|777||Date: Saturday, 30 Oct 2010, 17.06 | Message # 1|
User ID: 777
Joined: 18 Oct 2010
|If anyone could squeeze 200 horsepower and 35 mpg out of a big family sedan, you’d think it would be Honda or Toyota. Instead, it’s the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata -- armed with its new 2.4-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder engine -- that shoots holes in Honda, Toyota, Ford and everyone else, offering both the most horsepower and the best fuel economy of any 4-cylinder family sedan. |
That one-two punch of power and economy shows why Hyundai's decision to not even offer a V6 in the Sonata was smart. Why bother with a fuel-sucking six when you can save so much money (hundreds at the pump and thousands off the sticker price) by downsizing to a 4-cylinder engine that doesn’t demand the old compromises in power or performance?
Throw in the Sonata’s undercutting price (just over 19 grand to start) and overachieving styling that highlights a slope-roofed elegance inspired by the Mercedes CLS and Volkswagen CC, and it’s clear that South Korea’s auto juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down.
Like the Accord, the Sonata is actually just large enough to be classified as a large sedan by the Environmental Protection Agency. The trunk is a class-topping 16.4 cubic feet, and the interior is notable for supportive seats, excellent fit and finish, smart storage and abundant features, including a terrific standard iPod interface. Only a few cheapo plastic bits, including distressing fake wood on the Limited model I tested, detract from the overall atmosphere. The Sonata also earned a “Top Safety Pick” designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
With the 6-speed automatic transmission -- which features a surprisingly solid manual-shift function -- the Sonata (with 198 base horsepower or 200 in the sportier SE model) achieves 22 mpg city/ 35 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. The manual version equals the 35 mpg highway and boosts city economy to 24 mpg.
Hyundai’s 4-banger isn’t as smooth as Honda’s whipped-butter fours -- the engine honks a bit in its upper registers -- but it does pull sweetly and strongly. During my week of testing, the Sonata showed off the kind of grunt you don’t expect from such a small, nonturbocharged engine, executing confident passes and churning past 100 mph without running out of breath like so many other, shrimpy fours.
It all makes the Sonata a serious player in the family class, whose sales are ruled by the Accord and Camry. And the Sonata’s game will get better later this year, when the Turbo and Hybrid versions go on sale -- and with even more improbable numbers: The Turbo will combine 274 horsepower with an expected 34 mpg highway from a mere 2-liter turbo four. That’s more horsepower than the Honda Accord’s 3.5-liter V6, but with 20 percent better fuel economy. And the Sonata Hybrid, with its lithium-polymer battery pack, is expected to reach 37/39, with a combined mileage right on top of the class-leading Ford Fusion Hybrid.
When Hyundai first suggested the Sonata would skip a six, it took some heat from auto critics who said that the decision would handicap the Sonata with customers. But fewer Americans are choosing the V6 option on family sedans anyway. Higher fuel-economy requirements have every automaker looking to ditch the extra cylinders and squeeze more power out of sophisticated new 4-cylinders. Ultimately, Hyundai’s move shows a company that’s taking the long view and dealing from a position of strength. When gasoline prices start their inexorable climb, Hyundai can point to the Sonata strategy, say, "We've been here all along," and steal a few more customers from pokier brands.
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