Crossing its T

Hyundai’s potent Sonata 2.0T ups the ante for an already attractive ride

SonataTurbo_171_v2CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

All of the great marques have special models with special letters. Adding an “M” to the back of a BMW changes an accomplished touring machine into an all-out performer.

Hanging “AMG” on the trunk of a Benz instills a tradition of racing and mind-bending acceleration. Put a “V” on a CTS and you’ve got bottled evil.

Sticking a “T” on the back of a Hyundai may not scare the world’s power players, but it might light dirt clods under market-leading mid-sizers.

Mentioning the 2.0T along with the great “alphas” from Germany isn’t completely whack. In the mid-‘90s, a BMW M3 made way with a 286 horsepower V6 engine. The C36 AMG, Mercedes’ first car formally badged with the iconic letters, ran from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, topping out at 155 … and did it all with just 268 galloping steeds.

I’m darned sure neither of those cars generated the fuel economy ratings or offered up such a cavernous interior as the Hyundai.

Let’s just get to it. The Sonata’s 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine produces 274 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque — all routed to the front wheels through a near-perfect six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission. Unlike in the Bimmer and Benz, drivers are confronted with a fair amount of torque steer — two wheels can only be asked to do so much before throwing a regal fit. I’m old enough to remember V8-powered supercars that couldn’t generate those numbers, and they sure as heck didn’t achieve 22/33-MPG city/highway. Another point of interest, the pint-sized Chevy Aveo achieves 25/34- MPG and makes due with a 108-HP engine. Hyundai hit the big boys in their asses.

Sonata-2

FITS TO A T | Good gas mileage, a turbocharged engine, sleek interior styling and a nice price make the 2.0T an enviable vehicle for a wide range of tastes. (Photos courtesy Hyundai)

It would be hard to imagine a more pleasing package in which to wrap this mechanical orchestration. Borrowing from the Mercedes CLS four-door coupe, Sonata is a sexy piece with a near-perfect arch running from its wavy chrome grille to its sculpted hood, curved roofline and tapered rear deck. The forms have more of a molded look than metal stamped through presses. Hunkered down over 18-in. alloy wheels and low-profile touring tires, the car looks like it rolled out for a futuristic sci-fi flick. Yet, it has a family-friendly look that is almost huggable.

The love continues inside. Sitting behind the wheel, you could just as easily be piloting the Genesis Coupe as a roomy five-passenger sedan. Big analog gauges, twin-cockpit dash lay-out, huge cupholders, cavernous storage bin in the console and in-dash touch screen that couldn’t be easier to navigate, or use to navigate, work well. Automatic climate control will freeze your tenders; heated seats roast your cushions on cold mornings.

I’m also a fan of the multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather seats, and auto up/down driver window. Fold-down rear seats and a roomy trunk will swallow bicycles and gear like a pack mule stomping up a mountain trail.

Everybody inside can rest assured in their safety. Potential padding comes from dual front, front side and side curtain airbags. Front active head restraints and self-retracting seatbelts keep you in your place. Enhancing the driver’s ability to avoid ugly incidents in the first place are four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control and brake force control to prevent skids under heavy deceleration. An incredibly rigid passenger compartment is protected by engineered crush zones front and rear.

Great driver’s cars have finesse to their motions that draw you in and provide rewards for your attention. The 2.0T’s steering is direct and reacts instantly off center. It is perfectly weighted for a family sedan with sporting intentions. The suspension is firm, but compliant and the brakes are up to the task of stopping a 3,400-lb. automobile. Step into the turbo and it generates smooth torque at virtually any speed. Get on it at Interstate speeds and it will put a beaming smile across your mug. It’s nice that you can buy a perfectly practical car that can also put joy in the life of its driver.

To witness Hyundai upping its technological game two clicks higher, check out the Sonata Hybrid. Aero tweaks clue you in that this is the model that gets a compact-like 35/40-MPG city/hwy. A net of 206 horsepower comes from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, motor, and advanced lithium polymer batteries. Prices start under $26,000.

Whether you choose the Sonata with a T, the one with batteries, or just the regular 4-cylinder version, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that Hyundai has out-engineered and out-styled itself into the realm of the world’s best automakers. These are great cars — ones about which you will be proud to tell your friends and look forward to enjoying for many years. For added assurance, the Sonata comes with Hyundai’s standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

With an as-tested price of $30,000, competitors include the Buick Regal, Honda Accord, VW Passat and Ford Fusion.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Electric slide

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SHOCKING! | Of course the Volt is fuel-efficient; the fact it’s attractive and fun to drive is a bonus.

The Chevy Volt hybrid boasts green technology, but it’s also a blast to drive

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

After running errands one night, I drove my Chevrolet Volt electric car into my garage, plugged its charger into a standard outlet, connected the other end to a receptor on the side of the car and went inside for the night. According to the dash read-out, it would be fully charged before my first cup of coffee. Then, my mother texted me and invited me to lunch at their house — 50 miles away.

“If I go lightly on the throttle,” I think, “the Volt just might make it.”

I rarely go lightly on throttles and didn’t this morning, either. I rode gently through the Starbucks drive-through, but after that, I made myself giddy accelerating with whooshing abandon and

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HYBRIDIZED | The display makes it clear when you’re driving on electric power and when you transition to gas.

 

cruising along at 70 mph.

Exactly 41 miles into my amusement, the battery pooped out. And I didn’t care. The car changed its display screen priority from battery range to a gas gauge, woke the 1.4 liter, four-cylinder engine, and kept whirring along. When other electric cars, including The Holy Tesla, run out of power, you walk or call for a flat bed. I click to Elvis Radio and enjoy a sunny drive. Welcome to the future.

Anybody of my generation who drives the Volt will instantly transport themselves to the ‘80s and the movie Back to the Future. In case you’ve lost track of time, the DeLorean is now as old as the ‘50s cars were then; we’re only four years from the future depicted in Part II. Wall-sized televisions have come, we can video chat anywhere and libraries are obsolete. If you could have told Marty McFly about the Internet, iPads, or this car, his head would have spun off. Volt looks the part of a sci-fi star.

No other General Motors product spent more time in a wind tunnel than the Volt, which explains its perfectly honed, streamlined shape. It may not be as sexy as the original 2007 concept car, but it is much roomier, persuades wind with Chevy’s trademark crossbar grille, looks sharp in its creases, rolls on 17-in. polished alloy wheels, and pays homage to the original concept with a black strip under the windows.

A front splitter, spoiler on the hatch, and motorized grille shutters divert air with a minimum of drag — all important when attempting to inch up electric range. Some call it ugly, but I think it is handsome.

On a continuum from pure electric vehicles like the ‘90s GM EV1 and Nissan Leaf to full gasoline models like the Corvette is a wide middle band. A Toyota Prius is towards the ‘Vette side since it is a gas vehicle, assisted by batteries. The Volt is on the other half of the middle: An electric car, backed by gasoline.

Charging the Volt’s lithium ion batteries is easy. Connect the included charger to a standard outlet, open the little portal near the driver’s door by key fob or door release, plug in, and wait about 10 hours. Or install a 240v charger and cut it to four hours. (The cost per charge is about $1.50.) Regenerative per-charge brakes put some juice back into the batteries during deceleration. Chevrolet claims an all-electric range of 35 to 50 miles, but total range including gas is about 380 miles — very sizeable.

In 100-degree Texas heat with and the A/C running at full blast constantly, expect less battery range. The EPA rates the Volt 93-MPGe on electricity and 37-MPG on gasoline. Expect 60-MPG on average and low-40s, burning fossils on the highway.

That’s all cool and stuff, but I’d buy a Volt just for the driving experience. Step on the forward motion activation pedal and the car accelerates eerily smoothly, with ample torque and no gear shifts, up to 100 mph. A Sport mode makes the throttle more responsive, but eats power. Outside of tire noise and faint motor whine, the car is silent. Even with the gas engine running, there is only a distant rumble from under the hood. Since the engine powers the electric system and virtually never drives the car directly, Volt remains an electric car. Steering feel is near perfect, the chassis likes to play, and the car feels tomb solid with its 3,781 lbs. of weight. It makes some big name hybrids feel like science projects by comparison.

I couldn’t resist blasting “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News through the Bose audio system. Beyond sweet sounds, Volts come with options like heated leather seats, USB input for iPods, Bluetooth phone connectivity, automatic climate control, and front knee airbags. Navigation, audio, and climate are adjusted through a touch-sensitive center control panel. LCD screens display audio/NAV, MPH and a summary of energy usage during trips. It sounds complicated, but is as easy to use as an iPad.

Fold down rear seats and a big hatch makes it more practical than the Chevy Cruze with which it shares a basic architecture. A rear center console was necessitated by the battery pack, limiting passengers to four.

About 75 percent of us travel less than 40 miles per day, and in the Volt, we would never burn gasoline. However, if you want to drive to California, or just your parents’, fill up and go! Perhaps best of all, the Volt drives not like some cobbled-together prototype, but a fully-developed, completely-realized version of the future. This car is real, and it is a delight. To my dreadful sadness, the Volt has gone home and I am back from the future. But I know driving has forever changed.

Prices start under $35,000 after a $7,500 federal credit and include an 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranty. (Prius PLUS Performance Package, available on the Volt, is the first wave of PLUS-branded upgrades coming from Toyota in the coming months. Through relatively simple enhancements, drivers concerned about efficiency and ecology can also have a lot of fun driving their green rides. The PLUS package is priced at $3,699 for Prius Two, Three and Four models and $2,999 for Prius Five.)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas