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#8

in 2011 Affordable Midsize Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,487 - $17,540
Original MSRP: $19,395 - $27,245
MPG: 24 City / 35 Hwy
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2011 Hyundai Sonata Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The Sonata is only offered with a four-cylinder engine, while most affordable midsize cars offer a choice of four or six cylinders. Reviewers say that the Sonata is not underpowered, however, and beats most of its non-hybrid competition in fuel mileage. With tougher fuel economy regulations on the way, Hyundai’s choice not to build a V6 may be something many rivals copy in the next few years.

  • “It's no sports car, but the Sonata doesn't mind being hustled along and is well balanced, with a comfortable ride.” -- Road and Track
  • “This engine is muscular enough to provide punchy response without the driver mercilessly caning it, which is a good thing because, like most direct-injected engines, its engine note is more mechanical growl than melodic symphony. Most of the time though, you hardly hear it.” -- Automobile Magazine
  • “What is big news is fuel economy and this is where the 2011 Hyundai Sonata climbs to the top of the podium.” -- Autoblog

Acceleration and Power

From the outset, Hyundai took an unusual approach to designing the 2011 Sonata. Most midsize cars are offered with a choice of either a four-cylinder engine or a more powerful V6. The Sonata is offered only with a four-cylinder. It’s not, however, an underpowered car. Its four-cylinder engine puts out 198 horsepower (200 in SE models), which is more than any other four-cylinder in its class.

Of course, what decides a car’s acceleration isn’t just its power. It’s how much weight that power has to carry. Because it’s so light, the Sonata easily out-accelerates most four-cylinder sedans. The Sonata carries just 16.2 pounds for each of its 198 horsepower, for instance, whereas a four-cylinder Accord sedan carries 18.5, and a four-cylinder Fusion carries 19.1 pounds per hp. Thus, when it comes to acceleration, the Hyundai almost holds its own with V6-powered cars.

Those who are still not convinced, however, may want to wait. Hyundai says a turbocharged version of the engine is coming, which may top out around 250 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is offered. It’s aimed at bargain hunters and offered only on the GLS, but Hyundai expects to build very few of them, so those may be hard to find in showrooms. Most Sonatas will carry a six-speed automatic instead.

The EPA estimates that the Sonata should get 24 mpg in the city, and a best-in-class 35 mpg on the highway. That estimate may even be low. Some writers say they have easily beaten those mileage figures.

  • “The Sonata's 2.4-liter GDI engine pulls strongly up to freeway speeds -- an impression no doubt assisted by the SE's paddle shifters -- and while the new six-speed automatic shifts quickly in most situations, full throttle shifts could stand to be a touch smoother." -- Motor Trend
  • "Direct-injected fours are notoriously vocal, and this one is no exception. Dip into the throttle and the smooth four moves the Sonata with authority while delivering prominent engine noise." -- Edmunds
  • "We typically take those EPA number and subtract a couple points to get ‘real world MPG,’ right? Well, it seems the 2011 Hyundai Sonata is also out to dispel that age-old calculation. In our ‘real world’ driving up and down the hills surrounding San Diego, the on-board computer calculated 37.8 MPG during the morning trip." -- Autoblog

Handling and Braking

The Sonata will never be known as one of the sportiest-handling cars in the midsize segment, but most commuters will be pleased with it. Its suspension and steering strike a nice balance between the soft handling of the Toyota Camry and the sporty nature of the Mazda6. Reviewers say it’s a bit more athletic than the 2010 Sonata it replaces.

For those interested in a bit more sport, the Sonata SE is tuned more firmly than other models. 

Shoppers might also want to note that the Sonata ships with low-profile tires. They boost fuel economy, but are expensive to replace and lack some grip, especially in poor weather. The car’s handling might improve with a more traditional set of tires -- but its fuel economy would suffer.

  • "Body motions are well damped, both on winding roads and on the freeway…the Sonata's helm has pleasant heft and commendable precision.” -- Automobile Magazine
  • "Piloting all three versions of Sonata around the scenic hills north of San Diego, we immediately appreciate the sharp chassis tuning. It drives smaller than it is, as body roll is kept under control and the steering is quick and precise." -- Edmunds
  • "Out in the real-world, the Sonata's SE trim level makes its firmer suspension calibration known on the road, prompting some staffers to criticize its bumpy ride on rougher surfaces. Still, it's not tuned to jar bones and remains an acceptable ride for a performance-oriented package." -- Motor Trend
  • "Hyundai will never claim the Sonata is a four-door sports car. Nevertheless, our burgundy SE sedan held more than its own when pressed into the corners. The steering was nicely weighed, and the vehicle's overall balance was surprisingly good." -- Autoblog

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