Test Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS  car test drives hyundai
2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
2011 Hyundai Sonata

It’s no easy feat to compete in the midsize sedan market these days, a segment crowded with numerous worthy contenders. Hyundai has always been a player here with its Sonata, but for 2011, it enters with a redesigned model that’s quite a departure from what it was previously, both in its sleek new styling and with the unusual offering of only one engine, and a four-cylinder at that.

For 2010, the Sonata came with a choice of 2.4-litre four-cylinder or 3.3-litre V6. This time around, there’s only a four-cylinder, but it’s an all-new version of the 2.4-litre, marking Hyundai’s first direct-injection gasoline engine. The previous 2.4-litre made 175 horsepower and 168 lb-ft of torque; the new engine produces 198 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. That’s why no V6 is offered for 2011, the company says: although the six-cylinder used in 2010 made 249 horsepower, most buyers went for the more economical four-cylinder, and this new engine produces enough grunt that it should keep almost all buyers satisfied. It not only consumes less fuel than the outgoing V6, but also undercuts the previous four-cylinder, with a published rate of 9.4 L/100 km (30 mpg Imp) in the city and 5.7 (50) on the highway when hooked to the six-speed automatic. In combined driving, my GLS tester racked up 8.0 L/100 km (35 mpg Imp). Part of that is also due to these new transmission choices: six-speed manual and automatic transmissions replace the previous five-cog choices.

Test Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS  car test drives hyundai
Test Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS  car test drives hyundai
2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS. Click image to enlarge

Rather than offer numerous options, Hyundai steps up the equipment list for each trim line. Pricing starts at $22,649 for the GL with the stick shift, the only model where it’s available, and $24,249 with the automatic. My mid-line GLS was priced at $26,249. You can also move up to a Limited, at $28,999, or to the top-end Limited with Navigation, at $30,999.

Long before you’re behind the wheel, you notice the styling, so radically transformed that the 2010 model already looks like it was built in 1987 by comparison. Hyundai has never been shy about nicking something that works for someone else, and so you’re likely to notice shades of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and – somewhat ironically – the Volkswagen Passat CC that likewise riffed on that model. The design does cut down somewhat on rear-seat headroom, and you have to watch your head getting in and out of those back doors, although there’s plenty of space for rear-passenger knees and feet.

The four-cylinder gets noisy when asked to make tracks at highway speed, but other than that, it’s a fine engine and a good fit to this car; I suspect it’s a rare driver who will bemoan the fact that he can’t get a V6 anymore. That said, a turbocharged four-cylinder version is in the works, as is a gasoline-electric hybrid model. The new six-speed transmission does its job quietly and smoothly. There is a manual shift mode, accessible strictly from the gearshift lever, but it really seems to be there more for looks than for performance. There’s a short wait between the driver’s request and the point that the transmission actually swaps the cogs.