Our First Drive of the Sonata began, "That a Hyundai can compete at levels of world-class accomplishment is news. It's now clear that Hyundai is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to dominate the segment in every category, both objective and subjective. Our first brief fling with the Sonata suggests that it has the measure of the segment." We had witnessed the Hyundai's development through the years. But what did the future hold?
Next Hyundai told us V6s are dead. And for 2011 it planned to convince us by bolting a four-cylinder engine to every variant of its most popular sedan. The base 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS had a normally aspirated 2.4-liter version. The Sonata Hybrid paired its 2.4-liter to an electric motor. The Sonata 2.0T utilized forced induction for its 2.0-liter inline-4. This was a strategic move Hyundai hoped would pay off across the board.
Why We Got It
The Hyundai Sonata was completely redesigned for 2011. Left behind was the predictable, uninspired family sedan styling adopted by all others in the segment. This new Sonata looked like nothing else in its class. Meanwhile, the lack of change from some competitors gave the appearance they were content simply with being good enough.
In addition to the new look, there was an upgrade under the hood for the 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS. Its previous-generation 175-horsepower inline 2.4-liter received some attention. The new 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder upped its rating to 198 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. Gone was the five-speed automatic available last year. In its place was a new six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels.
We had mixed impressions regarding how the Sonata drove. We generally agreed that our early fears of life with an underpowered, fuel-sipping GLS were unjustified. The 2.4-liter was quite a decent little engine. Even our full test of the Sonata 2.0T wasn't enough to win us all away from the normally aspirated four-cylinder as a commuter. We also agreed that while the steering was utterly lifeless to an enthusiast, it was perfectly acceptable for a $23,000 family sedan. But we had some ride quality disagreements.
Senior Editor Erin Riches did not care for the ride. "Specifically, the dampers are derelict in their duty. Even when I'm just driving around town there is far too much suspension movement over garden-variety bumps, ruts and seams, and it doesn't get any better on the freeway. Ultimately, you get a soft ride with the Sonata, but there's too little control for my taste. Mazda 6, please."
Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans disagreed. "Erin wrote that our Sonata's ride quality wasn't to her liking. Normally, we come to pretty similar conclusions on cars, but this time my opinion differs. I certainly don't think our GLS rides too softly. It seems about right, actually, given the car's family sedan mission. If anything, I could see people asking for the ride to be softer than it is. I've noticed the suspension lets too many short, quick impacts from rough pavement into the cabin."
Inside the cabin the Sonata had a lot going on. On one side of the coin were questionably supportive seats, hard plastics and the less-than-desirable tan-on-gray color combination of our tester. Our GLS was wrapped in beige cloth, which had proved disastrous in prior durability tests. Not this time. The YES Essentials fabric seemed to be the difference maker. No spills, stains or odors, regardless of how many slobbering dogs or children traipsed across the backseat. On the shinier side was the usable voice navigation system, which allowed full use of navigation controls even when the car was in motion. All automakers should take note.
Our 2011 Hyundai Sonata was not without its problems. At 5,700 miles it happened the first time. Shift to park. Turn off the car. Remove the key from the ignition. Remove the key from the ignition. The key was stuck. Thankfully fate pitied us. Our impromptu series of grunts, flailing arms and ultimately sighs, released the key the times it did stick. But we didn't press our luck, scheduling a dealer visit promptly. The entire shift lever assembly was replaced per an open TSB and the problem solved. At the same visit our dealer retorqued the steering column shaft bolt, thereby addressing an open recall for that issue as well. Regularly scheduled maintenance at 7,500 and 15,000 miles marked our only other dealer needs.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $130.79
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: TSB for shift lever assembly, recall for steering shaft bolt
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Days Out of Service: 1
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
We first track tested the Sonata with 1,000 miles on the clock. Just prior to returning the car to Hyundai, we repeated the process. As always, the goal was to compare the two and record any performance changes over time.
Instrumented testing showed some variation. The quarter-mile remained 16.1 seconds at 88.3 mph even though the 0-60-mph time (with rollout) improved from 7.9 to 7.7 seconds. Slalom tests reflected an improvement from 64.5 mph to 66.0 mph, a result we attribute to improved grip from older, worn tires. The tires helped considerably less on the skid pad. Here the Sonata improved by 0.01g, generating 0.77g of lateral force.
One test showed clear degradation by year's end. We could only speculate as to why the brakes required 138 feet (an additional 10 feet) to reach a stop from 60 mph. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton attempted to explain. "Good initial bite, medium-firm pedal, with a bit of a plateau in the middle and then back to normal decel. Perhaps worn tires are causing near lock-up in the middle where ABS releases pressure, then reapplies it?"
Fuel economy was where we expected the 2011 Hyundai Sonata to leave its impression. EPA estimates rated the GLS at 22 city and 35 highway mpg, averaging to 26 mpg. Our average after 19,000 miles was just that, 26 mpg. We never quite met the highway figure, as our best single tank was 34 mpg. But fuel range was the X-factor here. We joined the 500-mile club several times over, 522 miles being the farthest on one fill-up of 87 octane.
Best Fuel Economy: 34.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 15.8 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 25.6 mpg
One year ago we added a 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS to our long-term fleet. At the time it had an MSRP of $23,465. We added more than 19,000 miles to the odometer and plugged it into Edmunds' TMV® Calculator. Based on a private-party sale the GLS depreciated just 21 percent during our ownership. This is noteworthy.
Past long-term tests of Hyundai products told a different story. No matter the quality or performance improvements, resale value was predictably poor. Look no further than our own fleet for evidence. Over one year our long-term 2006 Hyundai Sonata depreciated 30 percent, while the comparably equipped 2007 Toyota Camry (26 percent), 2007 Nissan Altima SE (26 percent) and 2008 Honda Accord (20 percent) lost far less value. Depreciation of 20 percent on a year-old vehicle is reserved for the elite. It is a distinction Honda held for years. Now Hyundai is closer to achieving the milestone than ever before.
True Market Value at service end: $18,638
Depreciation: $4,827 or 21% of original MSRP
Final Odometer Reading: 19,655
Hyundai has spent years working on brand recognition. First it was the company that sold affordable cars with a great warranty. Improved build quality came next, followed by public recognition as a true competitor against established nameplates. The introductory chapter was over. With its eye on the family sedan segment, Hyundai honed the Sonata.
When we look back on this test a few items stand out. First, this may be the most durable beige interior we've seen after a 12-month barrage of test filth. It looked as good with a year behind it as the day it arrived in our garage. Second, a 500-mile-plus range is a quite a feat, even in these days of fuel economy. But there is another, more significant reason this car made such an impression on us. Resale value.
Hyundai's resale value strategy seems to be paying off. Our 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS retained far more value than any other long-term Hyundai product we've tested. Not only does it compare favorably to prior Hyundai products, but to the competition as well. This Sonata depreciated as little as the last long-term Honda Accord we tested. And Honda has ruled the used car lot for years. If you haven't paid attention to Hyundai yet, the Sonata might change your mind.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.