Thumbs Up: Seamless power, reasonable handling, great value
Thumbs Down: You will get tickets driving this car
Buy This Car If: You want surprising performance from an affordable sedan
When I drove the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited last September, I was impressed with the cars style (both outside and in), build quality and ride. Even the power from the 2.4 liter four cylinder was adequate, especially for a sedan without sporting intentions. It was the kind of car I’d recommend to a friend or relative, even if it lacked sufficient performance and handling to make my own personal short list.
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It was, hands down, the most surprising car I’ve driven in the past 12 months. The two-liter turbo engine makes seamless power, and the car never manages to feel high-strung, which is the curse of so many turbocharged vehicles. The Sonata Turbo isn’t the quickest car I’ve driven, but it is the most deceptive about its speed. Buy one, and I assure you you will get speeding tickets; the car doesn’t feel fast, it is fast. The cars around you aren’t driving slow, you’re driving that much faster, and the Sonata’s quiet cabin does little to convey a warning about your speed. If you don’t already have a PBA card, do whatever you have to to get one before driving this car.
The Sonata Turbo carries over the clean and futuristic lines of the normally aspirated car. It does without stick-on spoilers, side skirts or ground effects, and that’s a good thing for those of us above the “Fast And Furious” demographic. In fact, the only external difference I could find between the Sonata and the Sonata Turbo were the Turbo’s dual exhausts and the discreet 2.0T badging. There’s a fair amount of understatement with the Sonata Turbo, almost like Hyundai is building a pseudo-sport sedan just for adults. I much prefer a car that is fast, over a car that goes to great lengths to look fast, so I applaud Hyundai for being reserved with the Turbo’s styling.
Inside, there’s plenty to like as well. The front leather seats are supportive and comfortable, though they lack sufficient bolstering for spirited driving. The driver’s seat is power adjustable and includes an inflatable lumbar cushion, but the passenger seat adjusts manually and lacks lumbar support. Both front seats are heated, something I came to appreciate when out morning temperatures plunged into the 30s.
Rear leather seats offer surprising legroom and headroom, but also lack any kind of lateral support. Since Hyundai isn’t pitching the Turbo as a sport sedan, it’s really not much of an issue; besides, passengers get grab handles for when a driver takes an on ramp with enthusiasm. Even the rear seats are heated, which is a big plus for hauling kids to school or carpooling with co-workers in colder climates.
The Turbo has the same dash layout as the normally aspirated Sonata, so there’s nothing to tell the two apart from behind the wheel (until you hit the gas). I lover hte shape and feel of Hyundai’s steering wheel, and their wheel mounted controls are a whole lot more intuitive than those from other manufacturers. Even their nav and infotainment system is easy for new drivers to figure out, so you won’t be going back to the owner’s manual just to change satellite radio stations. Their icon based climate control couldn’t be simpler, and the six speed Shiftronic transmission can be driven as an automatic, shifted manually via the shift knob or shifted manually via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
I’ve praised Hyundai’s instrument layout before, but it bears repeating: the “gauge within a gauge” display is clean, easy to read and allows for a detailed driver information display. Instruments are shrouded, so sun glare is never a problem (which it is on a surprising number of new cars). The driver’s information display can be easily scrolled through via the steering wheel mounted control, which is another huge plus. I hate systems that require me to grope the dashboard to switch between a trip odometer and a “miles to empty” display, and wish more automakers would include steering wheel controls for this.
Under the hood is a 2.0 liter, turbocharged, direct injection inline four engine, good for 274 horsepower and 269 ft lb of torque. Mated to the six speed Shiftronic automatic, it’s capable of 0 to 60 runs in about 6.7 seconds, yet still returned a respectable 22.7 MPG around town. That’s just a bit higher than the EPA estimate of 22 MPG city, and the EPA tells us we can expect 33 MPG on the highway. The Sonata Turbo also includes an “Active ECO” button, which would further improve fuel economy, but what’s the sense of buying a turbo if you don’t make use of the added power?
On the road, the Sonata Turbo gives brisk acceleration, a comfortable ride and reasonable handling. For a turbocharged FWD car that puts out 274 horsepower, there is surprisingly little torque steer, which makes the Sonata Turbo easy to drive fast on winding roads. It’s not a sport sedan, so don’t try to keep up with an M3 when the road gets twisty. On the other hand, a Sonata Turbo can be had for about half what the Bimmer costs, so set your expectations accordingly and you won’t be disappointed. When pushed in corners, the Sonata Turbo exhibited the expected understeer, but never felt twitchy or unstable. Add some stickier tires, drop the ride height and stiffen up the shocks, and the Sonata Turbo has a lot of potential to be a seriously amusing ride. As is it still won’t disappoint, especially if you need a fun car that also doubles as a daily driver.
It’s worth noting that my tester came in Limited trim, and that Hyundai does make an SE version for those wanting more sport and less luxury. The SE Turbo comes with 18” wheels and performance tires (as opposed to the 17” wheels and all season tires on my tester) and a “sport tuned” suspension. It also gives you cloth seats instead of leather, which I much prefer for spirited driving. The SE version should also sticker for about $2,700 less than the luxury oriented Limited model, so that’s the model I’d personally shop.
The base price of my 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0T was $27,765, including a destination charge of $720. Options on my tester included the $2,100 Navigation Package (High Resolution Touchscreen Display, XM Radio with Traffic & Weather, Backup Camera, Infinity Audio System), the $100 Carpeted Floor Mats and the $30 iPod Cable for a total sticker price of exactly $30,000. By comparison, a similarly equipped V6 Toyota Camry XLE would sticker at $32,250, a comparable V6 Honda Accord EX-L would sticker at $32,380 and a comparable V6 FWD Ford Fusion Sport would sticker at 33,750. None of these competitors equal the Sonata Turbo’s horsepower, and none match the Sonata’s fuel economy.
Just a few years ago (2007, to be exact), I saw the Sonata as a decent rental car. The new 2011 Sonata changed my perspective, and now it’s a car I’d recommend to friends and family. The 2011 Sonata Turbo takes that one step further: it’s a car I’d give serious consideration to buying if I were in the market for a four-door sedan.