March 2010 marked the busiest month ever for AutoTrader.com: 16.5 million unique visitors in all. And another record was set on the site in March – Hyundai's 2011 Sonata sedan overtook midsize sedan competitors Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima for the first time to become the most-viewed vehicle in its category.
Hyundai's bottom line was also beefed up in March when consumer interest translated into revenue. The new Sonata found sales on par with the best-sellers Accord and Camry.
The rakish 2011 Sonata, which went on sale in February, marks a sharp style departure for the South Korean company that's been long on value if a bit short on panache. In terms of price, refinement, and driving manners, the last generation Sonata was a strong competitor with the Accord, Camry, and Altima. And in the eyes of many, it now surpasses those cars with daring new styling. Taking cues from Mercedes-Benz' CLS and Volkswagen's CC, the 2011 Sonata features a flowing, coupe-like roofline that's completely devoid of family sedan stodginess. Like an athlete in a sport coat, a sharp sheetmetal crease down both sides – plus some prominent lines on the hood – suggests athleticism and muscle with tasteful restraint.
In a move that surprised many, Hyundai decided not to offer the new Sonata with a V-6 option as it does on the current model. Instead, they opted for direct fuel injection on the base four-cylinder engine (a technology not available in competitors' fours), upping output to 198 horsepower and increasing fuel efficiency ratings to 22/35 by the EPA's yardstick. One of Hyundai's reasons for skipping the V-6 was to keep vehicle weight down; by using the lighter four-cylinder only, the car's frame does not require as much steel. In conjunction with a smaller, lighter engine, weight savings are considerable.
At the New York Auto Show last month, Hyundai announced both a turbocharged and a hybrid version of the Sonata, both of which will be in dealerships later this year. The 2.0T turbo model should address concerns of the power hungry, with 274 horsepower from a diminutive 2.0-liters. Direct fuel injection remains, working in concert with the turbocharger to deliver identical city mpg and just one less on the highway at 34 mpg, far surpassing the V-6 competition. The Sonata Hybrid, while late to the gas/electric propulsion party, features new battery technology unique to Hyundai. It can also travel up to 62 mph on pure electric power, significantly higher than its hybrid competition.
Given the company's priority on advanced technology wrapped in alluring style and delivered at an affordable price, it's no wonder Forbes magazine recently ranked Hyundai 188th in its annual list of the top 2,000 companies worldwide. Only two car companies, Ford and Honda, ranked higher. Stay tuned for our full review of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, coming soon.