TALIHINA, Okla. -- A narrow strip of asphalt runs for miles along pine-cloaked ridges of the rugged Ouachita Mountains that stretch across the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.
This scenic highway -- dubbed the Wilhelmina Trail after Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands who visited the area more than a century ago -- follows contours of the rumpled hills over undulating pavement with dips and rises and strings of esses and sweepers.
It’s the ideal venue to sample the enthused spirit of a new turbocharged edition of Hyundai's Sonata, a four-door and five-passenger front-wheel-drive sedan which comes together at a Hyundai factory in Montgomery, Alabama.
In twists and turns of the Wilhelmina Trail, the 2011 Sonata 2.0T SE sedan maintains a stable position with minimal lateral roll, the result of a stiffly braced unibody design with sophisticated independent suspension elements at each corner post.
Surging turbo-boosted power, lurking below our right foot pedal, proves too much for some of the curve sets and occasionally requires a check through the left pedal, which ties to four ventilated disc brakes and an on-board computer link with anti-lock brake action as well as electronic vehicle stability management with traction control.
Steering, firm and precise due to a rack and pinion arrangement with acute tuning of the power steering pump, seems comparable to a pricy Euro touring sedan.
And this Sonata shows us in wiggles through right-left-right chicanes on the warped ridgeback road atop a mountain in Oklahoma that it can waltz like a sporty machine and rip through speed run-ups due to the best-in-class output of that new turbo four-pack plant.
Hyundai's Theta II twin-scroll turbo-charged GDI (gasoline direct-injection) engine displaces 2.0 liters and features DOHC (dual overhead cams) and CVVT (continuously variable valve timing).
Rigged with a dual exhaust system, it produces 274 hp at 6000 rpm plus 269 lb-ft of torque spread between 1750 and 4500 rpm running with regular unleaded (87 Octane) fuel.
And it achieves a best-in-class power-to-weight ratio (12.4 hp).
Shifter is Hyundai's new A6LF2 six-speed automatic transaxle fitted with the Shiftronic shift-it-yourself manual mode, which operates by tipping a console-mounted shifter stick forward or backward to step sequentially through the gears, or by flicking paddle shifters pinned on the steering wheel.
EPA fuel economy scores for Sonata with the turbo powertrain climb high -- 22 mpg for city driving and 33 mpg on the highway.
Sonata in the new design of 2011 employs a rigid unibody structure with a long (110 inches) wheelbase length and a broad (63+ inches) track width as measured between front/rear wheels.
These spatial modifications serve to crimp front and rear overhangs of the body and push the wheels outward toward edges of the package, creating a long and broad platform optimized for vehicular stability.
The sedan has a MacPherson strut-type front suspension with gas-charged Mando Dual Flow Damper (DFD) shock absorbers and stabilizer bar and an independent multi-link design in the rear using coil springs and gas-charged Mando DFD shocks and stabilizer bar.
Theme for the exterior is a fluidity of lines drawn in rectangular format but with a radically raked windshield and an arching canopy over the cabin with low-slung windows and side pillars muted to forge the profile of a swift and racy two-door coupe.
The brash face features narrow eye-slit headlamp clusters on front corners flanking a trapezoidal grille with chrome fins.
Side panels are chiseled with ripples and a high-mount character line which rises toward the tail and wears a strip of bright chrome drawn from the front headlamps that sweep into front fenders and extended to the hind quarter.
The blunted rump looks clean with twin-lamp taillight assemblies wrapping around corners and a body-colored bumper swooping low with dual exhaust pipes of the turbo model tucked below.
Sonata's passenger compartment seems generous -- but it is, encompassing more than 103 cubic feet.
Headroom amounts to 40 inches up front and 37.8 inches in back, with front-seat legroom stretching to 45.5 inches and 34.6 inches in the rear.
Layout of the cabin shows a pair of bucket seats up front flanking a floor-mounted console and a broad bench in back with two articulated seat positions but room for three.
The rear seatback splits 60/40 in sections and both sides fold forward to expand room in the trunk, which amounts to more than 16 cubic feet for cargo.
Hyundai packs the 2011 Sonata 2.0T with a long list of safety gear. The two trim editions stock passive safety systems like frontal air bags and side-impact air bags on front seats plus curtain-style air bags above outboard seats on two rows as well as active head restraints for front seatbacks.
Hyundai also puts lots of standard equipment in each Sonata -- air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, a remote keyless entry system, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and XM satellite radio service plus an auxiliary jack and USB interface.
Sonata 2.0T SE edition enhances the equipment list with front foglamps, dual power folding and heated exterior mirrors, chrome door handles, the dual chrome exhaust tips, door sill scuff plates, dual automatic climate controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, leather seat upholstery, driver's seat with eight-way power controls, and a 104-watt Mobis audio package with six speakers and AM/FM/CD/MP3.
Sonata 2.0T Limited edition boosts the luxury gear with easy-ride suspension calibrations, piano-black or woodgrain cabin trim, heated front seats with adjustable temperature controls and heated rear seat bottom cushions, HD Radio technology and a 360-watt Mobis sound system with AM/FM/CD6x/MP3 plus 7 Dimension speakers.
All Hyundai vehicles sold in the U.S. market are covered by a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and 5-year complimentary Roadside Assistance program.
MSRP figures tally to $24,145 for Sonata 2.0T SE and $27,045 for Sonata 2.0T Limited.