Reviews

2011 Hyundai Sonata Walk Around

The all-new, 2011 Hyundai Sonata is classed as a midsize sedan but it's large by those standards. Measured by total enclosed space, it just sneaks in at the bottom of the large sedan class.

Hyundai's designers throw around phrases like fluidic sculpture design language and monoform side profile in describing the new styling. They say their goal was to design a car that no one could say, looks like brand X. As to the former, the word busy seems apt in describing the Sonata's styling cues. And as to the latter, observers should be forgiven if on catching sight of the new Sonata their first thought is of one of those cars that wear the three pointed star emblem. This isn't to say the Sonata's looks aren't striking or pleasant, because neither is true. It's just that neither are they necessarily unique.

The front end on all but the Hybrid stays with a pinched nose look echoing that of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Sculpted creases flowing forward and inward from the A-pillars (the windshield's side frames) draw the eye to the grin like grille and the outsized Hyundai logo. Headlight housings start at the outer edges of the grille and wrap around the front fenders beyond the leading arch of the wheelwell, visually lessening the front overhang. The lower fascia sports a wide mouth air intake flanked by squinting recesses for the uplevel fog lights.

The Hybrid's forward territory shows much of the same shapes and sculpting but gets an entirely different and quite striking grille treatment, an oversized, hexagonal opening split by an oversized horizontal bar. Hyundai wants no one to miss that this Sonata is something special. The Hybrid's headlights make a similar statement, highlighted with a string of LED running lights laced around the projector beam lenses.

Side aspect shows three, sharply defined character lines below a roofline with a severely raked windshield and rear window, which combines with a short trunk lid to minimize the car's mass. The highlight is a chrome strip that starts at the headlight housing and runs along the car's beltline (where the side windows meet the door panels) all the way to the rearmost tip of the rear quarter glass. Below this is a knife edge crease sweeping up from the front quarter panel through the door handles and finishing as an eyebrow for the taillight housings. Another knife edge crease cuts across the bottom of the doors just above the rocker panels before leapfrogging the rear wheelwells to melt into the rear bumper. On the Hybrid, a chrome strip accents this crease. All three tire sizes fill perfectly circular wheelwells, giving the car a balanced, front to rear proportion.

From the rear, quite frankly, the Sonata could be a top of the line Lexus or Mercedes Benz, save, of course, for the Hyundai flying H logo. It's an elegant look, with understated taillights, minimalist chrome bar topping the license plate indent and a lower bumper element that mirrors the lower front fascia, even to the reflectors framed to match the front fog lights. Distinguishing the Hybrid are intricately designed taillights, with what looks somewhat like electrons looping around an atom's nucleus.

Interior

Our first impression of the interior in the new Sonata is much like that of the exterior: busy. But then the swoops and angles and different textures begin to come together, actually more successfully than the sculptured and borderline over stylized exterior. The general impression is more toward a luxury look and feel than the anticipated cost consciousness.

Metal trim bits are muted. The understated textured dash material kills daytime glare but still gives the surface some depth. Wood grain accents are glossy but positioned where and in ways that ensure minimal distraction. Instruments are tastefully done and easy to read with a glance, save for bright sunny days when the hood fails to shield the bottom half of the tachometer and speedometer housings.

Seats are comfortable with adequate bolsters, especially given the Sonata doesn't invite rambunctious motoring. One noteworthy change is the replacement of the previous Sonata's lever-actuated, mechanical lumbar for the driver's seat with an electric air bladder for the 2011 Sonata; the bladder spreads the added lumbar over a wider area, adding immeasurably to the comfort level. The cloth seat coverings feel and look durable. The optional leather is neither too slippery nor too supple but still feels as if it would be cold in winter and clammy in summer. In a Goldilocks sort of way, the leather/cloth combo combines the best of both.

The buttons and knobs populating the center stack of all three trim levels clearly communicate their function and are spaced properly for ease of use. The optional rearview camera's guidelines bend as the steering wheel turns, a tweak of this increasingly popular visual aid that some high end sedans wearing domestic and import labels haven't managed to code into their cars' firmware.

The steering wheel has the right heft, as does the shift knob. The Shiftronic function is properly located on the driver's side of the shift gate. Oddly, the ignition key slot on the Sonata GLS is in the steering column, while the Start/Stop button on the Sonata SE and Limited is in the traditional place, on the lower dash to the right of the steering column. We think the ideal arrangement would be an ignition key on the dash.

Hyundai offers three sound systems on the 2011 Sonata. The base system has the usual multi media capabilities and speakers and pumps out respectable sounds. The premium system wears the Infinity brand, also has the usual multi media capabilities but adds a six disc changer and transmits its entertainment through an Infinity speaker array with subwoofer and external amplifier. The sounds reflect the premium label, with crisp highs and lows and mellow intermediates. Where the Sonata breaks new ground is with its mid grade system adding a 6CD changer and an off-brand subwoofer and external amplifier to the basic audio system and its six speakers. The clarity of its sounds are not quite the equal the Infinity's, but probably only to an unrepentant audiophile's ears; as for volume, it's easily a match with the Infinity. So if you don't want to spring for the Infinity system, the mid-grade is a good compromise.

There's ample storage for carpooling or for long vacation drives. Every door has a map pocket with a molded in cup/bottle holder, even the bottom of the line GLS with its hard plastic interior door panels. The center console boasts two receptacles, as does the rear seats' fold down center armrest. That front center console is a bi level unit, with a shallow bin directly under the pad and a deeper bin below that. There's a drop down bin in the base of the center stack for odds and ends, and the glove box, while not notably spacious, will hold a few maps along with the owner's manual. The Sonata trunk, at 16.4 cubic feet (10.7 cu. ft. on the Sonata Hybrid), is the largest in the class save for the Ford Fusion's, at 16.5 cu. ft. (11.8 cu. ft on the Fusion Hybrid). The trunk opening, however, is a mite cramped, due to the abbreviated trunk lid dimensions necessitated by the stylists' craving for that sporty, long hood/short boot proportion.

Compared against the other sedans in this class, only the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima have more headroom, and the Sonata beats the Altima in rear-seat headroom. The Sonata's front-seat legroom bests all in the class, but pays with the poorest rear-seat legroom, where the Sonata comes in last, by almost four inches against the Toyota Camry, three inches against the Chevrolet Malibu and more than two inches against the Ford Fusion. The concaved backs of the front seats help some in providing vital knee room, but people long of leg will notice. In hiproom the Sonata effectively splits the difference with the others, trailing the Accord and the Altima and coming in ahead of the Camry, the Fusion and the Malibu. In short, the Sonata is great for long-legged drivers, but it's not so good for long-legged back-seat riders.

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