by the EPA. And the Sonata does so despite being very nearly the shortest among its major competitors; that relatively trim size combined with a tight turning circle eases parking maneuvers.

Of all its competitive superlatives, perhaps the most predictable is "lowest price." Unlike Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion, or Malibu, the base Sonata is able to limbo under the $20,000 bar, and even a fully loaded Limited (with navigation, back-up camera, and premium audio) tops out at just over $28,000. Flinty-eyed family-sedan shoppers will take notice, and with old objections like quality and residual value falling away, we'd be willing to bet that the impressive new Sonata will power past at least a few competitors in the mid-size sedan horse race.

The Specs

On sale: Now
Price: $19,915 (GLS); $23,315 (SE); $26,015 (Limited)

Engine:
2.4-liter direct-injection I-4
198-200 hp @ 6300 rpm
194-196 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
Drive:
Front-wheel
Fuel economy:
24/35 mpg (manual)
22/35 mpg (automatic)

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mo_pho
Undeniably impressive.Given the strides Hyundai has been making lately, I can only imagine where they'll be in the next 5-10 years.

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