2011 Hyundai Sonata Review

2011 Hyundai Sonata - A sensible hybrid for the masses.


PLUSES: A midsize sedan with room to hold 5 people and their gear and/or groceries that's able to get 40 m.p.g. highway. Excellent price. Room, comfort, performance of a big car, yet mileage of a small car.

MINUSES: Ride a tad stiff, handling a bit heavy in the wheel.

A number of consumers spend their time running for bomb shelters.

One reason is that a number of members of the media spend much of their time telling folks to grab a bottle of designer water and a clean pair of skivvies and head to the bomb shelter before it's too late.

Fear over gas prices is the primary reason people lost control over their senses and have overreacted to speculation that gas prices would rise to $5, $6, or $7 a gallon---and only the politically connected, athletes, and rock stars would be able to drive vehicles larger than Matchbox miniatures.

The hue and cry among tree huggers, conservationists, and those who work for the government, was that automakers should cease and desist building anything other than subcompact and smaller cars, even if it meant having to squeeze into the cabin while leaving a limb or two hanging out the window, or taking a family vacation but leaving some of the kids at home to fend for themselves since they wouldn't fit in the car.

When gas prices first tickled $4 a gallon, conservationists insisted that unless cars got 30 m.p.g., they'd run the planet out of fuel by either the time the earth melted from global warming or, an even longer shot, by the time the Cubs won a World Series. That meant tiny 4 passenger cars with 3 cylinder engines (mostly diesels) and manual transmissions would have to prevail.     

Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the automakers came up with alternatives to the gas engine that not only increased the miles obtained from a gallon of fuel, but allowed automakers to build cars capable of holding the family, their luggage, and even groceries all at the same time without having to leave anyone at home.

A prime example is the 2011 Hyundai Sonata gas/electric hybrid. The Sonata is a midsize sedan that holds 5 people comfortably with room to wiggle and giggle within the cabin. No need to pack people cheek to jowel to get them to fit.

Best yet, the hybrid employs a 2.4 liter, 4 cylinder gas engine and 6-speed automatic transmission teamed with a lithium polymer battery pack that powers an electric motor to deliver a combined 201 h.p. with enough guts to pull out to pass, motor down the merger ramp, or climb interstate inclines yet get 40 m.p.g. in highway mileage---36 m.p.g. when puttering around the city.

So rather than be forced to travel sardine style in a teeny car in the quest for at least 30 m.p.g. to be politically and environmentally correct, you can travel in style and the family of 5 can now enjoy not only room and comfort but 40 m.p.g. in fuel economy. And that figure eventually will rise even higher.

The Sonata hybrid is one of four Hyundai models rated at 40 m.p.g. highway.
The others are the Elantra, Veloster and Accent. Hyundai promises two more 40 m.p.g. vehicles within the next two years. Hyundai says it expects to sell 200,000 vehicles rated at 40 m.p.g. by the end of 2011, and to have a fleet average of at least 50 m.p.g. within its family of vehicles by 2025.
The midsize Sonata hybrid starts at a respectable $25,795. Add the premium tech package and its $30,795.

The hybrid features a slightly different and more aerodynamic front and rear end than the non hybrid Sonata. Sheetmetal is fashionably creased and curvy. The look is a mix of luxury and sporty and doesn't come across as an economy car.  There's also a deeper air dam and rocker panel extensions to make air flow more easily around the body to reduce fuel robbing drag. Low rolling resistance radials also contribute to higher mileage, though with stiffer sidewall construction the offset is firmer ride and having to feel the tar marks in the road. Handling is economy car like and the hybrid also tends to lean in sharp corners. That's 40 m.p.g., NOT 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 4 seconds.

Press the starter button and the hybrid starts in battery mode. The gas engine kicks in when more power is needed, but if you are gentle with the gas pedal and avoid sudden bursts of power as well as steep inclines in the road, you can run the car in battery only mode at speeds up to 62 m.p.h., Hyundai boasts.

We were able to keep it moving at up to 55 m.p.h. The longer in battery mode the quieter the cabin and, of course, the longer without consuming a drop of fuel. The longer in battery mode, however, the quicker the energy diagram in the dash information center shows the battery pack is loosing its charge. The gas engine goes to work when the charge runs too low to give the battery pack time to recharge through regenerative braking.   

Schematics in the instrument panel and information screen in the dash illustrate when in gas or battery mode, or both. The transition among modes is so seamless, the illustrations are needed to let you in on the secret.

Being a hybrid, of course, means the battery pack has to be housed somewhere and it's located behind the rear seat in the back of the trunk. That means you sacrifice some cargo space to hide the batteries, but luggage and two sets of golf clubs still fit in the room that's left.

The hybrid features stability control w3ith traction control, side air bag curtains, remote keyless entry, push button start, dual automatic temperature control, power windows, (heated) mirrors, locks and driver's seat, floor mounted air vents for rear seat occupants, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 with iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks, and integrated Bluetooth.

The test vehicle added the $5,000 premium tech package with power tilt/slide sunroof, 17 inch alloy wheels, navi system with backup camera, HD radio, Infinity premium speakers, HomeLink, compass, and heated front and rear leather seats.

Good size, well equipped, a decent price, and 40 m.p.g. highway.

No need to take a deep breath before entering to squeeze into the cabin or being forced to save fuel by puttering along the roadway as joggers as well as those on scooters passed.

A very good package.

2011 Hyundai Sonata hybrid sedan

Wheelbase: 110 inches
Length: 189.8 inches
Engine: 2.4 liter, 4 cylinder gas engine and lithium polymer powered battery pack with combine 201 h.p.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic.  
Mileage: 36 m.p.g. city/40 m.p.g. highway.
Base price: $25,795.
Price as equipped: Add $5,000 premium pack with power sunroof, 17 inch wheels, heated leather seats front and rear, navi system with real time traffic, weather, sports and stocks, Infiniti AM/FM/XM/CD/HD radio, $100 carpeted floor mats, $35 iPod cable, and $720 freight.

Jim Mateja

Jim Mateja enjoyed a 42 year career with the Chicago Tribune before retiring in 2007 as the newspaper's automotive columnist. He received numerous awards for his reporting and writing, including the National Automotive Journalism Association's "Moto" award for best regularly published column and automotive feature writing, and a Best in Show award for his test ride of a horse in conjunction with the Tribune's 150th anniversary. He also earned the Detroit Press Club Foundation's Gold Wheel Award for best car reviews, and a Tribune Professional Performance Award for his column and regular reporting. He still writes occasional car reviews for the Tribune, is one of the nation's 50 automotive journalists who serve as members of the North American Car of the Year judging panel, and is a panel member who helps select Best Buys for "Consumers Digest" magazine. Mateja also is the founding President of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.