A Touch Of Refinement: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Thursday nights were my usual drinking night. But the influence of forces like the introduction of karaoke to my preferred watering hole and the lure of 25 cent wings elsewhere has more or less altered this habit. I can usually now be found Monday evenings at the bottom of a pint, occasionally surfacing for a nibble of spicy chicken. It’s loud, and I’m surrounded by friends, whiling away the hours with jovial arguments, crass humor, and talk of women.

Sure, this is a perfectly acceptable and fun way to spend my time, but just as often as I like going out, I like to have an occasional quiet day to myself, maybe on a Sunday, by an open window, with my laptop and a bottle of wine, looking up only to scrounge for more cheese. Why? Because sometimes I desire something a little more sophisticated, a little more comfortable. The same goes for cars. Yes, I am very happy making my rounds in my American V8 jackhammer, but once in awhile, I long for something more elegant to cruise in, and fortunately, I found my brief escape in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata.

Don’t snicker, I know what you’re thinking – because I had the same reaction – but the truth is that Hyundai, while usually a source for an efficient yet cheap conveyance from A to B, never used to be a brand associated with elegance and sportiness. The past couple of years, however, have proven that Hyundai intends to change that with rear-wheeled models like the Genesis Coupe, the opulent Equus, and the revamped Sonata, all cars that are making believers out of delighted owners everywhere.

Upon first glimpse of the Sonata in person, I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts made in the design of the car. The front end slopes downward in a deliberate, but sculpted manner, and the pearl white paint is dazzlingly beautiful. Recent advertisements of the car boast that the quality of the paint job is superior to a Mercedes-Benz, and while this may be marketing fluff, the truth is this particular car was, quite literally, brilliant.

The interior continued to surpass expectations which, truth be told, weren’t very high at first. After having had considerable opportunities to spend time in the Genesis Coupe, I know that Hyundai has made efforts to better the brand’s quality and maintain affordability, but I wasn’t expecting that much of an effort made into a sedan that usually runs in the mid to high 20s. Interior surfaces of similar cars tend to be resplendent in hard plastics that are as chintzy to the eyes as they are to the touch. They can still be found in certain areas of the Sonata, but most surfaces are styled in rubber textures that, while not as opulent as genuine wood or leather, diminish the need of ugly, chrome-painted areas – a kind of compromise as such things would add to the bottom line.

In the center of the dash, the navigation and audio controls are prominently featured. One will notice that the climate controls are also easily accessible due to the glyph of the recumbent occupant displayed prominently in the middle of the buttons and knobs. The audio system includes standard CD-AM-FM functions, as well as XM satellite radio functionality. MP3 player support is also available with an included cable that connects via both the AUX port and a USB jack located in front of the shift knob. There is also Bluetooth connectivity available, not only for phone pairing, but also for audio devices that feature the same functionality, allowing one to stream content to the stereo without a physical cable. This works well if you wish to exclude the ability to rewind and fast forward, as the influence over streamed content is limited.

Phone accessibility, however, is relatively unrestricted. There are voice commands that allow hands-free dialing, but navigating through the necessary menus feels like a chore if it’s intended as a frequent activity. On the other hand, the keypad is not locked out while the car is in motion, something other car systems lock out if the vehicle isn’t at a complete stop, or set in park. This is done in the name of safety, but it’s comforting to see that here the benefit of the doubt is left in the hands of the driver, who might defer the dialing to a passenger, much like some people let others choose radio stations while they are focused on the task at hand.

In regards to its performance, the Sonata, while being a modest 2.4L 4-cylinder, is capable of ginning up a respectable 200 hp due to the GDI, or gasoline direct injection, implemented in the power plant. The engine has to work hard to provide the output, but it does an admirable job, given the circumstances. The 6-speed transmission features shiftronic manual inputs, and while that may squeeze an extra modicum of performance out of the Sonata, the regular automatic setting does a decent enough job of selecting gears so that feeding information manually isn’t very necessary.

The Sonata also performs fairly well when met with a bend. A nominal amount of feedback can be felt through the steering wheel, and the driver will get a good sense of the car’s behavior though maneuvers. While the cabin does provide a level of sound buffering, it’s low enough that a keen listener can make out the level of contact the tires are making on the surface in question, making the Sonata quite manageable at mid-level speeds.

While the comfort, style and performance in this version of the Sonata are relatively top-notch, purchasing one will hardly make Lexus or Mercedes owners flush with jealousy, but the price tag attached to the quality one receives with this car might make them wince. Much like a $25 bottle of wine, a good time can be had without burning your pockets for the sake of alleged opulence. For the 2011 Limited, features like a sun roof, Bluetooth connectivity and Push Button Start are all included. Adding only the navigation package, the total price of the car is around $28,500. The average MPG of the Sonata is 22 city/35 highway, and during my test, I only had to fill up once toward the end of the week.

The 2011 Sonata will definitely be a sedan to consider, especially for those who desire a little class in their lives, and if this is any indication of what Hyundai is capable of in regards to quality for money, the upcoming Equus will be very interesting indeed. They’ve already begun to populate the streets, so it’s evident that many have already reached this conclusion.

Words By – Alex Kalogiannis

Photos By – Soraya Navia

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