The 2011 Hyundai Sonata is a solid family sedan that offers gorgeous exterior styling and impressive gas mileage, but it lacks expressive drive-feel and is low on the fun factor. For many folks, good looks, fair pricing and fantastic fuel economy might be all you need. That's all fine and good, but the Sonata's lack of a dynamic drive left me disappointed because I liked everything else about this sedan.
I loved looking at the Sonata; it was so smooth and glossy, and it reminded me of a polished gem. The interior was just as pretty and had the perfect combination of a little shimmer here and there without being tacky. I even felt an added sense of security when I sat down and pulled the heavy door shut. Then I hit the gas pedal and all my excitement dwindled. While the Sonata proved itself to be a well-built, good-looking and fuel-efficient car, it had zero personality when it came to drive-feel.
The Sonata took off slowly, stopped in plenty of time and offered so-so steering responsiveness. This five-seater has a choice of two four-cylinder engines: One makes 198 horsepower and the other boosts the ponies up by a count of two. Yep, it tops out at 200 hp. I've driven cars with less horsepower that provided a much more engaging and exciting driving experience.
To be fair, the Sonata succeeded in being a practical option for drivers who don't place a high value on fun-to-drive characteristics. A 274-hp, turbo four-cylinder Sonata is also available. The Sonata base model starts at $19,395. However, I was disappointed that my test car, a Sonata SE that has a starting MSRP of $22,795, had a much higher sticker price of $26,015, but didn't include a backup camera, leather upholstery or heated seats.
The Sonata really is gorgeous. Its long, swoopy lines reminded me of a willowy runway model slithering down city streets.
Because it's a sedan it was easy for everyone in my family to get in and out of it. The cargo area was huge, and I had to bend and reach into it to get at those few items that slid to the back of the trunk. I supposed that's a little inconvenient, but I'd rather have more cargo room than not enough.
The Sonata SE has a 200-hp, 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder engine. It gets an EPA-estimated 22/35 mpg city/highway and uses regular gas.
During my test week in the Sonata, it achieved the gas mileage of a much smaller vehicle — perhaps closer to a moped. This appears to have been Hyundai's goal: Provide a head-turning, luxurious-looking sedan that uses regular fuel and uses it sparingly. Score! I averaged 25.6 mpg, which as I type doesn't seem so astounding, but let me explain. We drove to the Sonata to Great Grandma's place and back without having to stop for gas. As my kids will tell you, Great Grandma's is a long trip. It's seriously over-the-river-and-through-the-woods distances to get to her place, which can be loosely translated to 90 minutes one way.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): None
Roomy and a step above casual, the Sonata's interior is attractive. The seats' cloth upholstery was thick and nice looking with a checked pattern. Some cars have bizarre shapes and prints in the upholstery, which I find distracting and cheap looking, and I applaud Hyundai for being cost effective here without becoming gaudy.
I enjoyed the generous lumbar support in the driver's seat. My mom, who rode with us to Great Grandma's, said the ride felt smooth from her perch in the passenger seat. She also noted that the cabin seemed quiet. I agree with her, but it wasn't the quietest I've ever been in by far.
All of the controls were well placed and easy to figure out. I especially liked the heating and cooling selections with buttons built into the shape of a seated person. Need air to your feet? Press the feet. Want to blow cool air right on your face? Press the head and so on. Simple enough.
In the second row, the kids enjoyed fine accommodations with easy-to-use seat belts and two cupholders located in the fold-down center armrest. They also appreciated the plentiful legroom.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2011 Sonata has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top score of Good in front-, side-impact, rear and roof-strength crash tests as well as have a standard electronic stability system.
The Sonata also has standard traction control, front-wheel drive, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows of seats.
This five-seater has two sets of lower Latch anchors that are buried under stiff seat cushions. A booster seat fit well in the backseat. Even though the seat belt buckles were floppy, my boys didn't have problems buckling up on their own.
After struggling to get past the seat cushions to use the Latch anchors, the forward-facing convertible car seat fit well. The Sonata has plenty of space in the second row, so a rear-facing convertible and a rear-facing infant-safety seat both fit well back there. However, I wasn't able to fit three car seats across the Sonata's backseat.