It was almost exactly one year ago when we first drove the new Sonata, and even then, with the industry in recession, Hyundai was making gains with their new products. Fast-forward a year and while the rest of the industry has started to perform a little better, Hyundai is still pushing on strongly. In the first quarter of this year, Hyundai has taken over the top sales spot normally held by the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord and they’re not looking back.
With the recent release of the turbo GDI engine, we wanted to take a look and compare this to the normally-aspirated Sonata to see if it was worth the wait. Our tester was a 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited with Navigation finished in Radiant Silver with black leather interior. Is this new model the reason Sonata sales have been soaring?
Hit the jump to read more about the 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited.
In 2011, the top five entrants in the midsize sedan segment are not all who you would expect to see. As mentioned, the Sonata currently sits at the top, followed closely by the Ford Fusion. A surprise in third place is the Nissan Altima, and the Chevrolet Malibu and Toyota Camry round out the rest. The Honda Accord lags behind in sixth, barely outselling the Dodge Avenger for the first three months. What a change in the landscape, and it must come as a bit of a wakeup call to a few of the mainstay manufacturers.
The Sonata Limited we drove last year was already a fully-loaded bargain at $30,999, and the loaded 2.0T we have here is only an additional $2,500. That extra cash buys you 76 additional ponies and trades up to 18-inch wheels from 17s on the Sonata 2.4L. It’s no wonder dealers can’t get enough of these cars.
From a design standpoint, the 2.0T does little to differentiate itself from its 2.4L sibling aside from the 18-inch wheels we mentioned earlier, and nicely integrated, chromed oval exhaust tips on either side of the bumper. Ironically, those two features were mentioned by us as lacking in our review of the Sonata a year ago. The differences are subtle, but they really make a world of difference in the overall appearance of the vehicle, giving it a much sportier, premium look.
As with the exterior, the Sonata 2.0T looks and feels almost identical to the 2.4 on the inside. The only actual difference is the addition of paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel. Thankfully, Hyundai incorporated them properly (right=upshift, left=downshift), as opposed to a select few manufacturers who chose to use a push/pull system on both sides for up- and downshifts.
Otherwise, the interior is still the same premium-feel interior we praised in our previous test. The Hyundai touch screen navigation system is one of our favourites to use, but as with every Hyundai media system, proper iPod integration is only achieved with a proprietary cable available from your dealer for the low price of only $49.95. This is a little steep to accomplish a function that can typically be done with your standard iPod USB cable.
The major difference in the Sonata 2.0T, and the reason we were most interested in driving this car again, lies under the hood of the car. Instead of the 2.4 liter GDI that produces 198 adequate horsepower, you’ll now find a 2.0 liter turbocharged gas direct-injected powerplant that pushes out a healthy 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. We didn’t find the naturally-aspirated Sonata to be lacking power for daily driving applications, so toss an extra 76 hp into the mix and things become interesting. Low-end torque is readily available to give you a little nudge into the back of your seat when your right foot decides to get frisky with the acceleration pedal. At higher speeds, turbo lag is minimal and the power is on-hand at a moment’s notice, although not as punchy as at lower speed. Nonetheless, you can get into dangerous speeds much quicker than you realize if you don’t keep a close eye on the speedometer.
The six-speed automatic now features paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel which are fun to play around with a few times, but the excitement wears off quickly. The car is quick, but it isn’t a sports car, so there isn’t much of a need to play F1 driver. This is not for a lack of shift quality; the transmission actually reacts quite quickly to your shift requests, although downshifts are not achieved as smoothly as we’d like to see.
This was a point of contention in our previous Sonata test. We found the steering exhibited a major dead spot on center, and much to our relief this has been addressed in this new model, and then some. While the steering feel in the 2.4L was vague and uninspiring, the engineers seem to have overcompensated in the 2.0T with steering that is direct, but too heavy. We’d prefer a level somewhere right in between the two current choices.
One downside of those gorgeous 18-inch rims is the narrower sidewall that they sport which turns up the harshness of the ride by several notches. Going from 215/55/17 to 225/45/18 may not seem like much, but it’s obviously enough to make you sit up and take notice when you rattle along roads that winter has taken its toll on.
The brakes were authoritative if you initiated such conduct, but getting to that point required a little more pedal travel than we like, which sometimes created situations where we pulled up to a stop a little quicker than usual, prompting a quick stab of the brakes to come to a complete and timely stop.
The 2.4 GDI boasted great fuel economy; combined city and highway was projected at 7.7 liters per 100 kilometers, and we got close with an average of 8.3 L/100 km after a week of driving. The 2.0T isn’t far behind on paper, showing capabilities of 9.3/6.0 liters per 100 kilometers (city/hwy), for a combined total of 7.8 L/100 km, only one small tick off the pace while producing significantly more power. The turbocharger is there to make the trip to the pumps a lot more fun, but it’ll bite you when you get there. However, considering the extra power (and 22 extra pounds), our week’s return of 10.2 L/100 km doesn’t seem too bad.
Once again it seems as though Hyundai has hit a home run with the new Sonata 2.0T. Great styling from the 2.4L is further enhanced by the addition of bigger wheels and dual exhaust. The turbo makes the Sonata feel like its on steroids, and if you know how to behave, it won’t really cost you much more at the pumps, plus it doesn’t require premium fuel so you won’t get dinged for the turbo when you fill up. Consider also that you can get into the ‘base’ 2.0T for less than the price of the 2.4L Limited with Navigation and suddenly Hyundai seems like a bargain player again. There are a few minor points of contention against this car, but they are just that, minor. This car is fantastic in almost every way, especially for its price point.
Jump to our Galleries page for more pictures of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited.
- Even better styling than before
- Smooth power delivery, especially at low RPMs
- Great value
- Rough ride
- Still suffers from lack of rear headroom
- Steering a little heavy
No options on tester