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Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

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Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Old 02-22-10, 02:46 PM
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mmarshall
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Default Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

By both CL and non-CL request, a Review of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata.


In a Nutshell: All-new for 2011, well-built, and definitely more of an aero-look, but is sleeker necessarily better?


















(Camel interior)






Sorry, folks....I know I'm a little behind on car reviews this February, but that is for two main reasons. First, some of the review requests I have are for upcoming 2011 models that have not (yet) been released in the Washington, D.C. area (though I got a good peek at some them at the D.C. Auto Show in late January). Second, the winter weather for the first part of February, by D.C./Mid-Atlantic standards, was nothing short of brutal, with record heavy snow/blizzards effectively shutting down area roads, buisness, government and commerce. Cities like Buffalo, NY and Sault Ste Marie, MI are used to conditions like this, and generally handle it better, but something like this in the D.C. area is like setting off a nuclear bomb...it almost completely paralyzes the region. And, to be honest, what we got in early February would tax even some Northern cities. Fortunately, though my Subaru Outback got filthy (much dirtier than I usually keep it), it just laughed at some of the worst winter driving conditions it has seen since the deep sleet-storm several years ago. I went through snow/ice/slush piles over a foot deep (even two feet, in some cases) and never got even close to getting stuck. Most of the time, the tires didn't even spin.

But, back to the topic at hand.....the Hyundai Sonata. The first-generation Sonata, as a mid-sized sedan, got off to a rather rocky start when it was introduced in the 1990's. Though it was larger and more comfortable than the small, rather crude Excel (the Excel was actually a compact rebadged Mitsubishi Precis), the general overall quality was not much better....this was back during the period, of course, when Hyundai (and Mitsubishi) were producing some of their most poorly-built vehicles. The first-generation Sonata more or less bombed out, saddled with a very low level of customer satisfaction and a much-worse-than-average reliability rating from Consumer Reports.

The next, second-generation Sonata was, IMO, noticeably better in several ways. Reliability, though still not the best, improved significantly. Fit and finish also improved. Interior plushness/ambience, in the 2Gen model, IMO, was the best of all the Sonatas...even to this day. The famous 10/100 and 5/60 Hyundai warrantes was introduced.....virtually unheard of, at that time, among automakers, especially for a low-priced make. But, the 2Gen model, as I remember it from test-drives, suffered from dull, rather sluggish 4 and V6 powerplants and an unresponsive automatic transmission.

The all-new, third-generation Sonata, introduced for 2006, built in an also all-new American plant in Alabama, was even more of a success. Sometimes all-new vehicles (and all-new auto plants) can have teething problems, but not in this case. Even the early-production 2006 Sonatas seemed well-built and solidly screwed together......better in some ways, IMO, than 2006 Toyota Camrys. Reliability continued to improve over the 2Gen model.....all Sonatas since 2006 have been better-than-average, according to Consumer Reports, and solidly on their Recommended list. Customers seemed to love this model Sonata, as its sales numbers also continued to improve (I myself, at their request, shopped with several different people to help them get new 3rd-Generation Sonatas.....one of them, before I retired, being the President of our Government-Employee Union Local). Everyone I know of who owned this verion of the Sonata was well-pleased with it, though, to be honest, as I stated above, I didn't like the 3Gen interior quite as much as the 2Gen model....Hyundai used a lot less wood-tone trim in the 3Gen model, and, maybe from some cost-cutting, appeared to use simpler, cheaper materials inside. Still, this model Sonata, IMO, overall (interior trim aside) was, IMO, a superb daily-driver mid-sized sedan. With rather slow steering response, some body roll, and the lack of a "Sport"package, it was not what one would call an "enthusiast" car. But, to compensate, it had a rather soft, comfortable ride, good sound isolation except for occasional rear-suspension noise on bumps, good space efficiency inside, and, in general, a quality, well-screwed-together feel. It was also well-priced.....I saw even some V6/automatic models with ABS, A/C, traction/stability control, a full power-package, and a nice stereo go out the door (tax/tags/freight, everything), after the dealer discount, for under $20,000.....that, friends, was a deal. A minor trim and interior facelift was done for 2009, but really didn't change the car much.

Which, now, brings us to an all-new model for 2011, which DOES change things a bit. For the latest-generation 2011 model, three different trim lines (for now) are offered in the American market.....GLS, SE, and Limited. All three models come with a 2.4L Four....no V6 is offered, which was the source of several CL member-complaints. But the 4, with 198/200 HP and 184/186 Ft-lbs. of torque (depending on emissions), appears to be pretty spunky for a non-turbo four. Not that long ago, power like that was mainly the realm of V6s. GLS models offer the choice of a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic with manual Sportshift....SE and Limited models have only the automatic. As with past Sonatas, only one body style, a four-door sedan is offered....though the new styling strongly imitates a coupe. I'd personally love to see Hyundai do AWD and hatchback/wagon Sonata versions to compete with the Subaru Outback, Toyota Venza, and Honda Crosstour (and, with an all-new Sonata, here was their chance), but, once again, Hyundai has passed up on that, at least for the American market. A 4-cylinder Hybrid version is unclear, but is rumored to be on the way, later in the year....one of Hyundai's first hybrids to go on sale here.

Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long to review the new Sonata...Hyundai released it here, in the D.C. area, just after the auto show (it was just a matter of coping with the blizzards). 2011 models are generally in stock at Hyundai dealerships here in the D.C. area and are ready for sale. Since most buyers in this class of car choose automatics, and Hyundai buyers often are looking for a low price, I chose a Pearl White, entry-level GLS automatic with the tan (Camel) interior. It turned out to be a relatively nice car.....without a lot of complaints, but, nevertheless, a few significant ones. As it had just been unloaded off the transporter when I arrived, I helped PDI it myself, checked fluids, pulled the plastic covers off, and bleed the tire PSI down to where it belonged. Then it was ready to go. Technically, it should have had a VA inspection sticker first, but, for just one test-drive, the dealer said no problem.



Model Reviewed: 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS automatic.

Base Price: $20,195


Options:

Pearl White Paint: $200

Carpeted Floor Mats: $100

I-Pod: $35


Destination/Freight: $720

List Price as Reviewed: $21,250



Drivetrain: FWD, transverse-mounted 2.4L CVVT in-line 4, 200 HP @ 6300 RPM,, Torque, 186 Ft-lbs. @ 4250 RPM,
6-speed automatic transmission with manual Sport-shift.


EPA Mileage Rating: 22 City, 35 Highway



Exterior Color: Pearl White

Interior: Camel (Tan) Cloth





PLUSSES:


10/100, 5/60 Limited Warranty one of the best in the industry.

Precise, Honda-like assembly quality.

Up to an excellent 35 MPG possible with either manual or automatic transmission.

18.5 gallon fuel tank for long range.

GLS models with manual transmission start at just over 19K.

Good, smooth power for a non-turbo, four-cylinder.

Smooth-shifting automatic.

Slick-operating shift lever.

Fore-aft shift lever has no annoying zig-zags.

Manual tilt-telescope steering column.

Relatively flat cornering and little body roll.

Generally good wind/road noise control.

Relatively well-done brakes and brake pedal.

Good underhood layout.

Solid-feeling body sheet metal and doors.

Classy-looking dash/primary gauges.

Clear, legible gauges....with one exception.

Nice (but not killer) stereo sound quality.

Relatively good front/rear seat legroom.

Good overall interior fit/finish and hardware.

Well-done metallic/semi-carbon fiber interior trim.

Slick, easy-to-use dash *****/buttons/switches.

Convienient trunk-mounted remote rear-seat releases, even in the base GLS model.






MINUSES:


Drop-down rear roofline significantly impedes rear extry/exit and headroom for big/tall people.

Peek-a-Boo rear/side windows impede some rear vision, but not too bad.

Extra-cost for White Pearl paint.

Awkward-folding exterior side mirrors.

Side mirrors OK, but a little small for optimum vision.

Cheap-looking, flimsy, bolt-on silver plastic wheel covers.

No body-side mouldings to protect from dings.

Rather slow steering response.

Some engine noise on acceleration.

Odd temperature gauge/dash gear-shift indicator.

Front seats rather flat and unsupportive.

Overly-firm cloth rear seats.

Hard, uncomfortable plastic in center of door panels.

Only part of the warranty is fully transferable on resale.





EXTERIOR:

Walking up to the new Sonata from a distance, except for the physical exterior size, there is almost nothing, style-wise, to compare the 2011 with to the 2010 and earlier models. The 2011 styling is truly all-new. The former, somewhat conservative shape has given way to a more aero-look grille like the one on the Genesis sedan, classic up-swept headlights, a sleeker-looking hood, and a low, humpback-whale roofline somewhat like the one on the Volkswagen CC and Mercedes CLS. To be honest, I am not a fan of the new styling for several reasons, greatly prefering the look and roofline of the old model, but, of course, that is subjective. Some other reviewers/commentators have expressed a liking for the new design, and, of course, I respect their opinions. The new roofline, however, DOES affect rear-entry/exit for large persons, however...more on that below.

The exterior seems to be well-built, however, with good, solid-feeling sheet metal and a good "Thunk" to the doors when they close. Trim is well-done and well-attached, as is most of the hardware. The only sub-standard-feeling parts outside were the somewhat awkward feel of the two side mirror housings as they swiveled back and forth...it was not smooth or slick. The paint job, as with most newer Hyundais and Kia, was smooth and very well-done, with little or no orange-peel. The extra charge ($200) for the White Pearl paint color, however, was annoying.......extra-cost colors used to be pretty much the realm of European car makers, but now it seems to be spreading. The 9 paint colors offered, however, are relatively nice, despite being a little on the dull side (I also liked the Black Plum Pearl). Another sop to the bean-counters, seen on more and more cars there days, is the lack of body-side moldings to help ward off parking-lot dings....carmakers are steadily eliminating those, even though customers still clearly want them. And the thin, bolt-on, silver-plastic wheel covers were a joke, even by the standards of low-priced cars (some other entry-level Hyundai/Kia products have the same ones). If I owned this car, I'd toss them and get a better aftermarket set, for maybe $30 or so, at a local Pep Boys or other auto-parts store.



UNDERHOOD:

Generally a good layout underhood. The solid, well-fitted, hood opens up with two nice gas struts (instead of a cheap prop-rod) and has a nice insulation pad undereath. It filters out some (not all) of the engine noise....more on that below. The transverse-mounted 2.4L four is well-placed, with some space to reach and work on things around it. A big, larger-than-necessary plastic engine cover blocks access to most of the top of the engine...the only significant complaint. The battery is open, unobstructed, and easy-to-reach, just to the right of the engine block. Dipsticks, filler caps, and reservior-tanks are all relatively easy to reach.



INTERIOR:

The interior, like the exterior, is a major change on the new 2011 model. I found only a few significant things to complain about inside......and I'll get them out of the way first, because the rest of it is pretty nice. First, the new, droop-rear roofline makes it difficult for large/tall people my size (6' 2", 270 lb) to get in and out without hitting their heads, significantly impacts rear headroom for tall people, and impacts a little on rear-vision, though clearly not as much, on any of these things, as the new Acura ZDX, which is ludicrous. Second, though not extensive, there is more than I'd like to see (and feel) of hard, uncomfortable plastic in the interior door-panels (this seems to be an increasing tendency with many automakers). Third, the cloth rear seats are overly-firm, and the front seats lack some support. Fourth, the rather odd, combination gas-gauge/gear-display takes some getting used to.

But that's about it for the complaints. The rest of the interior was nicely done and well-constructed. The all-black 2011 interiors on display at the D.C. Auto Show were, IMO, a little dull-looking and overly-black, but not so with the nice two-tone Camel (tan)/black interior on my test car. It lacked the wood/wood-tone trim that I generally like, but, even so, the metallic and faux-carbon-fiber trim on the dash and console was pleasant, well-done, and well-fitted. A splash of well-done chrome, here and there, adds to the classiness. All the hardware inside is well-done and solid. I couldn't find a single piece that I thought felt flimsy...even the manual pump-lever for the seat height, a piece that often has an awkward feel in some vehicles. The dash controls/displays/*****/switches/buttons, in my non-GPS car, were well-designed (except for the aforementioned gas gauge/gear indicator), easy to use, and clearly marked. The steering wheel wasn't one of my favorite shapes, but comfortable to hold. The stereo sound quality was not in the killer range, but good for the price (scream on, James Brown). The silver/chrome primary gauges were well-designed and easy to read (they have a blue/white tinge in the dark). There is adequate headroom and legroom in front (my test car didn't have a space-robbing sunroof housing), and fairly good legroom in the rear (only rear headroom is compromised). The cloth seat fabric seemed durable and well-fitted. And the large climate-control vents were easy to adjust and and open-shut.



CARGO AREA/TRUNK:

The low rear-roofline impacts the size of the trunk-lid somewhat, but not as much as on some other similiar designs I've seen.....fairly large-size boxes, suitcases, and packages still can be loaded/unloaded with relative ease. The trunk area itself is roomy, or at least adequate, in size. The trunk floor and walls are covered with a thin, black, not particularly plush-feeling carpet, but, IMO, is consistant with the car's low price....as is the temporary spare tire in the usual place (under the floor). An nice convenience in the trunk is the two nice, remote-control pull-levers to drop the rear seats for added cargo space, so you dont have to do it through the back door or rear seat itself. Several Hyundai/Kia products, BTW, offer this feature, even in their
base models.




ON THE ROAD:

Start up the 2.4L four with an old-fashioned, side-column ignition switch/key (I generally prefer a push-button, but a traditional key/switch is consistant with the price), and the four settles into a reasonably, smooth, quiet idle (upmarket Limited Sonatas DO get a button). While no dragster by any means, this engine gives pretty good power for a standard non-turbo four, at 200 HP and 186 ft-lbs. of torque....those were average V6 readings not too long ago. The engine is fairly quiet except on initial acceleration, where you do hear some engine noise and exhaust chuffle. Hyundai felt that this engine had enough spunk that a separate V6 option was not needed. That, of course, has been the subject of some negative remarks/complaints...I'll pass up on that here, and will wait to see how the sales figures eventually look without the V6. A hybrid version is planned/rumored to be on the way.

The 6-speeed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, has a slick-operating shifter, and a nice fore-aft shifter motion with no annoying zig-zag. Manual Sport-shifts were equally slick and pleasant, though, as I mentioned above, having the gear-display indicator in the middle of the gas gauge takes some getting used to. The chassis is no BMW, but reasonably well-done. The steering response is a little on the slow side, and somewhat numb in feel, but the actual cornering itself is fine, with little body roll. The ride quality is slightly stiffer than before (as is the case with a number of new, redesigned Korean vehicles), but the suspension and Kumho 55-series tires (at 33 PSI) were not harsh by any means. The tight, Honda-like construction and decent insulation materials help filter out wind noise pretty well, and road/tire noise fairly well, where only slight amounts are noticeable. The brakes are generally well-done, with only a small amount of pedal sponginess/free-play (maybe a quarter-to-a-half inch), smooth, even response, and reasonably good effectiveness. The gas/brake pedal location/spacing, while not quite perfect for my big size-15 clown-shoes, makes for only a minimal amount of hang-up on the bottom of the pedal when going from gas to brake....much less than on some other vehicles I've tried.




THE VERDICT:

Well, as you can see from the relatively long list of PLUSSES, and short list of MINUSES, I generally had a high opinion of the new Sonata. It exhibits Honda-like levels of precise assembly/build quality, generally good materials inside and out, a good power level for a standard four-cylinder, reasonably well-done chassis/brakes, a superb (but only partly transferrable) warranty, easy-to-operate controls, and, of course, the always-competitive Hyundai/Kia pricing level. I'm not a particular fan of the new 2011 stying, but that, of course, is subjective, and I know that some other reviewers do like it. Despite some minor complaints, my only real complaint is the too-low (IMO) rear roofline for big, tall, people...this is one area where, not just with Hyundai, but with a number of automakers, form seems to be over-ruling function. But, if you don't often carry big people in back, it will probably not be much of a problem, though rear-vision is not quite what it was in the old Sonata, either.

But the rear roofline is my only real complaint. Other than that, there is relatively little to fault in this car. It offers quality, competence, and a good price, all one package. Sonata sales have done very well lately, and, IMO, are likely to continue with this new model....though, of course, we'll have to wait and see how the lack of a V6 affects customer acceptance.

And, as always............Happy Car Shopping.

MM

Last edited by mmarshall; 02-23-10 at 09:33 AM.
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Old 02-22-10, 02:59 PM
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So the end of the day a cheaper Volkswagen Passat CC, on an inferior platform, 5 years late! The Asian way!

this is a car 1SICKmoron would drive and get a boner over.
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Old 02-22-10, 03:10 PM
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Embargo is lifted and reviews are up for the 2011 sonata at autoblog, autoguide, edmunds, etc. All are ridiculously positive.
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Old 02-22-10, 03:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Epik151 View Post
Embargo is lifted and reviews are up for the 2011 sonata at autoblog, autoguide, edmunds, etc. All are ridiculously positive.
I myself found substantially more positive features than negative on the car. That is not always the case.
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Old 02-22-10, 03:17 PM
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Thanks mmarshall. Great write-up as always and I agree on the form/function quotient in the way the styling impacts ingress/egress. It's a drawback of all the coupe-like sedans from the CLS to the CC. I had opportunity to check out the Sonata at my local auto show.

That said I still think this car has a ton going for it and it instantly appeals to me more than the Camry-Accord-Altima. Were you able to see any higher trim cars such as the one with moonroof and Nav? And if so what did it sticker for?
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Old 02-22-10, 03:17 PM
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I am impressed.

Basically, the only issue with the new Sonata is its design: both subjectively and objectively speaking.

And with it coming out while Toyota's reputation is down, it surely will lure lots of people into their showrooms...
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Old 02-22-10, 03:27 PM
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Thanks for the great review, very informative !
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Old 02-22-10, 03:29 PM
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Originally Posted by speedflex View Post
Thanks mmarshall. Great write-up as always
Thanks.

and I agree on the form/function quotient in the way the styling impacts ingress/egress. It's a drawback of all the coupe-like sedans from the CLS to the CC. I had opportunity to check out the Sonata at my local auto show.
Sleek styling, though, often sells, even if it affects function and space efficiency.

That said I still think this car has a ton going for it and it instantly appeals to me more than the Camry-Accord-Altima. Were you able to see any higher trim cars such as the one with moonroof and Nav? And if so what did it sticker for?
SE models start at $22,595 and Limited models at $25,295....so, toss in some options, and, on the average, figure mid-high 20's for upmarket models.......maybe close to 30K for a loaded Limited.
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Old 02-22-10, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by tromly View Post
Thanks for the great review, very informative !
Sure...anytime. Glad you enjoy them . More of them coming.
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Old 02-22-10, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by PhilipMSPT View Post
I am impressed.

Basically, the only issue with the new Sonata is its design: both subjectively and objectively speaking.

And with it coming out while Toyota's reputation is down, it surely will lure lots of people into their showrooms...
Thanks. Even though I don't care for the general overall styling and the low rear-roofline (which doesn't actually mean much to me personally, as I drive alone much of the time), I'd still take the new Sonata in a heartbeat over the precent-generation Camry. I'm not sure, though, with the Accord........it equals or exceeds the Sonata in build quality. I like both the Accord and Sonata...it would be a tough choice (and the Accord, of course, has the ugly-but-functional Crosstour, while the Sonata still lacks hatchback and AWD versions).
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Old 02-22-10, 03:50 PM
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EXCELLENT Mike... as always

In the course of one week, this has grown on me to the point of me saying, "WTF am I thinking??? I LOVE my 09 V-6 Limited as my DD.... why look at others???" I am returning from CA later in the week, and the Hyundai sales manager should have an SE in... plan to test-drive, and get a Pearl White SE in the near future if I like the drive.

Btw, the final choice will be this value over a Infiniti G37X (Genesis and Maxima were in the running)... stay tuned

4. Genesis
3. Maxima
2. ?
1. ?

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Old 02-22-10, 04:37 PM
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I saw one getting on the freeway last week (I didnt think they were out already unless it was a test car) and the first thing that came to mind was " the Japanese better watch their backs because the Koreans are stepping it up". I have said this a thousand times and I will say it again....Hyundai is doing an amazing job . Truly amazing
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Old 02-22-10, 04:41 PM
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Great review Mike. As you said, it is a very competitive car, and I really think it will give this segment something to think about. With class leading base horsepower, quality materials, safety, good fuel economy, and a striking design both inside and out, I think Hyundai may have another hit. Although the roof line does cut into head space in the rear, I couldn't help but notice the rear seats seemed to have ample leg room which is a plus.

Originally Posted by mmarshall View Post
Sonata sales have done very well lately, and, IMO, are likely to continue with this new model....though, of course, we'll have to wait and see how the lack of a V6 affects customer acceptance. MM
It is true some people will shy away from the Sonata because of the lack of a V6, including myself, however with the addition of a turbocharged engine in the near future I may be turned on again .

My overall all impression from what I've seen and read is that this is a very solid car. Once again thanks for the review Mike.
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Old 02-22-10, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by rdgdawg View Post
EXCELLENT Mike... as always
Thanks, Russ.

In the course of one week, this has grown on me to the point of me saying, "WTF am I thinking??? I LOVE my 09 V-6 Limited as my DD.... why look at others???" I am returning from CA later in the week, and the Hyundai sales manager should have an SE in... plan to test-drive, and get a Pearl White SE in the near future if I like the drive.
It's OK to look at the new model, but I wouldn't trade in your V6 2009 Sonata for a new one unless you have a very good reason for doing so. There are some features, IMO, on the '09 which are better than on the new one. The new one, in its favor, does have a better 4-cylinder engine and a more-flexible automatic transmission, but that wouldn't affect you and your V6 model.

Of course, if gas mileage is a concern, and the new model's EPA 35 MPG on the highway looks attractive, then, yes, maybe you could consider it. A hybrid will likely, but not certain, debut later in the year, with (probably) even better mileage. It will be interesting to compare that model, when it arrives, with the excellent Ford Fusion Hybrid.....a car I have a very high opinion of.

Btw, the final choice will be this value over a Infiniti G37X (Genesis and Maxima were in the running)... stay tuned

4. Genesis
3. Maxima
2. ?
1. ?
Yes, we all had a lot of discussion about that choice (and the poll) in the thread concerning that.
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Old 02-22-10, 06:34 PM
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Originally Posted by I8ABMR View Post
I saw one getting on the freeway last week (I didnt think they were out already unless it was a test car) and the first thing that came to mind was " the Japanese better watch their backs because the Koreans are stepping it up". I have said this a thousand times and I will say it again....Hyundai is doing an amazing job . Truly amazing
Just a guess, but perhaps (?) Hyundai released the new Sonata early, ASAP, to take advantage of the Camry's PR problems. I agree with you that, with Hyundai, we may (?), in the not-distant future, be looking at the new Toyota.
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