2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited review: Still amazes

2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Approaching two years out, the Hyundai Sonata still amazes. We should at this point be beyond the can-it-really-be-a-Hyundai stage and we mostly are. But our sojourn with a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited served as a reminder of not only how well equipped the Sonata is for the dollar—that’s something of a Hyundai trademark—but the advanced technology the Sonata has for the price as well. And beyond that, just how desirable the Sonata is when price is not really an object.

We’re not the only ones that feel that way, either. The Hyundai Sonata arrived in early 2010 as a 2011 model. By October 2010, the Sonata had fully hit its stride, yet a year after that, sales of the Sonata were higher yet. Not a lot, but when sales could have begun to slide, the Sonata’s sales totals for the month of October, 2011, were up a mere four percent over October 2010.

That’s “mere”, of course, because total Hyundai sales were up 23 percent. (The only models to decrease were the Hyundai Veracruz—the Hyundai what?—and the Hyundai Accent, which was in the middle of a sell down of the last generation with the all-new 2012 Hyundai Accent waiting in the wings).

If people really do buy cars with their eyes, it’s no wonder the Sonata sells so well. The 2011 Hyundai Sonata’s dramatic styling is hard to miss, with sharp creases on flamboyant curves and a grille that’s heavy-duty eye candy.

One need not take sides in the left brain/right brain conflict of style versus substance—which is good because we can never remember which half is logic and which is passion—because the new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is a peach. Hyundai dropped the V-6 engine, replacing it with a turbocharged four cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited interior

Even the steering wheel on the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited is two-tone.

The non-turbo engine is rated at 198 horsepower, however, impressive for this size of engine without turbocharging and running on regular fuel. Add to that an EPA rating of 22 mpg/35 mpg city/highway.
Much of the credit goes to direct injection, which allows an engine to be more powerful and more efficient on lower octane fuel. It’s more expensive to build but the payback is worth the cost. The all-aluminum engine has dual overhead camshafts with continuously variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust, plus a variable induction system which improves engine breathing across the rev range. In short, it’s as high tech–if not more so–as almost anything on the market today.

Piling on the tech, the Sonata also has a “smart alternator.” It’s smart because the alternator–which generates electricity to keep the Sonata’s battery charged, the spark plugs firing and stereo making music–charges only when the Sonata decelerates (or the battery is depleted). Because it’s not creating drag on the engine all the time, the Sonata gets better fuel mileage than with a conventional alternator.

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata is available with a six-speed manual transmission in with base GLS trim level. A six-speed automatic is optional on the GLS and standard on the SE and Limited trim levels. The automatic was developed by Hyundai and is made by Hyundai for Hyundai automobiles. Most manufacturers buy their transmissions from one of a few suppliers. Hyundai claims its transmission is lighter than the competition and has fewer parts, the latter meaning fewer parts to break. Or so we’re told.