I hear a symphony

Hyundai Sonata’s power, price are music to the ears

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer crwauto@aol.com

AFFORDABLE SOUL  |  Sonata turns Hyundai’s upscale Genesis into a well-priced powerhouse with style.
AFFORDABLE SOUL | Sonata turns Hyundai’s upscale Genesis into a well-priced powerhouse with style.

If some of the major players in the mid-size sedan market don’t get it into gear quickly, they’re going to be looking at the tailpipes of a Korean juggernaut leaving them in a cloud of unhappiness. Hyundai is finished playing nice.

The 2010 Sonata takes all of Hyundai’s upscale Genesis sedan goodness and moves it down a rung for the rest of us. The car is beautiful, powerful and loaded with tech. Most important, it has soul. Get an earful of this symphony.

Mercedes pioneered fast-raked four-door sedans with coupe rooflines when it introduced the CLS, but the Sonata makes the fetching shape affordable. High doorsills, narrow window slits, and tapered trunk give the illusion of a tight coupe, but there’s plenty of space for four and a pinch inside.

A prominent chrome strip up the beltline is a little old-world Buick, but it looks as sharp here as it did on the Park Avenue in its day. A large chrome grille has a hint of Toyota Avalon; it and the hood look like they were shaped by water over centuries. Large 17-inch alloy wheels complete the car’s sporting character.

A surprise to some might be the Sonata is not available with a V6 engine. Truth is, it doesn’t need one. Twenty years ago, V8 engines barely made 200 horsepower. My 1989 Corvette, one of the fastest and most powerful cars of its day, generates 245-HP from a 5.7-liter V8. Ten years ago, V6 engines produced around 200 horses without turbos.

Now, the Hyundai Sonata’s direct-injected four-cylinder engine produces that much power. With a turbo, output jumps to 274-HP! You will not miss the extra cylinders, and will salivate over fuel economy ratings of 22/35-MPG city/hwy.

I’m not sure why everybody crinkles their noses up in high-snoot when I tell them there is no V6 option. Their unwillingness to look at four-cylinder cars completely cracks me up. It is a ridiculous position to take. Look at horsepower, torque, and performance by all means. But who cares how many cylinders are under the hood? It’s just stupid! There, I’ve said it; write letters.

Getting over cylinder envy is helped along by smooth power and a crisp six-speed manumatic transmission.

Back in the dark ages, it was hard to get power out of a four-cylinder engine because it was always over-revving or bogging down without enough transmission cogs. Today’s six-speed and higher transmissions shift seamlessly between gears to always find the right power band. As a result, cars like the Sonata rarely feel under-powered and cruise happily at Interstate speeds. Sonata comes with a six-speed automatic with manual shift mode so you can let the computer go about its business without interference or you can snap through the gears as you please.

Given the chassis’ willingness to play, you may want to. Sonatas are not Mustangs, so there are limits, but the four-wheel independent suspension soaks up bumps and backroads with aplomb. Steering feel is firm and communicative, with a very positive feel when it moves even a little off-center. Over rough pavement, nothing upsets the body structure or suspension.

There is a feeling of precision, with a healthy dose of soul that is lacking in many competitors. Building a solid car is one thing, but making one that is actually enjoyable to drive, is exhibited in Hyundai’s new level of maturity.

Designers gave the Sonata an interior worthy of its smooth exterior and spirited powertrain. Equal parts Star Trek and Corvette, the dash wraps around the driver and front passenger, enveloping them in luxury cocoons.

Combined with the high windowsills, you feel as if you are tucked down inside a high-performance sports car.

Large analog gauges, stylized four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and comfy leather seats complete the illusion.

The test car came loaded with push-button starting, automatic climate control, heated seats, Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, USB port for MP3 players (allows them to be controlled through the car’s knobs and buttons), rear backing camera, navigation and XM Satellite Radio. Our car also had the deep burgundy interior package that colored the seats and steering wheel spokes to match. Black piano finish on the doors and center console flashed elegance.

Hyundai may be a Korean company, but the car is very American. It was designed in California, engineered in Ann Arbor, Mich., engines are produced in the U.S., and the car is assembled in Montgomery, Ala. The transition over the last decade from being purely Korean to significantly American coincides with the car’s popularity here, and its overall excellence. Hyundai means business and has invested billions on research, development, design and manufacturing to make the point. One drive in the Sonata and you will come to believe the investment was worth it. This should all be music to your ears.

Base Sonatas start at $19,195, and Limiteds begin at $25,295, but our loaded test model came to a very reasonable $28,215. Competitors include the Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chrysler 300.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Korean Korvette

Genesis, Hyundai’s new pony car, gallops along with the big boys

IN THE BEGINNING… | Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe goes up against big-boy sports cars at a bargain price.

Hyundai migrated to North America in the ‘80s selling an atrocious little pot called the Pony. It was a total piece, based on an underachieving Mitsubishi, but it gave the Korean automaker a chance to improve its wares.

And boy has it ever. Over the past 25 years, Hyundai has gone from humble to hot, building some of the best cars sold in the U.S.

If you want a sport coupe that can humble a ‘90s Corvette and keep pace with America’s pony cars, check out the Genesis Coupe 3.8.

Especially when equipped with the available V6 engine and manual transmission, the Genesis Coupe very much is a Korean Corvette: A swoopy body with steering firmly connected to an athletic chassis. This is a car that embarrasses many world-class sports cars with a price that challenges mortal mid-size sedans.

A quick glance could convince you it’s a successor to the Tiburon or an aggressively-styled Eclipse competitor. Take it front-on and it looks as wide as a Ferrari Testarossa. The coupe shares its wide luxury car platform with the Genesis sedan, translating into a roomy cabin and athletic stance. At some angles, it could be an Infiniti G37 sport coupe, which I’m sure is no accident. From behind you get a breath of wing and wide butt familiar to drivers of lesser wheels.

Two-tier side surfacing and a “Z profile” windowline leave their impressions. Alloy wheels insure this exotic coupe lives up to its sexy looks.

You can get an efficient little 210-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder in the Genesis, but what’s the swag in that? Get the high-tech 306-HP 3.8-liter V6 and grow a set. In every one of the six manually-selected gears, the car growls and surges forward like an American muscle car.

Like in the Genesis sedan, power is sent to the rear wheels — proper in any real performance car. Fuel economy is rated 17/26-MPG city/hwy. You’ll burn more fuel than in a V6 domestic, but not much. If you’re that worried about it, go for the four-cylinder model and enjoy 21/30-MPG.

All you need is an iPhone (or similar device) to turn the Genesis into a Jetsons-era space coupe. Its twin-cockpit dash design is modern and sporty. Heated leather seats in contrasting brown leather looked great and gripped for fun. Automatic climate control, power sunroof and push button starting make the car easy to use.

Even with in-dash navigation and a thumpin’ 10-speaker Sirius-XM Infinity audio system, the car seems simple. Plug your iPhone into the USB port to access all of your music through the car’s controls (easy-to-use menus are intuitive). Bluetooth lets you make calls using the iPhone’s contact list and service by pressing buttons on the steering wheel. Add one little device and the car becomes as sophisticated as any. Best of all, you can take that tech to go.

Engineers went all out creating the Genesis sedan’s chassis. Its four-wheel independent suspension system, five-links in back, is as sophisticated as high-end German units. They had clear minds when they carried over a stiffened version for the Genesis Coupe. Compared to other cars in its class, Genesis feels better planted over rough pavement, but is lively enough to carve up backroads with vigor. Somehow, it still manages to provide a comfortable ride on the highway and isn’t overly harsh on rough city streets. The chassis is a first-class design, and Genesis is a first-class ride.

Safety was a key point of the design. Dual front, front-side and side curtain airbags tally off the people protectors. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control, traction control and electronic brake force distribution let the chassis contribute to avoid accidents in the first place. Active headrests help protect against whiplash in severe accidents.

I don’t have the heart to take a car and roast the tires off of it in a crazy testosterone-infused tear, but everybody tells me the Genesis is a riot among the drifting crowd. Its torquey rear-driven powertrain can spin the tires into liquid goo with a side of smoke; its precise suspension and steering let you put the car wherever you want it as if with thought alone. Amazingly, during a three-hour drive, the car was as mature and well behaved as any high-performance coupe I’ve driven recently.

If the Sedan heralded Hyundai’s arrival with an unapologetic luxury that can take on high-end German and Japanese models, then the Coupe is the sports car that puts the world’s pony cars on notice.
Genesis is giving the Mustang and Camaro their own brand of Asian hell while serving up a dish of burn for the Infiniti G37 and Nissan Z. An as-tested price of $29,425 rubs wasabi in the wounds.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas