Back at the 2011 Sonata launch in February, Hyundai Motor America's gregarious president and CEO, John Krafcik, piqued our interest in the upcoming turbocharged 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T — the top model in the Sonata's all-four-cylinder lineup. Specifically, he promised that the turbocharged Hyundai Sonata would be "delicious to drive."
Now, that could've easily been nothing more than overhyped CEO-speak, but as the owner of a Porsche 911 and a Caterham Seven, Krafcik knows a thing or two about delicious-driving cars. We were intrigued — and hungry to experience it for ourselves.
This Is a Story About an Engine
If Krafcik was referring specifically to the engine in 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T models, well, he was spot-on — the 2.0-liter turbo is tasty indeed. Available as an optional upgrade on SE and Limited models, this all-aluminum 2.0-liter four-cylinder features direct injection, a twin-scroll turbocharger and continuously variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust. The Sonata 2.0T is the first Hyundai to make use of both direct injection and turbocharging.
The goal with the 2.0T is V6-beating power with four-cylinder fuel economy, and all of its numbers suggest that Hyundai has succeeded in that mission. The turbocharger's 17.4 psi of boost gives the engine a hearty 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 pound-feet of torque from 1,750-4,500 rpm. Acceleration is decidedly "hi-ho!" in a class filled with mostly "ho-hum."
Meanwhile, the EPA rates fuel economy at 22 city/33 highway mpg. We averaged 26.7 mpg over 1,030 miles using premium fuel, although Hyundai says the engine achieves its power and mileage on 87-octane fuel.
An Occasional Blip Would Be Nice
As with the normally aspirated 2.4-liter Sonata, the 2.0T comes mated with Hyundai's smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission driving its front wheels. Manual shifting is available via standard steering-wheel-mounted paddles or the center console lever.
While the paddle shifters are appreciated during spirited driving, the lack of computer-controlled rev-matching makes for abrupt downshifts. The system also won't downshift until engine revs are at a ridiculously low rpm, a frustrating experience if you're trying to have some fun with all that power on a twisty road.
If you want a true manual gearbox, you're out of luck. Since Hyundai buyers opt for manuals less than 2 percent of the time, a business case simply couldn't be made to offer one in the Sonata 2.0T, not even on the sportier SE version.
Keeping Up With the V6s
Of course, what we all want to know is how well the 3,388-pound Sonata SE 2.0T keeps up with the V6-equipped competition, so here goes. The sprint to 60 mph takes 6.6 seconds (6.2 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), which is just a tenth slower than the 2009 Mazda 6 V6 we previously tested. That sedan uses a much larger-displacement 3.7-liter V6 rated at 272 hp. In the quarter-mile, the Sonata 2.0T actually inches slightly ahead, clocking 14.6 seconds at 97.9 mph versus 14.7 seconds at 95.6 for the Mazda.
Our 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T tester is also 0.4 second quicker than the 2008 Nissan Altima V6 and 0.9 second quicker than the 2008 Honda Accord V6. Of note, the 2.0T sprints to 60 mph over a second faster than the normally aspirated 2.4-liter 2011 Sonata.
The use of a twin-scroll turbo means lag is minimal. Midrange passing power is just plain impressive, as this car's ability to get up to speed on a freeway entrance ramp is pretty shocking. There's very little intake noise either, so a casual driver might not even realize the car is turbocharged. While generally a smooth runner, the engine note does get a little thrashy at high rpm.
Despite the 2.0T's extra oomph, Hyundai engineers didn't feel a need to upgrade the brakes. Our SE 2.0T's hardware is identical to all other 2011 Sonatas — 11.8-inch vented rotors up front with 11.2-inch rotors at the rear. Our test car's 60-0-mph stopping distance of 120 feet is excellent for the midsize sedan class, with much of the credit going to the reasonably sticky Hankook Optimo H431 all-season tires, size 225/45R18 all around.
Roll, Baby, Roll
Bear in mind that the Sonata 2.0T is more of an engine package rather than a completely new model. As such, the suspension settings of the 2.0T models mimic those of the 2.4-liter Sonata models — the 2.0T SE is sportier, the 2.0T Limited softer.
So like the normally aspirated Sonata SE, our 2.0T test car has 23 percent stiffer front springs, 8 percent stiffer rears and a 2mm thicker rear antiroll bar than the GLS and Limited models. The dampers also have more aggressive compression and rebound settings, while the electric-assist power steering has been calibrated for a higher torque level with a steeper buildup off-center.
As you might expect, these minimal changes do not a sport sedan make. The 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T is a capable family sedan that isn't afraid of a corner, but it doesn't exactly relish them.
Beyond the noticeable body roll, the Sonata's electric-assist power steering feels artificial and offers minimal feedback from the front tires. Still, the car grips fairly well, as its 0.84g skid pad number attests.
The slalom proves more eventful, as the Sonata has a propensity for oversteer when changing directions quickly, making our 63.0-mph run a challenge. If you're up for it on a twisty back road, a lift of the throttle midcorner gives you just enough oversteer to correct your line and have some fun. Then again, the car's mute steering means you never really feel comfortable anyway so it's a mixed bag of performance.
The positive effect of the only marginally stiffer suspension is the Sonata's completely livable ride quality. Long highway slogs don't feel like a chore and even around town the Sonata SE doesn't feel as if it's been stiffened up beyond its purpose.
Possibly due to the fact that the 2011 Sonata is already such a head-turning, angular piece, Hyundai didn't do much to distinguish the turbo model from normally aspirated SEs. The key giveaway is the blue "T" badging on the trunk.
Similarly, the Sonata 2.0T's inner sanctum remains pretty much identical to the SE 2.4. The standard cloth fabric on the seats is grippy and comfortable, with the leather bolsters giving some semblance of lateral support. Although the interior is highly styled, the controls are refreshingly simple to use. Storage is abundant and the SE comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control (great for keeping marriages intact), a USB input, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth and a power driver seat.
We have two gripes, though. The door panel armrest needs more padding, as it gets uncomfortable on a long drive. And then there's the door panel trim. It can't decide whether it's supposed to be brushed aluminum or wood. Either way, it looks out of place in the otherwise nicely trimmed cabin.
Still a Sonata — Only Better
With a base price of $24,865, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T is only $1,550 more expensive than the normally aspirated Sonata SE. Not exactly a steep price to pay when you're getting an extra 74 hp. Tack on an extra $2,600 if you want the Navigation and Sunroof package. Our test car forgoes this kit, but floor mats ($100) and an iPod connection ($35) take it up to $25,000.
So is the turbocharged Sonata "delicious" as Mr. Krafcik promised? We wouldn't go that far. There's little doubt that the engine is impressive. All that extra power without a significant mileage penalty makes it an attractive upgrade. Add in the nominal cost and it looks even more appetizing.
Our hesitation comes from the fact that the rest of the car is a step behind this Sonata's drivetrain. We can see why Hyundai chose to leave well enough alone, but an optional Sport package would be a nice addition for buyers who like to have the complete performance package. Now that would be tasty indeed.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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