Hyundai Sonata 2012: Value-priced, performance-oriented family sedan

James Raia

The mid-size Hyundai Sonata is the automaker’s top-selling car with swoopy styling, a roomy interior and muscular performance from the turbocharged version.

The front-drive Sonata sedan is sold with either a 198-horsepower (200 with dual exhausts) 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine or a 274-horsepower turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder in the 2.0T. A 206-horsepower gas-electric hybrid version also is offered.

The 2011 Sonata set the large, generally conservative and cut-throat mid-size car segment on its head with new, head-turning styling, roominess, good fuel economy and upscale nature. Not to mention Hyundai’s 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Turbocharged Family Car

Keeping everything up to date, power was transmitted through a new six-speed automatic transmission replacing a five-speed automatic. A six-speed manual was—and is—still offered, but only only for the base model. I don’t recommend the manual. After all, this is mainly a family car, even with the turbocharger.

I drove a regular 2011 Sonata without the turbocharger and found the base engine with its direct fuel injection, dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and dual continuously variable valve timing to be plenty worthy. A V-6 was no longer available for 2011, but who needed it?

Hyundai Sonata 2012: Value-priced, performance-oriented family sedan 1

Prices for the 2012 Sonata go from $19,695 for the base manual-transmission GS to $28,095 for the turbocharged 2.0T Limited, which has items including heated front/rear seats, leather upholstery, woodgrain interior trim and a panoramic roof.

I recently drove the turbocharged $24,645 Sonata SE 2.0T, which lacks the woodgrain trim, but has plenty of equipment and is the sporty member of the Sonata family. It accelerates rapidly both in town and on highways, where the 65-80 mph passing time was impressive.

Estimated fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highways, although my test SE 2.0T topped those figures by several miles per gallon despite moderately hard driving part of the time.

Besides its smooth, powerful direct-injection turbo engine, the SE 2.0T  has a sport-tuned suspension and steering, supportive sport seats with leather bolsters and cloth inserts, 18-inch alloy wheels with wide 45-series tires and paddle shifters or a floor shifter for manual control of the slick-shifting automatic transmission. The chrome-tip dual exhaust outlets look sexy—nice touch there.

Stable Sport Suspension

The electric-assist “sport-tuned” steering has a hefty feel and is precise, but doesn’t provide much road feel. The sport suspension delivers stable handling during fast acceleration on highway on- and off-ramps, even with wet pavement.

Helping out here were standard electronic stability and traction controls, but I didn’t feel them kick in when zooming from a decreasing radius ramp into fast-moving freeway traffic. The ride is supple, and the anti-lock, all-disc brakes kick in quickly and surely for confident stops. They have electronic brake force distribution and brake assist.Hyundai Sonata 2012: Value-priced, performance-oriented family sedan 2

My test car had the usual upscale mid-size sedan comfort and convenience items. They included air conditioning that worked well on a 100-degree Chicago day, pushbutton starting, power this and power that, tilt/telescopic wheel, handy dual console cupholders and a split-folding 60/40 rear seat. Not to mention front/side air bags and side-curtain bags.

Above all, family sedans better be practical and safe, or few will leave the showroom floor.

There’s plenty of room up front and two tall rear-seat passengers can stretch. The firm center of the backseat is best left to the large fold-down armrest with built-in dual cupholders.

Wide Trunk Opening

The large trunk has hinges instead of struts — Hyundai had to keep costs down somewhere. But at least the hood raises smoothly on twin struts. The trunk opening is wide, but has a rather high opening. The split seatbacks flip forward and sit flat, but the pass-through area between the trunk and rear-seat area is just moderately large.

Large door handles facilitate easy entry to the quiet, nicely finished interior, although rear doorways are rather narrow. Controls can be easily reached and used. A nicely designed dashboard touch screen is associated with the controls.

Somehow, I associate the Sonata’s foot-operated parking brake with 1950s or 1960s cars, but it works fine in this Hyundai. There are plenty of interior storage areas, including door pockets with bottle holders and a seemingly bottomless console bin with a cover.

The turbocharged 2012 Sonata SE 2.0T isn’t a sports sedan, but can be safely and confidently driven pretty much like one in increasingly congested America. And for quite a bit less than a much-costlier BMW or Mercedes.

Pros: Swoopy styling. Fast. Roomy. Good handling. Supple ride. Hybrid model. Long warranty.

Cons: Rather numb steering. Moderate-size trunk pass-through. Narrow reart-door openings.

Bottom Line: Adding a turbocharger to the popular Sonata makes it “fly.”

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com


Article Last Updated: July 23, 2012.

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