Appearance: The design, simply put, is a head-turner for its class. The Sonata lives up to Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" aesthetic. The car looks in motion while parked; even the grille resembles a waving flag. The creased body, which seems more coupelike than sedan, is accented by a chrome strip that runs from headlight to rear deck. It's all topped by a gently arching roof. A friend of Peter's was convinced he could put Mercedes badges on it and no one would be the wiser.
Performance: Hyundai's 2.4-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder delivers almost 200 horsepower — certainly not sport sedan territory — but more than enough for most driving. We both found that by using the smooth Shiftronic six-speed in manual mode, we could get more revs when we needed them, especially in highway driving. (Hyundai doesn't offer a 6-cylinder option, but turbocharged and hybrid models are on the way.) The ride, aided by electronic stability control, is controlled and comfortable. And this may be the most impressive thing about the Sonata's performance: It gets 35 mpg on the highway (combined with a 22-mph average in the city).
Interior: It's roomy, well-equipped and laid out sensibly. That said, we didn't quite get the same high-quality-materials vibe as we did with a few of the leading cars in this class. We liked that the dash and center console are uncluttered and well laid out. The controls, both in the console and the steering wheel, are appealing and intuitive. Our tester had the high-def touchscreen navigation (live traffic, weather, etc.) plus a rear backup camera and Bluetooth. And the price for this fully loaded version is still south of $30,000. The leather seats are comfortable, and the driver's side is power-adjustable. Peter would have liked a little more padding in the seats, though. We found ample legroom in both front and rear, although taller drivers may not have as much head room as they like because of the sloping roof. Both the front and rear seats are heated. Even the trunk has a fair amount of space for this class — 16.4 cubic feet, to be precise.
Bottom line: With its styling, features and price point, Hyundai has forged a new identity with the Sonata, a car you now must consider when looking for a family sedan.
Still not certain that Hyundai has arrived? The 2011 Sonata, which shares little more than a name with its predecessor, should erase all doubt. With this sleek sedan, Hyundai is serving notice to competitors like the Camry, Accord and Malibu that there's a new player in the midsize market.
Our 3 favorites
Styling: You'll hear: "That's a Hyundai?"
Controls: Especially for the AC, whose diagram makes it easy to use at a glance.
Engine: The direct-injection 4-cylinder is economical and a hard worker.
Styling: Coming on the heels of Hyundai's new Tucson, the Sonata also goes to the head of the class.
Price point: The base model GLS starts at less than $20,000.
MPG: We like that highway 35.