Well, now I understand what all the fuss is about: With one stroke, Hyundai has transformed the Sonata from rental-car, bottom-of-the-heap status to a legitimate threat to the kings of the lucrative and all-important mid-size-sedan segment, the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima. The four-cylinder engine and the six-speed transmission work very well together and should indeed meet the needs of many people who thought they wanted or needed a V-6 engine, and the bonus is an amazing 35-mpg highway fuel economy rating. With 198 hp on tap and a relatively modest curb weight of 3200 pounds, the Sonata had plenty of power for my brief stint on the freeway, where I easily merged into the traffic stream and accelerated to 90 mph.
Hyundai, you see, has decided not to offer a V-6 engine at all, because it feels (and I agree) that the four-cylinder is more than sufficient, and in not having to build the car's front structure in such a way as to accommodate the extra weight and size of a V-6, the company's engineers were able to shave about 100 pounds off the car's weight right from the get-go.
Body control, ride quality, and steering feel are all exemplary and would be foreign qualities to any driver of the outgoing, soggy Sonata. The 2011 Sonata just goes down the road with a crispness and a sense of purpose that only the Accord and the Altima come close to matching.
The direct-injection four-cylinder is strong but not silent. It would be a stretch to call it unrefined, but it would certainly be a stretch to call it mellifluous. No matter: it settles into a distant hum once you're on the freeway, where wind noise is only marginally evident. And you can always turn up the excellent optional stereo like the one on our tester.
Cabin finish and ergonomics are at or near the top of the class. The radio and navigation interface, like the one in the Hyundai Genesis sedan, are absolutely superb. At $28K fully loaded, our test car seems like a bargain.
I am put off by the weird chrome grille, but there are many touches of elegance to the exterior, and the car as a whole presents as one that has substance and presence. Your average American will quite like it, I predict.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor