2009 LA Auto Show: 2011 Hyundai Sonata
By Kevin Miller
Hyundai Motor America has had a great year in 2009. At 30.1 MPG, Hyundai has the highest corporate fleet fuel economy average in the US. In a year where car sales have fallen, Hyundai has increased their market share from 3% in October 2008 to 4.3% in October 2009. In January, their new Genesis sedan was named North American Car of the Year. Shortly thereafter the Genesis coupe launched. JD Power ranked Hyundai the highest non-premium brand in initial quality (fourth overall), and the Hyundai Assurance program along with their early rollout of the CARS rebate program have all led to Hyundai’s increase in market share.
Following that momentum, yesterday at the LA Auto Show Hyundai introduced the sixth generation of their Sonata sedan, and in a typical case of attempting to surpass the competition, the 2011 Sonata is bigger and more fuel efficient than ever before. Though it competes in the midsize segment, the Sonata’s class-leading interior volume draws a Full-Sized rating from the EPA. As in the outgoing fifth-generation car, electronic stability control and six airbags are standard equipment in the new Sonata.
According to what was said in the press conference, Hyundai’s goal with the new Sonata was to make a stylish and luxurious vehicle that would appeal customers who appreciate the value in Hyundai products. The new model is certainly more stylish than its predecessor, with door handles in the bodyside character line, a chrome character line running from the trailing point of the headlamp lenses, across the top of the front fender and continuing along the bottom of the greenhouse. Designer Phil Zak indicated that the Fluidic Sculpture design of the new Sonata sets the tone for future Hyundai vehicles.
With ever-rising fuel economy and carbon emission requirements, Hyundai said that the use of six-cylinder motors in midsized sedans is “going the way of the dinosaur”. To fulfill that prediction, the new Sonata is available only with four-cylinder engines. At launch the sole engine will be Hyundai’s new Theta II 2.4 liter GDI (gasoline direct injection) engine and six-speed automatic transmission, which will deliver 198 HP and an estimated 23/35 MPG city/highway fuel economy with the automatic transmission (23/34 MPG with manual transmission). The six-speed automatic transmission used in the new Sonata is one of Hyundai’s own design, which is 26.5 lbs lighter than the 5-speed unit in the outgoing Sonata.
By the end of 2010, a turbocharged Theta II (delivering more power than the current Sonata’s outgoing 3.3 liter V6) with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and a Hybrid Blue Drive Sonata employing Lithium-Polymer batteries will join the naturally-aspirated Theta II GDI. Details of those powertrains are set to be unveiled in at the 2010 New York auto show, though we learned today that the turbocharged motor is rumored to have the same fuel economy ratings as the naturally-aspirated engine.
To my eyes, the new Sonata looks much better than the vehicle it replaces, even if it does have a few angles that are less-flattering than most. As expected, the new Sonata has a lot of optional creature comforts available, including HD radio, touchscreen navigation system with XM NavTraffic, iPod/USB input and heated seats both front and rear.
Production of the new Sonata begins this month at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama. Unlike most GM products which we see at auto shows several years before they will be available for purchase, retail deliveries will commence next month, in January 2010, with versions of the new Sonata starting at less than $20,000.
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