2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
    MSRP
    $25,795
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    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Expert Review:Autoblog

    Decent Fuel Economy, Better Looks, Solid Value

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

    The auto show transition seemed to happen in a flash. One year, automakers were jockeying for dealer traffic with high horsepower, rear-wheel-drive retro rides, and the next year, each one of them ushered in a hybrid or electric vehicle. The paradigm shift was a welcome sight for car buyers wanting to shrink their carbon footprint and save money on fuel, but the majority of those products were years from production. Fast-forward to 2011, and the variety of fuel efficient transportation on offer in the industry has improved quite a bit, including this sleekly styled mid-size offering from Hyundai.

    The Sonata Hybrid may have taken longer than expected to hit the market, but its lithium-polymer battery pack and host of fuel-saving features have given Hyundai 35 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway fuel economy numbers to flash before consumers. And the Sonata Hybrid isn't battling the competition on fuel economy alone. It also features attractive styling that sharply differentiates it from non-hybrid Sonata models, while also carrying an MSRP thousands of dollars less than the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid.

    We spent a week with a modestly equipped Sonata Hybrid, but rather than going light on the pedal to gather up as many Eco points as possible, we drove it like we would any mid-sized sedan to see if it could hang with the daily drudgery of suburban life.


    Our Hyper Silver Metallic tester carried a very reasonable price tag of $25,930 (plus $720 shipping), and Hyundai kept that MSRP low by adding only floor mats ($100) and an iPod cable ($35) to the options list. Fortunately, the Sonata Hybrid already comes equipped with a boatload of standard features, including a six-speaker sound system with USB and auxiliary inputs, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, automatic climate control, headlights with LED accents and a 4.2-inch LCD trip computer/hybrid technology display.

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid side view2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid front view2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid rear view

    "Hybrid" and "low MSRP" generally don't go hand-in-hand, but the $25,795 base price of the Sonata only strengthens its case. This Hyundai also proves that hybrids don't have to be stodgy pods to achieve mpg bliss. The same Fluidic Design that's been a hit with the Sonata Hybrid's gas-only sibling looks just as good with a 30-kilowatt electric motor under the hood. And Hyundai hasn't simply slap on some Blue Motion badging to differentiate its hybrid offering from the hot-selling standard Sonata.

    The biggest adjustment comes in the form of a gaping grille that looks like a whale shark on a plankton feeding frenzy. Further aero improvements come in the form of tweaked bodyside moldings and a more sharply truncated rear end with unique 'atom' element taillamps. In total, exterior engineering adjustments result in a drag coefficient that drops from .28 to an outstanding .25, the same number achieved by the benchmark Toyota Prius.

    We dig the fact that the Sonata Hybrid looks quite a bit different than its sibling, and the Bill Nye taillights are something to behold. Heck, even the Blue Motion badging looks cool. For our money, there is one hybrid-only touch that just has to go: the standard 16-inch alloys. We're not sure what Hyundai's designers were going for here (at least beyond aero supremacy), but they ended up with a set of wheels that draws Blade-Runner-meets-Salad-Shooter comparisons. Luckily, Hyundai offers optional 17-inch wheels that look remarkably classier than the ones seen here. Unfortunately, the upsized wheels can only be had as part of the Premium Package, which will set buyers back another $5,000.

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid headlight2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid grille2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid wheel2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid taillight

    Nasty wheels aside, the Sonata Hybrid is a looker, and the interior isn't hard on the eyes, either. Hyundai has decided to carry over the same interior from the standard Sonata, save for some Blue Motion badging and the aforementioned 4.2-inch display. That means hybrid buyers get the same spacious cabin flush with attractive curves and soft-touch materials on the dash, doors and center console. Seats are comfortable and appropriately bolstered as well, and the driver's seat is power-adjustable. Another big plus comes in the form of a standard USB port and Bluetooth connectivity that quickly and easily syncs to a Bluetooth-enabled phone. And the 4.2-inch LED screen? It's bright, with easy-to-read graphics and various ways to dissect your driving habits. The Eco bars aren't nearly as interesting as the fanciful tree leaves adorning the display of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, but a driver's eyes should be focused on the road anyway.

    The Sonata Hybrid's interior scores big with overall refinement and standard tech, but we observed a few chinks in its armor. The biggest issues are the rubbery steering wheel and shift knob, which makes an otherwise impressive cabin feel like a trip to the Walmart clearance rack. Adding leather to these items the driver touches most again requires the $5,000 Premium Package. Sure, the Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $28,600 ($2,670 more than the Sonata), but it at least comes standard with a leather steering wheel and shift knob, plus a bunch of standard features that can only be had with Hyundai's Premium package.

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid interior2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid front seats2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid eco gauge2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid start button

    The Sonata Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 166 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 154 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 revs. Like other hybrids on the market, the Sonata Hybrid's 2.4-liter engine runs on the more efficient Atkinson cycle, which closes the intake valve late to provide a shorter compression stroke than traditional Otto cycle engines. But unlike many other hybrids that use an electric continuously variable transmission, Hyundai has opted to mate its powertrain to a more conventional six-speed automatic transmission. You'll hear no arguments here, as the transmission did its job well with a smooth operation and reassuring gear selections during our test.

    Additionally, Hyundai didn't go with the cheaper, yet tried-and-tested nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Its engineers decided to start with a clean slate, diving feet-first into newer lithium polymer cells for power storage. The end game is a 1.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack that weighs only 96 pounds. The Blue Motion's electric motor isn't as powerful as those found under the hood of the 2012 Camry Hybrid (141 hp) and Fusion Hybrid (106 hp), but the 30 kilowatt motor still manages to generate 40 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Combined horsepower figures are 206 hp for the Sonata Hybrid, 200 hp for the Camry Hybrid and 191 for the Fusion Hybrid.

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid engine

    Numbers and specs can be fun, but real-world driving is where the Hankook Optimo rubber meets the road. And while the Sonata Hybrid's driving dynamics aren't particularly aggressive, this Sonata's hybrid system is. If you take your foot off the gas at most any speed, the engine turns off in a pinch and the regenerative braking system begins to charge the lithium battery. When the go pedal is handled with care and the speed kept under 70 mph, the electric motor and battery can move the car by themselves, thanks in part to an engine clutch that manages the gas engine and electric motor separately. Even better, the throttle doesn't have to be babied like many other hybrids do, giving the driver more time to enjoy gas-free motoring.

    In the past, we'd practice a great deal of restraint when driving a hybrid, because trying to achieve the best possible fuel economy can actually be fun. But for us, the novelty of driving a hybrid in this way goes away after a week – just when the fuel economy game starts to become a bore. For that reason, we took pains to experience the Sonata Hybrid as we would any other mid-size sedan.

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid badge2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid battery pack

    As a regular four-door, the Sonata Hybrid is plenty easy to live with. Power is strong off the line when needed, and the integrated starter generator goes about the job of switching the engine on and off without any major drama. The system isn't as smooth as the one under the hood of the Fusion Hybrid, but the tradeoff is that the Blue Drive system appears to be more aggressive when cutting off the power whenever it isn't needed.

    The EPA tells us that Sonata Hybrid owners can expect fuel economy numbers of 40 mpg highway and 35 mpg in the city. Our experience with the hybrid Hyundai wasn't quite in the range of those numbers, as we managed 33.5 mpg in mixed driving, which falls below the EPA combined rating of 37 mpg. We weren't all that impressed with those results, and we're thinking that most diesel-powered mid-size entries would eclipse a combined score of 33.5 mpg. In fact, our Jetta TDI long-term fleet vehicle routinely averages more than 40 mpg. And although the Fusion Hybrid costs a bit more and relies on older nickel-metal tech, it still delivers better fuel economy numbers of 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. The new 2012 Camry Hybrid promises even better fuel economy, with an estimated 39 mpg highway and 43 mpg city. Just as troubling, in our experience, the standard 2.4-liter gas-only Sonata actually tends to return fuel economy figures above its 24/35 EPA numbers, particularly on the highway, so we have to wonder if the standard Sonata isn't the better overall bet when it comes to return-on-investment.

    2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid rear 3/4 view

    While we were less than impressed with the Sonata Hybrid's fuel thrift, we were pleased with its overall driving dynamics. At 3,578 pounds, the Sonata Hybrid is still light on its feet, with a structurally rigid chassis that doesn't flex at the slightest change of direction. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, with an estimated 0-60 mph time of about nine seconds. The steering is predictably free of hydraulics, yet Hyundai has chosen to dial in a bit more artificial heft than we expected or really want.

    The Sonata Hybrid Blue Motion is a solid first foray into the world of mixed propulsion motoring for Hyundai. Would we have liked to see better fuel economy numbers? Absolutely. But there is still something to be said about a hybrid that can deliver good looks, solid fuel economy and a driving experience that isn't fun-free. Not every vehicle in this segment can make such a claim, and none can come within $1,000 of this Hyundai's $25,750 price of entry... at least until the 2012 Camry Hybrid goes on sale starting at $25,900.

    All-new lineup includes fuel-efficient hybrid and turbo versions.

    Introduction

    The 2011 Hyundai Sonata is an all-new midsize sedan, completely redesigned and re-engineered. The 2011 Sonata comes a wide range of models, including a hybrid that can be driven at highway speeds in fully electric mode, and a turbo designed to deliver fuel-efficient acceleration performance. 

    The new Sonata Hybrid features a full parallel hybrid system allowing the car to be driven in zero emissions, fully electric drive mode at speeds up to 62 miles per hour or in blended gas-electric mode at any speed. The new Sonata 2.0T, meanwhile, uses a four-cylinder turbocharged engine that gets an EPA-estimated 33 mpg Highway rating while boasting 274 horsepower and on Regular gas. The 2011 Sonata lineup starts with the Sonata GLS, which retails for less than $20,000 and delivers more power than other cars in its class. No V6 is offered, as Hyundai is using turbocharged four-cylinders and battery assist motors to increase power. 

    A four door, midsize sedan that accommodates five passengers, the Sonata competes with Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, and Nissan Altima, to name a few. 

    In a head to head match-up with direct comparables of those five brands, the Hyundai Sonata models are more powerful, while hanging right in there with the other brands on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy ratings. The base 2.4 liter engine delivers 198 horsepower (190 hp in states using California emissions regulations) or 200 hp with a dual exhaust system, which is substantially more power than what's found in the base models of the other midsize sedans. The 2.0T model's fuel economy on the highway is better than all but the Fusion. The Hybrid tops the Honda and Camry hybrids in EPA City and Highway fuel economy ratings and bests the Fusion's Highway rating. 

    That 2.0T turbocharged engine is Hyundai's more economical and more affordable answer to Americans' perceived need for speed. It's not only more powerful than the V6 that powered the 2010 Sonata and the competition's V6s, but also generally less thirsty, by almost eight mpg over the Malibu in EPA's Highway rating, to pick the best example. An extra bonus is that Hyundai went against the grain in its selection of transmission for the 2011 Hybrid. While the Fusion, Altima and Camry hybrids all have a gearless, continuously variable transmission, the Sonata gets a full-on, 6-speed automatic that drives and sounds like a car should, with actual upshifts and downshifts instead of virtual gear changes artificially created by computer software. 

    We're not sure the new Sonata is the sharpest looker in the class, but at least it's not a copycat of any of the other midsize sedans, a couple of which could leave a buyer confused were it not for the oversized, trademark logo in the grille or on the trunk lid. Inside, features, materials and fit and finish are as good as the best of those, and better than a couple, especially in quality and tolerances. 

    Buyers need not be limited to those seeking a daily commuter, either. The Hybrid covers the need for green-ness and the Sonata SE actually is fun to drive, especially the 2.0T, while the GLS handles interstates with ease and the Limited brings luxury. Hyundai has tuned the suspension calibrations differently for the different models, so each has its own character. 

    Lineup

    The 2011 Hyundai Sonata comes in GLS, SE, and Limited trim. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)

    Sonata GLS ($19,195) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, Bluetooth, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 system (with three-month subscription to XM) with six speakers and iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks, tilt/telescope steering wheel, steering wheel audio controls, trip computer, power door locks, power mirrors, power windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry fob, 60/40 split folding rear seat, P205/65R16 tires on steel wheels. The GLS comes with a 6-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic ($20,195). The Popular Equipment Package ($750) upgrades with 16 inch alloy wheels, power driver seat and manual lumbar adjustment, chrome interior handles, faux leather interior panels (in place of the base molded, hard plastic), and automatic light control. The navigation package ($1,700) adds a touch screen navigation system and premium speakers pumped up with a subwoofer and an external amplifier along with everything from the Popular Equipment Package. 

    Sonata SE ($22,595) and Sonata 2.0T SE ($24,145) comes standard with the 6 speed Shiftronic automatic, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, leather trimmed steering wheel, shift knob and seat bolsters with cloth inserts, eight way power driver's seat, automatic light control, faux leather door panels, front fog lights, P225/45R18 Hankook tires on silver alloy wheels, chrome tipped dual exhaust, proximity entry, push button start/stop, dark chrome grille with body color hood trim. The SE rear suspension gets beefier springs and a larger stabilizer bar. Options for the SE: a Navigation and Sunroof Package ($2600) that includes the touch screen navigation system, a power tilt and slide sunroof, and the speaker and amplifier upgrade. 

    Sonata Limited ($25,295) and 2.0T Limited ($27,045) upgrade with full leather seating surfaces, dual zone automatic climate control with outside temperature display and floor console mounted rear vents, Infinity audio system with in dash, 6CD changer, heated front and rear seats, turn signal indicators in the outside mirrors, dark chrome grille and hood trim, Piano Black or Woodgrain interior trim accents, powered tilt and slide sunroof, auto dimming rearview mirror with compass, and P215/55R17 Kumho tires on aluminum alloy wheels. The 2.0T Limited also has paddle shifters and an outside temperature display. Options are limited to the Navigation Package ($2,100) comprising the touch screen navigation system (which displaces the CD changer), an integrated rear backup video camera and top level Infinity speakers. HD radio technology is included in the 2.0T Limited's premium sound system. 

    Sonata Hybrid features and option list essentially mirrors that of the SE models, including the outside temperature display but excluding the paddle shifters. 

    Safety features standard on Sonata include front airbags; driver and front passenger side impact airbags; front and rear seat side air curtains; anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and brake assist; electronic stability control with traction control; active front-seat head restraints; rear-seat child safety seat anchors; and tire-pressure monitors. The rearview camera that comes in the Limited Navigation Package can reduce the chance of running over someone when backing up. 

    Walkaround

    The all-new, 2011 Hyundai Sonata is classed as a midsize sedan but it's large by those standards. Measured by total enclosed space, it just sneaks in at the bottom of the large sedan class. 

    Hyundai's designers throw around phrases like fluidic sculpture design language and monoform side profile in describing the new styling. They say their goal was to design a car that no one could say, looks like brand X. As to the former, the word busy seems apt in describing the Sonata's styling cues. And as to the latter, observers should be forgiven if on catching sight of the new Sonata their first thought is of one of those cars that wear the three pointed star emblem. This isn't to say the Sonata's looks aren't striking or pleasant, because neither is true. It's just that neither are they necessarily unique. 

    The front end on all but the Hybrid stays with a pinched nose look echoing that of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Sculpted creases flowing forward and inward from the A-pillars (the windshield's side frames) draw the eye to the grin like grille and the outsized Hyundai logo. Headlight housings start at the outer edges of the grille and wrap around the front fenders beyond the leading arch of the wheelwell, visually lessening the front overhang. The lower fascia sports a wide mouth air intake flanked by squinting recesses for the uplevel fog lights. 

    The Hybrid's forward territory shows much of the same shapes and sculpting but gets an entirely different and quite striking grille treatment, an oversized, hexagonal opening split by an oversized horizontal bar. Hyundai wants no one to miss that this Sonata is something special. The Hybrid's headlights make a similar statement, highlighted with a string of LED running lights laced around the projector beam lenses. 

    Side aspect shows three, sharply defined character lines below a roofline with a severely raked windshield and rear window, which combines with a short trunk lid to minimize the car's mass. The highlight is a chrome strip that starts at the headlight housing and runs along the car's beltline (where the side windows meet the door panels) all the way to the rearmost tip of the rear quarter glass. Below this is a knife edge crease sweeping up from the front quarter panel through the door handles and finishing as an eyebrow for the taillight housings. Another knife edge crease cuts across the bottom of the doors just above the rocker panels before leapfrogging the rear wheelwells to melt into the rear bumper. On the Hybrid, a chrome strip accents this crease. All three tire sizes fill perfectly circular wheelwells, giving the car a balanced, front to rear proportion. 

    From the rear, quite frankly, the Sonata could be a top of the line Lexus or Mercedes Benz, save, of course, for the Hyundai flying H logo. It's an elegant look, with understated taillights, minimalist chrome bar topping the license plate indent and a lower bumper element that mirrors the lower front fascia, even to the reflectors framed to match the front fog lights. Distinguishing the Hybrid are intricately designed taillights, with what looks somewhat like electrons looping around an atom's nucleus. 

    Interior

    Our first impression of the interior in the new Sonata is much like that of the exterior: busy. But then the swoops and angles and different textures begin to come together, actually more successfully than the sculptured and borderline over stylized exterior. The general impression is more toward a luxury look and feel than the anticipated cost consciousness. 

    Metal trim bits are muted. The understated textured dash material kills daytime glare but still gives the surface some depth. Wood grain accents are glossy but positioned where and in ways that ensure minimal distraction. Instruments are tastefully done and easy to read with a glance, save for bright sunny days when the hood fails to shield the bottom half of the tachometer and speedometer housings. 

    Seats are comfortable with adequate bolsters, especially given the Sonata doesn't invite rambunctious motoring. One noteworthy change is the replacement of the previous Sonata's lever-actuated, mechanical lumbar for the driver's seat with an electric air bladder for the 2011 Sonata; the bladder spreads the added lumbar over a wider area, adding immeasurably to the comfort level. The cloth seat coverings feel and look durable. The optional leather is neither too slippery nor too supple but still feels as if it would be cold in winter and clammy in summer. In a Goldilocks sort of way, the leather/cloth combo combines the best of both. 

    The buttons and knobs populating the center stack of all three trim levels clearly communicate their function and are spaced properly for ease of use. The optional rearview camera's guidelines bend as the steering wheel turns, a tweak of this increasingly popular visual aid that some high end sedans wearing domestic and import labels haven't managed to code into their cars' firmware. 

    The steering wheel has the right heft, as does the shift knob. The Shiftronic function is properly located on the driver's side of the shift gate. Oddly, the ignition key slot on the Sonata GLS is in the steering column, while the Start/Stop button on the Sonata SE and Limited is in the traditional place, on the lower dash to the right of the steering column. We think the ideal arrangement would be an ignition key on the dash. 

    Hyundai offers three sound systems on the 2011 Sonata. The base system has the usual multi media capabilities and speakers and pumps out respectable sounds. The premium system wears the Infinity brand, also has the usual multi media capabilities but adds a six disc changer and transmits its entertainment through an Infinity speaker array with subwoofer and external amplifier. The sounds reflect the premium label, with crisp highs and lows and mellow intermediates. Where the Sonata breaks new ground is with its mid grade system adding a 6CD changer and an off-brand subwoofer and external amplifier to the basic audio system and its six speakers. The clarity of its sounds are not quite the equal the Infinity's, but probably only to an unrepentant audiophile's ears; as for volume, it's easily a match with the Infinity. So if you don't want to spring for the Infinity system, the mid-grade is a good compromise. 

    There's ample storage for carpooling or for long vacation drives. Every door has a map pocket with a molded in cup/bottle holder, even the bottom of the line GLS with its hard plastic interior door panels. The center console boasts two receptacles, as does the rear seats' fold down center armrest. That front center console is a bi level unit, with a shallow bin directly under the pad and a deeper bin below that. There's a drop down bin in the base of the center stack for odds and ends, and the glove box, while not notably spacious, will hold a few maps along with the owner's manual. The Sonata trunk, at 16.4 cubic feet (10.7 cu. ft. on the Sonata Hybrid), is the largest in the class save for the Ford Fusion's, at 16.5 cu. ft. (11.8 cu. ft on the Fusion Hybrid). The trunk opening, however, is a mite cramped, due to the abbreviated trunk lid dimensions necessitated by the stylists' craving for that sporty, long hood/short boot proportion. 

    Compared against the other sedans in this class, only the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima have more headroom, and the Sonata beats the Altima in rear-seat headroom. The Sonata's front-seat legroom bests all in the class, but pays with the poorest rear-seat legroom, where the Sonata comes in last, by almost four inches against the Toyota Camry, three inches against the Chevrolet Malibu and more than two inches against the Ford Fusion. The concaved backs of the front seats help some in providing vital knee room, but people long of leg will notice. In hiproom the Sonata effectively splits the difference with the others, trailing the Accord and the Altima and coming in ahead of the Camry, the Fusion and the Malibu. In short, the Sonata is great for long-legged drivers, but it's not so good for long-legged back-seat riders. 

    Driving Impression

    With the slightest tweaks of suspension elements and the different tire/wheel sizes, Hyundai has managed to deliver a different ride in each of the Sonata's three trim levels, each well fitted to its target buyer. 

    The Sonata GLS delivers a smooth ride but with some road noise and not the crispest turn in at modest speeds. The GLS steering feels light, needing corrections in gusty crosswinds. Ride quality in the Sonata SE models is firmer, the steering slightly heavier, the combined effect of different tuning of the power steering pump and shorter, stiffer tire sidewalls. The latter sharpens the steering response. The SE models' thicker rear stabilizer bar keeps the car on a more even keel when it's gingerly pushed along winding, two lane mountain roads. The ride is not as wallow free as that of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe but impressive nevertheless for a sedan of this heft and price. Ride quality in the Sonata Limited is more supple than gentle but clearly not firm; again, it's the Goldilocks syndrome. To the naked ear, the Limited seems quieter, too, although that may be due to a higher grade of interior trim and materials. Fusion buyers likely are the only ones who will get a more comfortable and a quieter ride or, if they pick the right model, a better handling sedan. 

    The non-turbocharged SE's two additional horsepower and pound feet of torque aren't enough to be detected by an uncalibrated posterior, but the car does feel sprightlier; perchance it's the power of suggestion, eh? That added power, by the way, wasn't a design target but merely the unexpected benefit from bolting on honest to goodness dual exhausts and the lower backpressure that came with the freer breathing. What is noticeable in the non-turbocharged and non-hybrid Sonatas is a curious, free wheeling like sensation that sometimes follows lifting off the throttle after a brief acceleration, like on a mild grade, when a slowing of the car would be expected but doesn't happen quite as and when expected. It was nothing that unnerved or lingered beyond the briefest of moments, but it still was there. 

    Gear changes in the automatic happened smoothly, being tangible, but subdued, in full auto or driver-selected via the Shiftronic. Response to throttle pressure was prompt across the full line of Sonata models with shifts necessitated by changes in load effected almost invisibly, dropping down a gear or two without the driver not noticing until seeing that the tachometer needle had jumped a couple thousand rpm. Kudos to Hyundai, too, for sticking with the same automatic for the Hybrid, in lieu of the gearless, continuously variable transmission the competition bolts to their hybrid powerplants. A hybrid with a transmission that shifts gears just like in a real car adds immeasurably to the driving experience. 

    The 2.0T, no surprise, was the most energetic, yet without fussy power surges. Those 74 additional horses and 85 pound-feet of torque over the base four-cylinder will push the 2.0T's speedometer needle well into the three digits. The 2.0T does not, however, deliver Germanic, autobahn-competent sureness; at 130 mph on Hyundai's high-speed track in Korea, the 2.0T evidenced some twitchiness and vulnerability to cross breezes. 

    At the opposite end of the eco-scale lies the Hybrid. Hyundai states that the Hybrid can reach 62 miles per hour in pure electric mode before the engine lights off and takes over; this is optimal, though, requiring all accessories to be turned off, pavement as flat as an Interstate in Kansas and the most gentle pressure on the throttle. In normal driving, with only minimal, but necessarily conscious attention to throttle pressure, 30 mph on the motor alone can be achieved. Transitions between motor alone and motor/engine combined were nigh impossible to discern. A thoughtful, fuel-saving touch is a coasting function that shuts down the engine when there's no pressure on the throttle, even at highway speeds. 

    Braking response was strong and linear on all trim levels and powertrains. The ample dead pedal gave good bracing for the left foot on twisty mountain roads and during long, high speed runs on the interstates. Speaking of which, during one leg of the test drive in Southern California east of San Diego that covered about 90 miles split about evenly between both types of roads, a Sonata GLS returned 31 miles per gallon while averaging 65 miles per hour, including several extended runs at 75 and 80. The Hybrid managed a very respectable 47 mpg over a similar but shorter route, about 50 miles, and driven much the same way. 

    Summary

    With the 2011 Sonata, Hyundai takes another major step along the path it has laid out for itself in the U.S. market. This is a high quality sedan, in all of its iterations, with remarkably good manners and markedly improved quality and efficiency, all at an impressively competitive price. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from San Diego. 

    Model Lineup

    Hyundai Sonata GLS ($19,195); SE ($22,595); Limited ($25,295); 2.0T SE ($24,145), 2.0T Limited ($27,045); Hybrid. 

    Assembled In

    Montgomery, Alabama; Asan, Korea (Hybrid). 

    Options As Tested

    Popular Equipment Package plus Navigation ($2,450) includes navigation system, XM NavTraffic, XM NavWeather, XM sports, XM stocks, premium speakers with subwoofer and external amplifier, power driver seat, driver lumbar support, chrome interior door handles, leatherette interior door panels, automatic light control, 16 inch alloy wheels. 

    Model Tested

    Hyundai Sonata GLS automatic ($20,195). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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