The redesigned Hyundai Sonata
promises to steal sales from popular mid-size rivals and further strengthen .U.S. sales of this increasingly popular South Korean automaker.
Improved, attractive products, aggressive pricing and a long warranty in a troublesome economy helped Hyundai
rack up sales of 435,064 units here in 2009, up from 401,742 in the previous year. It was one of few automakers to register a U.S. sales gain last year and has had ten straight years of steady market growth in America.
Emphasizing its economy side, Hyundai
notes that it's the industry's fuel economy leader, at 30.1 miles per gallon, followed by Honda at 29.7.
There's a racy looking new Tucson crossover vehicle for 2010, and new Elantra, Accent and Santa Fe models are coming. So is an ultra-luxurious Equus model, which resembles an S-Class Mercedes-Benz. And a new sports coupe will replace the discontinued Tiburon model, which was a racy bargain.
's upscale, relatively new Genesis sedan underlines the fact that the automaker's marginal 1990s autos are long gone.
An early 2011 entry, the new Sonata
starts at $19,195 and goes to $25,295 for the top-line Limited-- or $27,395 for that version with a navigation package, which contains a rear backup camera.
The last Sonata
had a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 3.3-liter V-6, but the 2011 model comes only with a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder. It has 198 horsepower for lively acceleration, while delivering 35 miles per gallon on highways-impressive for a mid-size, roomy, non-hybrid sedan.
There's a new six-speed manual (up from a five-speed) transmission, and a new six-speed automatic with an easily used manual-shift feature. It replaces a less efficient five-speed automatic. The smooth new automatic is optional for the entry GLS and standard in the sporty mid-range SE and top-dog Limited.
The new engine is quite sophisticated, with direct fuel injection, dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and dual continuously variable valve timing. It needs lots of revs and a six-speed transmission for the best performance, but doesn't get overly noisy during hard acceleration. Peak horsepower is at 6,300 rpm, while peak torque is at 4,250 rpm.
"With engine advancements, V-8s will largely disappear from cars, and most V-6s will be replaced by four-cylinder engines," said Scott Margason, Hyundai
Motor America product planning director, at a media preview of the Sonata
in La Jolla, Calif..
A V-6 would add weight and result in lower fuel economy in the new Sonata
, said Michael Deitz, Hyundai
Motor product planning manager The previous Sonata
's four-cylinder had 175 horsepower and its 2.7-liter V-6 generated 173 horsepower. Both provided less fuel economy than the new four-cylinder.
Margason said most Sonata
buyers are expected to buy the GLS with the automatic, which costs $20,195, and add a Popular Equipment Package, which ups the price to $20,945.
That package contains a power driver's seat with lumbar support, leatherette interior panel door inserts, chrome interior door handles, automatic light control and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Here's betting that most Hyundai
dealers will order the GLS with an automatic and that package.
Standard for the GLS are air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescopic wheel, power windows, remote keyless entry, power folding heated body-color outside mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels and an AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers.
Safety features include front side- and side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic and stability control with traction control.
The SE adds sports seats, a sport suspension, pushbutton engine start/stop, paddle shifters, 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, dual exhausts, dark chrome grille, chrome door handles, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob--besides leather bolster/cloth insert seats and a power driver's seat.
The Limited has a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, heated front and rear seats, special interior accents, leather-covered seats, dual automatic temperature control, rear vents, upgraded sound system, outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and 17-inch alloy wheels. Deleted are the SE's sport suspension, performance tires, dual exhausts and paddle shifters.
The SE is the most fun, with its beefed-up suspension, larger wheels with performance tires and sport suspension.
Steering was quick and provides a very short turning diameter for good maneuvering in tight spots. It felt "springy" in a GLS version I tested at the preview, but felt more normal in a Limited version. The ride in both was supple, and handling was very good. The brake pedal had a linear action while controlling the efficient brakes, which have brake force distribution and assist features.
The interior is almost church-quiet and has comfortable seats,. There's lots of hard dashboard plastic, but it doesn't look cheap. The Limited's interior looks best, helped by the leather seats. The mixture of small and large climate and sound system controls are within easy reach, but some small gauges are hard to read during daylight hours despite being backlit.
Dual console cupholders are placed to avoid spills, and there's a deep front console bin with a cover.
Rear seat room is impressive, although the center area is hard and best left to the large fold-down armrest, which has dual cupholders.
The trunk sill is rather high for easy loading, but is wide. The lid has a convenient interior pull-down handle. Seatbacks fold forward and sit flat, but the pass-through area from the trunk to the rear-seat area is only moderately large. The hood raises smoothly on twin struts to reveal a large plastic engine cover and easily reached fluid-filler areas.
is backed by Hyundai
's alluring 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, besides a 7-year/unlimited miles anti-perforation warranty. There's also roadside assistance for five years, with unlimited mileage.
The new Sonata
competes in a tough league, but has plenty of talent to make a good showing.