2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T

La Jolla, California – While most mid-sized family sedans offer a standard four-cylinder engine and an optional six-cylinder powerplant, Hyundai has chosen to abandon the 2010 Sonata’s optional V6 for an all new turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in their recently-redesigned 2011 model.

Though it’s not the first turbocharged four-cylinder engine its class (that honour goes to the Opel-derived Buick Regal CX-L Turbo’s 220-hp 2.0-litre engine), Hyundai’s all-new turbocharged engine develops an outstanding 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, quite a bit more than Hyundai’s 3.3-litre V6 which offered 249 horsepower and 229 lb-ft. As well, the turbo four offers better fuel economy than the V6: 9.3/6.0 city/hwy vs the V6’s 10.8/6.9 (L/100 km). A major bonus is that this turbo engine uses Regular gasoline – possibly the only turbocharged four on the market that does.

Significantly, Hyundai’s new turbocharged four offers more power and better fuel economy than all of its major competitor’s V6 engines, including V6 engines from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and Chevrolet.

2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T. Click image to enlarge

This bold move by Hyundai is a step towards the company’s corporate goal of achieving a North American vehicle fleet fuel economy average of 4.7 L/100 km (60 mpg Imperial) by 2025. That ambitious goal could very well sound the death knell for the V6 engine if other mainstream vehicle manufacturers try to match it, which they almost certainly will.

My first drive in the new Sonata 2.0T revealed that much has been gained while some things have been lost. On the positive side, this turbocharged engine has lots of power when you need it – maximum torque starts at just 1,750 rpm with minimal turbo lag and gobs of power all the way through 4,500 rpm. Torque-steer is conspicuous by its absence – no worries there. Off the line and passing power is there when you need it, and though the company hasn’t released any 0 to 100 km/h acceleration figures, they did say the Sonata 2.0T has the best power-to-weight ratio in its class of 5.5 kg per horsepower and “superior performance” when compared with other mid-sized V6 sedans. I can believe it.

Drivers who want better fuel economy can press the Eco-mode button on dash, an electronic function that adjusts the throttle and transmission shift points to reduce performance, resulting in an average seven per cent fuel economy gain, according to Hyundai. This is over and above the car’s class-leading fuel consumption. But why buy the Turbo model if you want good fuel economy? The standard 198-hp normally-aspirated Sonata would be a better choice.

2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T. Click image to enlarge

All 2011 Sonata 2.0T sedans come with a standard six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for optional manual shifting. While a traditional manual transmission would surely make this a more exciting sport sedan, the standard six-auto caters to the majority of sedan buyers and does its job smoothly and quickly. While driving aggressively, I found the transmission hesitated slightly when shifting down, but I couldn’t reproduce this during normal driving. The fun factor can be increased by using the paddle shifters, allowing manual control of the shift points, but I quickly got bored of it.

Compared to the standard Sonata sedan, the 2.0T offers stiffer steering, a firmer ride, and wider, lower-profile 18-inch tires. Combined with its fully independent suspension, these modifications turn the Sonata into a well-balanced handler with surprisingly high cornering limits and very forgiving handling typified by gentle understeer at the limit. Indeed, it’s possible to throw the Sonata 2.0T into a tight corner without fear of losing control – the standard electronic stability control no doubt contributes to this. I was very impressed at how stable this rather large, mid-sized sedan is. Braking is also powerful and well controlled.

Of course, the turbo four isn’t quite as smooth as a V6 nor as quiet during acceleration. My guess is the coarser sound of the four-cylinder engine may turn off some V6 buyers who are used to the richer tones of a V6 or inline six.

2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T. Click image to enlarge

And then there’s the North American pre-occupation with quantity: will Canadians and Americans, who often think in terms of “more is better,” accept that a smaller engine is as good as a bigger one? That’s a market hurdle that Hyundai and Buick will have to clear.

In Canada, the 2011 Sonata 2.0T comes in two trim levels, 2.0T and 2.0T Limited. Base models, starting at $28,999, include the six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, sport-tuned suspension, dual exhausts, 18-inch radials and alloy wheels, sunroof, six airbags, remote entry and push-button start, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, satellite radio, cloth seats, power driver’s seats and heated front seats. Sonata 2.0T Limited models, $31,749, add leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, premium Dimension audio system with six-CD changer, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass. The only option is a Navigation Package for $1,750 that includes a touch-screen display that replaces the six-CD changer and a rear back-up camera.

When you compare the price of the 2011 Sonata 2.0T to the Regal CX-L Turbo and V6 competitors, it does seem like a lot of car for the money, and it beats its competitors in terms of power, fuel economy, and interior space.

But will V6 owners trade in their V6’s for a turbo-four? We’ll have to wait and see.

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