Flashback to the 2010 New York Auto Show. I’m awaiting Hyundai’s scheduled press conference, where it appears the media is about to be introduced to new variants of the Sonata. John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America President and CEO, takes the stage, and amidst a spectacular light show set to pounding techno music, the wraps are taken off the Hyundai Sonata Turbo. The crowd offers polite applause, which is understandable-we’ve seen the Sonata, and this car looks just like….the other Sonata.
The music cuts out, and Mr. Krafcik is ready to discuss the Turbo. A massive screen behind him forms a grid, showing every heavy hitter in the mid-size sedan segment in their most powerful form, which in this crowd is mostly V-6’s. Then he lays it on us. The Sonata Turbo is powered by a 2.0L, direct injected, twin scroll turbocharged four cranking out 274hp. Oh, and it delivers 33mpg on the highway, on regular gas. The crowd literally gasped in response. I happened to be standing next to a group of Honda employees, their jaws dropped open, shoulders sunk in astonishment.
This was my introduction to the Hyundai Sonata Turbo, and it was a given this was a car we at The Garage wanted some time with. Away from the glamour of the Big Apple, how would the Sonata Turbo fare in the real world? Read on…
Hyundai’s ascension from bargain-basement bottom feeder to legit, major league heavy hitter status has been well documented. The Sonata is actually now in its sixth generation, but has spent most of its life a a competent, inexpensive wallflower in one of the most hotly contested markets in the auto business-the mid-size family sedan. Hyundai tossed their playbook out the window in redesigning the current Sonata. In a market where mass appeal is critical, no one wants to offend anyone, and the result are boring, inoffensive looking cars.
Hyundai instead penned a striking, swoopy sedan that comes darn near close to the sophisticated Volkswagen Passat CC. Unlike the Camry/Accord/Altima, this is actually an interesting car to look at from nearly every angle-the styled headlamp cluster, the defining crease on the flanks, the chrome trim piece extending from the front fenders to the rear doors all conspire to provide a sense of style that is rarely associated with this class of car. The 18″ alloys and chrome dual-tipped exhaust on our Turbo test car were excellent finishing touches on what was already a fresh, classy design. When asked what kind of car I was driving, people were stunned when I told them it was a Hyundai. One person remarked that on seeing it, he figured it was either a Lexus or Acura.
Inside, the Sonata offers further proof that Hyundai has found its own interior design language as well. Soft-touch plastics abound, and a pleasant mix of piano black, chrome, and matte trim come together to create a pleasant space. The combination leather/cloth seats are a departure from the norm as well, but again shows that Hyundai has found the courage to march to their own beat. During our time with the Sonata Turbo, we did a Connecticut to Lancaster, PA trip over a weekend, which usually is a 600 mile round trip total. The Sonata’s comfortable seats, roomy interior, and large trunk make for a ready and willing car for long distance travel.
Which is great, you say, but what about this engine that wowed the media in New York? This is a great technological leap for Hyundai-direct injection, and the use of Ã‚Â a twin scroll turbocharger-that’s BMW territory. What staggers the mind is how Hyundai got 274hp out of 2.0 liters. At 137hp per liter, that’s not just what used to be exotic car, but freaking race car levels. Lest you think this is some high strung, stressed engine, you are mistaken. Hyundai’s plan here was to offer up a four cylinder engine that could beat its rivals six-cylinder engines in horsepower and fuel economy, and they did.
The Sonata Turbo can scoot from 0-60mph in the mid-six second range, which is impressive for this class. That it can deliver 22/33mpg city/highway on regular gas even sweetens the deal. Slamming along at a steady 80mph I was still getting a frugal 32mpg according to my trip computer. With this amount of power being channeled to the front wheels, torque steer would be a concern, but Hyundai engineers have it under control. From a dead stop under hard acceleration the Sonata tracks straight. All Sonata Turbos are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. Our SE model had paddle shifters, but I was happy to let the computer do the work for me.
Still impressive is that Hyundai offers all this at an extremely compelling price point. Our Sonata Se 2.oT has a starting price of $24,145USD. For that, you get the aforementioned 18″ alloys, dual zone auto climate control, sport-tuned dampers and springs, keyless entry, push-button start, power drivers seat, XM radio, iPod interface, Bluetooth, and trip computer. Our test car was fitted with the Navigation and sunroof package, which included XM Traffic and XM Weather, and premium audio. As delivered, the tab came to $27,600. My only gripe was the absence of heated seats, which are available only on the top-spec Limited model.
My mind slips back to those Honda execs standing next to me, mouths agape at the engine specs of the Sonata Turbo. Their stomachs must be churning at the pricing of this car. A 2011 Accord EX four cylinder with Nav, 18″ wheels and foglights has an MSRP that is a whopping $5,421 more than our Sonata, but is down 84hp and only delivers 1mpg more on the highway. It is safe to say that with the Sonata Turbo, Hyundai has set a new benchmark in the mid-size family car segment, and I would easily recommend this car over the Camry and Accord. Kudos, Hyundai!