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By Phil the Canuck (Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 12:12:16 PM EST) (all tags)
For a new decade.

One thing that I'm perfectly willing to admit is that I'm a consumer whore.  A slick product backed by a slick marketing campaign will make my mouth water a bit.  The catch is, once I get my hands on the Next Big Thing and try it out, it has to have more than that slickness to hook me for a purchase.  It's no different with cars.  If I happen to be shopping while a hot new model is competing in my size/price target range, I practically need to wear a bib to the dealership.  So it was that I donned my bib, packed a few extra napkins, and headed off to test drive one of these:

2011 Hyundai Sonata.  To be honest, I was a little tired of my red car.  When I walked into the dealership and asked if they had a Sonata SE to test, they handed me a smart key and pointed to the customer lot.  What I saw was exactly what's pictured above.  A red SE.  Tired of red?  Yes, but this car was a flat-out stunner.  I test drove it.  I bought the first one I could find without the navigation package, which took about two weeks to find.

Styling is a subjective thing.  I can love something, you can hate something.  Whatever your opinion of the styling, Hyundai deserves props for taking a risk.  They took one of the most boring mid-size sedans on the market and turned it into curvy sculpture.  Character lines swoop all around the car, drawing your eyes in all the right ways.  True to Hyundai's fluidic design market-speak, everything flows somewhere.  While it could have been a baroque mess of ridges and chrome, it is instead a coherent and pleasing design.  In person it appears to be moving when it's in park, and the coupe-sedan roofline gives it the appearance of a more expensive car.  That illusion is enhanced by the 18-inch wheels and dual chrome-tipped exhaust on the SE.  Our VP of Finance thought it was a BMW.  The CEO stopped on the way to his Lexus and did a long double-take.  Styling is a subjective thing.  This car is a stunner.

Inside the car isn't quite so radically redesigned, but it isn't conservative either.  Everything is within easy reach, and the myriad steering wheel controls help you keep your eyes on the road (although the audio and cruise are on opposite sides as compared to my Fusion, so I keep turning cruise control on instead of changing the volume).  The Volvo-aping HVAC controls are large and easy to use.  Standard equipment is a long list of things that would cost extra on other cars.  Fit and finish are, for the most part, a class up.  There are no gaps or mis-aligned seams to be found.  Controls have a tight, quality feel to them.  The automatic gear shift lever moves between slots with a nice snickety-snick feeling.  I saw a review that said the paddle shifters are flimsy, but they don't bend at all unless you apply ridiculous pressure to them.  The leather is not very soft, but likely very durable.

My black interior is black.  Really, really black.  Johnny Cash black.  I like it.  If you don't, consider that fair warning to stick to camel or grey.

The interior feels cavernous compared to most other mid-size cars.   That's probably because, like the Accord, this is technically a full-size sedan being marketed as a mid-size.  The first comment my wife made about the car was that it was huge inside.  Front leg room is, well, big.  I kept my seat all the way back when driving the Fusion, but I have to strain to reach the brake pedal if I try that in the Sonata.  Rear leg room is comparable to the Fusion, i.e. it's fine for any reasonably-sized adult.  The swooping roof-line does impact rear headroom,  but at six feet I have room to spare.  Front seats are comfortable and supportive.  The rears are a bit harder, but no complaints from the kids.

Performance is solid,  200 hp and blah, blah, blah.  Whatever.  You're not buying a four-cylinder mid-size to go drag racing.  Class-leading power mixed with class-leading fuel economy.  Even adhering to Hyundai's recommended take-it-easy guidelines (i.e. keep the engine between 2000 and 4000 RPM while driving for the first 600 miles) the Sonata stomps the Fusion.  EPA fuel economy estimates are also translating into real-world benefits.  

On the handling side of things, the SE trim is a real sports trim rather than a base model with a couple of extra shinies.  Stiffer suspension, larger anti-sway bars, 18-inch wheels with low-profile tires.  The difference is a large one, making the SE a bit harsh over bad roads.  Me, I've always preferred stiffly-sprung cars.  You might prefer another trim, as the ride comfort in the GLS and Limited trims are comparable with the competition.  I've yet to be able to push my SE anywhere near the limit.  On what little hard cornering I've done the car is quick and precise with very little body roll.  The steering is a little bit numb, although not as much so on the SE which has the electric-assist steering dialed down a notch or two, and lacks a solid on-center feel.  In short, steering is good but not Mazda 6 good.

Find one if you can.
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New Car | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden)
that by LilFlightTest (2.00 / 0) #1 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 12:16:47 PM EST
was the first Hyundai to get my approval as Teh Hotness. especially that color, just beautiful.
if de-virgination results in me being able to birth hammerhead sharks, SIGN ME UP!!! --misslake
Drove one of those last February by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 12:21:05 PM EST
when the Element was in the shop. It's a nice car. Good in traffic, has XM radio.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

I love that red. by nightflameblue (2.00 / 0) #3 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 01:33:10 PM EST
And their commercials showing the dipping process for the early stages of paint on the entire body make me all geek-out giddy.

Nice car.

Meh. by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #4 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 03:50:29 PM EST
Back in my day, they designed cars with slide rules and we liked it.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

The only thing wrong with Hyundai by kwsNI (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:05:46 PM EST
Is that the 80s and 90s stacked the deck against them.  They put out so much crap it was scary.  And yet, early 2000s they did a pretty major turn-around, starting with the Santa Fe.  Their quality went up, their designs started looking better, but they still were primarily aimed at the low-end market.  It's taken a  few more years of redesign and a hell of a marketing campaign over the past 7 years to start to change their perception, but they make some nice cars now days. 

I am convinced that by wumpus (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 09:05:49 PM EST
all of this started with the warranty. I own a Breeze and got to pay a few thousand so that Plymouth could pay a few cents less for each head gasket. I've hear that this is common in car companies: bean counters routinely force engineers to use substandard parts. Imagine the same discussion at Hyundai, where the company gets to each such losses.

Once trust was reestablished (either by the warranty or by a superior car), the company could afford to go after buyers with more stylish, well designed cars.


[ Parent ]
They push other companies forward by Phil the Canuck (2.00 / 0) #10 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 09:47:04 PM EST
Ever wonder why traction and stability control are standard equipment in the Sonata's segment now?  Because Hyundai made them standard equipment when other companies weren't even including ABS, and now you can't get a top safety rating without them.  Hyundai also played a role in killing cheap-feeling plastic interiors (well, not killing, Chrysler is still in business).  I figured they deserved a shot.

[ Parent ]
extended warranties by lm (2.00 / 0) #13 Sat May 01, 2010 at 12:44:27 PM EST
One way to gauge how reliable a manufacturer really thinks its product is is the price of the extended warranty.  The higher the price, the more certain the manufacturer is that they'll have to perform service.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
That's true of by anonimouse (2.00 / 0) #12 Sat May 01, 2010 at 05:59:59 AM EST
most car companies starting up... their first models are always crap.

I know Hyundai is a massive company, but they only got really going as a car company in the 80's and 90's.

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
What is that mpg? by StackyMcRacky (2.00 / 0) #9 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 09:22:24 PM EST

EPA estimated by Phil the Canuck (2.00 / 0) #11 Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 09:48:45 PM EST
22/35.  In my first week I was over 30MPG mixed in conditions where my Fusion got about 24.  I'm going easy on the new engine right now, but I wasn't exactly a lead-foot most days anyway.

[ Parent ]
New Car | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden)