The Amazing Race

2011, Hyundai, Sonata

San Diego, CA - Every year for the last ten years Hyundai has increased their market share. John Krafcik, President & CEO, Hyundai Motor America, went through some of the reasons in the morning briefing we attended before driving the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. Two of the reasons are depreciation and fuel economy.

Everyone is watching their dollars these days. They know as soon as they buy a new car it will start to depreciate, but the key is how fast? Hyundai says that in the segments where Hyundai competes against Toyota and Ford, Hyundai has less depreciation.

Hyundai also claims they own the bragging rights of overall fuel economy leader for model year 2009, getting 30.1 mpg overall. That shouldn't be too difficult since Hyundai doesn't have trucks, like Honda (at 29.7 mpg overall) and Toyota (at 29.4 mpg overall). But they also beat out their sister Kia, at 28 mpg overall, and Volkswagen with their diesels, at 29.6 mpg overall.

But most people don't buy the whole line-up, they buy one car. Which is still great news for Hyundai because the 2011 Hyundai Sonata gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway on the automatic. There are many ways that Hyundai has accomplished the 35 mpg on the highway.

Hyundai is giving up on the V-6 and going with the 4-cylinder turbo-charged gasoline direct injection. I'm not just interested in fuel economy, though. If you know the power-to-weight-ratio numbers you're going to get a good idea of how that car drives. And if you know the turning radius of the vehicle you'll know how much flexibility you have in the car.

Power-to-weight ratio is a measurement of performance. You take the curb weight of the vehicle and divide it by the engine's power output (known as horsepower). The heavier the vehicle, the more horsepower it will need to have a good power-to-weight-ratio.

You want the smaller power-to-weight-ratio if you want a scrappy, sporty feel to your vehicle. You can get a great power-to-weight-ratio by putting a V-8 in your car, but as miles per gallon become more important the displacement of an engine will become more important. That is one reason you are seeing so many manufacturers switching from a V-6 to a 4-cylinder gasoline direct injection engine.

For the 2011 Hyundai Sonata the fuel economy is 23 city/35 highway mpg. The power-to-weight-ratio is 16.2. The turning radius is 35.8.

For the 2010 Toyota Camry the fuel economy is 22 city/33 highway mpg. The power-to-weight-ratio is 19.6. The turning radius is 36.1.

For the 2010 Honda Accord the fuel economy is 22 city/31 highway mpg. The power-to-weight-ratio is 18.5. The turning radius is 37.7.

For the 2010 Nissan Altima the fuel economy is 23 city/32 highway mpg. The power-to-weight-ratio is 18.2. The turning radius is 36.1.

For the 2010 Ford Fusion the fuel economy is 22.5 city/32.5 highway mpg. The power-to-weight-ratio is 19.1. The turning radius is 37.5.

For the 2010 Chevy Malibu the fuel economy is 22 city/33 highway mpg. The power-to-weight-ratio is 20.2. The turning radius is 40.4.

My BFF (best friend forever) Kathy Jackson and I spent a full day driving the hills outside of San Diego, stopping in Julian for some pie, testing the twisty curves up to Temecula. Every time Kathy and I get together we're like best little girlfriends talking in a language no one else understands.

The guys from Hyundai asked us if we wanted their Powertrain coordinator, Roh Joon Park, to join us. Sure we said. Kath and I were in the front seat jabbing away at each other, laughing our heads off, thinking we were so funny. All of a sudden Roh started gesticulating from the back seat. We look around and he is pointing to the exit behind us. We look at the map, realizing that, once again, we had missed an exit because we were having too much fun talking. This started an onslaught of even harder laughter.

Kathy explained to Roh that we were just talking smack. "Are you going to hit her?" set off even harder laughing spasms. No, I explained, talking smack is an American idiom meaning we're having fun with each other.

At some point we started talking to Roh about his job and what he did as a powertrain integration coordinator.

All of the numbers above make the Sonata sound great. The interior and exterior design are wonderfully put together. There is much speculation about who designed different parts of the car, but the public won't care. The difference will be how the car drives.

When one goes around curves in the mountains there is a desire to make a minivan a sports car. The electrons in our body switch from laying back, looking cool dude to a speed demon. It is just an innate part of our being.

The Hyundai Sonata automatic, like many cars in its segment, is not set up for taking curves at high speeds. But put it in manual, you have that option. You can get the 6-speed automatic with shiftronic on the GLS and it comes standard on SE and limited. The car steps on the rpms and comes to attention.

Roh says the team put a lot of time into calibrating the data and watching the body motion so that you could have the best of both worlds. The Sonata does not change the suspension when it goes into manual mode, like some luxury vehicles do. It has to do with gear-ranging.

For example, in automatic if you're going around forty mph you will hit about 1,500 rpms. If you're in manual in 4th gear you will go around 3,000 rpms and can rev it all the way to redline. That difference gives you a sportier feel, and a feeling like you're more in control of the vehicle.

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata comes in GLS, Limited and SE. The engine is a double overhead cam (DOHC) 16-valve with dual continuously variable valve timing (DCVVT), gasoline direct injection (GDI) 2.4-liter 4-cylinder powerhouse that gets 198 horsepower @6,300 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm. The sport edition (SE) gets a couple more hp ([email protected],300) and a couple more lb-ft of torque ([email protected],250). All come with smart brake, a brake override system that doesn't allow sudden acceleration.

Hyundai says they expect sixty percent of sales to come from the GLS trim level. The GLS 6-speed manual gets 24 city/35 highway mpg and starts at $19,195. The GLS automatic gets 22 city/ 35 highway mpg and starts at $20,195. If you want the popular equipment package that vehicle starts at $20,945. Add Navi system to the popular equipment and you're starting at $22,645.

Ten percent of sales are predicted, by Hyundai, to come from the Sport Edition (SE). The SE starts where the GLS leaves off. The starting price for the SE is $22,645. Add the NAV system and the sunroof package and the price starts at $25,195.

The rest, Hyundai says, will go to the luxury limited edition, which starts at $25,295. Add NAV package to that and you pay $27,395.

On the way home Kathy was flipping from mpg to the trip odometer. We were supposed to be in a miles per gallon challenge, but Kathy decided she would just make more money and drive faster.

With twenty miles left to go before we get to our hotel Kathy and I are in the front chatting away, Roh chiming in occasionally. All of a sudden Roh starts gesticulating from the back seat, again. He says we're supposed to exit now! I point to the instrument panel and say the trip says twenty more miles. Roh points at the instrument panel and says, no, Kathy is on mpg, not trip. Kathy and I look at each other, look at the mpg reading, look at each other and die in hysterics. We've done it again!

And you wonder why I think turning radius is so important.

By Lou Ann Hammond

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Images of the 2011, Hyundai Sonata

2011 Hyundai Sonata
2011 Hyundai Sonata
good looking front
good looking front
nice looking lights
nice looking lights
sweet from the side
sweet from the side