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First drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Posted by Bill Griffith  April 27, 2010 01:26 PM

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(Hyundai)

PHILADELPHIA—Hyundai executives invited the East Coast media to a mid-April coming-out party here for the 2011 Sonata mid-sized sedan.

The car is now arriving in dealer showrooms after a blitz of introductory advertising, including Super Bowl commercials.

Initial reviews are positive, but the Sonata will be entering a cutthroat marketplace in competing against the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, and the new Kia Optima.

Perhaps the Sonata’s most interesting feature is something it doesn’t offer: a V-6.

“It’s a changing world,” says Chris Hosford, Hyundai’s executive director of corporate communications. “We’re acutely aware of new technologies, the overall economy, and fuel usage.”

The trend that was notable with the outgoing Sonata. “When that model came out, 80 percent of buyers wanted a V-6,” says Hosford. “That dwindled to 10 percent at the end of the product cycle.”

This fall, Sonata buyers will have the option to buy either a 270 horsepower turbocharged version or a hybrid model. But for now, it’s the basic direct-injection four-cylinder which produces 198 hp or 200 hp in the sportier SE thanks to a dual exhaust. Projected fuel economy with the 6-speed automatic is 22 city and 35 highway.

Because the vehicle was designed strictly as a four-cylinder model, designers were able to snug up the engine compartment and provide more cabin and trunk space. The interior is up to contemporary standards with a flowing feel that reflects the curved “fluidic sculpture” exterior configuration. The new design is striking and, on the highway, eye-catching.

We had a 30-mile drive around Greater Philadelphia. It was enough to note that the SE has a much stiffer suspension than the base GLS and more refined (and expensive) Limited. Acceleration and engine performance seemed more than adequate. Price range will be from $19,195 for the base GLS (with a hard-to-find manual transmission) to $27,395 for a Limited with Navigation package.

Unlike some automakers, which view rental sales as a way to mask a model’s lack of demand, Hyundai embraces rental usage.

Michael Dietz, manager of product planning and the company’s midwife for the birth of the Sonata, says, “We found a third of the buyers of the prior Sonata had driven the vehicle as a rental.”

It’s a new model we look forward to reviewing in full later this summer.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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