On the Rise

2011-hyundai-sonata-20t

New cars with new features and new looks is a phenomenon that occurs on a yearly basis. The terms “all new”, “innovative” and “ground breaking” tend to get overworked by the marketing departments, but if we are lucky, a new car that actually lives up to those adjectives comes along once or twice a decade. Such is the case with the 2011 Hyundai Sonata.

I first saw this car at the Virginia International Auto Show this past spring. The Hyundai display was parked squarely in between BMW and Mercedes and I recall thinking to myself, “What poor yutz picked this spot?” As it turned out it was a stroke of genius. As I looked around this impressive new car, its lines were every bit as attractive as any car surrounding it.  Once inside, I was taken with the ergonomic placement of the controls as well as the generous leg room and the comfort of the front bucket seats. The real trump card was the window sticker, as the Sonata showed that a nicely equipped car with good looks doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom. Both Mercedes and BMW’s least expensive offerings soared over the Sonata’s price tag by more than ten thousand dollars.

I can recall a time when the name Hyundai was widely considered as an automotive joke. Then again, I can recall when some other names that are well recognized today were regarded with similar disdain. I can still clearly recall a minuscule little car by Honda, named the Civic, that came to our shores in the 1972. This little car took its life in its hands by prowling streets still owned by V8 powered musclecars. “Small” and “economical” were not two words that were often used during that time but little did we know it would be a harbinger of things to come.

Toyota, Subaru and other foreign nameplates have had similar humble beginnings on Western shores but have eventually risen to levels of market respect and supremacy.

The old saying “there is always a new challenger” has never been more accurate than when applied to the automotive landscape. Just as the domestic manufacturers have been toppled from their leading sales positions; those foreign builders who took their place now find the bulls-eye painted squarely on their foreheads.

One has to give the foreign automakers credit for quickly learning how to play the car-game in this country. They came here and observed, built their own state of the art facilities, took advantage of the available knowledge base and are showing they know how to kick butt and take names. In my opinion, they are winning because they are shooting ahead of the short-term goals, and the new Sonata is a showcase of that mentality.

Hyundai calls the new Sonata “The 4 door coupe” and given its rakish styling, that nomenclature goes down as smoothly as the cars swooping fender curves. The features and technology this car brings to the table will put everyone else in catch-up mode in very short order.

The look of the car is eye-catching to say the least, but its beauty goes far deeper. There is a host of standard equipment that will make all but the highest end marques blush. Standard Bluetooth and auxiliary music ports, front and rear heated seats, push button proximity start, HD radio and six airbags just to name a few.

The new Sonata also benefits from a new rigid yet lightweight frame construction, which translates into better performance, safety and fuel economy. (There goes one of those words)

Performance and economy are going to be two words that will define the new Sonata. Hyundai made the forward thinking decision to offer only four-cylinder engine options, leaving the more popular V6 behind. Time will tell if this was a wise choice, but given the powertrains offered, I think it will pay big dividends.

By bringing direct fuel injection technology to the mid-sized sedan market, Hyundai has been able to build a four-cylinder that packs the power of many other V6 cars, while still retaining the formers superior fuel economy. For those of us who always lust for more power, Hyundai threw a large bone at the New York International Auto Show this past spring by unveiling a turbocharged version of this potent new engine.

Once again, a high-end idea was brought to mainstream cars by employing a twin scroll turbo (like those found on supercar Porsches) in conjunction with the aforementioned direct fuel injection to produce a giant killer. The new engine cranks out 274hp and 269lb-ft of torque, which is enough to shame any V6 in its class (and a few outside of class as well) all while still delivering 30-plus mpg and doing so on regular fuel.
This potent new engine is mated to a six-speed auto gearbox with a manual shift mode, and is available with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Over a decade ago, my imagination was captured by a new car offered by Chrysler known as the LH series. The Chrysler Concorde, Eagle Vision and the Dodge Intrepid. Their ‘cab-forward’ aero design gave them racy looks and generous interior space. The overhead cam V6 was powerful for the time and I was smitten from the first time I drove one.

The new Sonata Turbo is proving to have that same allure, and given the number of base models I have already seen scattered across parking lots, it seems I am not alone in that sentiment.
You can put any girl in a pretty dress and doll her up for a night on the town, but a dress does not a woman make. When the curves of that dress are shaped by a woman who has the moves, the knowledge and the power; then she is a force to be reckoned with.

Let the automakers in the mid-sized sedan market beware, for there is such a lady gliding gracefully onto the stage. Her lineage is Korean, her fashion is by California Design Studio and she comes by way of the Huntsville, Alabama assembly plant. She boasts stunning curves and the power to promise excitement; coming to a Hyundai dealer near you.

I look forward to our first dance.

– T. August Green

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