It used to be that the name Hyundai Sonata was more likely to upturn noses than turn heads, but with its new 2011 model that may all be about to change.
Swoopy was the word we most often used to describe Hyundai's newest sedan during our testing. Starting with its huge chrome grill, the sculpted sheet metal of the Sonata flows backward towards its tail, giving the sedan the appearance of motion even when stopped. This aesthetic is reinforced by the elongated, rear-swept headlamps and a chrome bar that visually connects them to the top of the door sills. Onlookers stated that it was unlike anything they'd seen before.
Look closer, however, and it's easy to see where Hyundai's designers drew their inspiration. The front end is reminiscent of an extreme version of the current Toyota Camry's. The Sonata's steeply raked front and rear glass give the sedan a slightly coupe-like silhouette, much like that of the Volkswagen CC. Viewed from the rear quarter, you can see a few lines cribbed from the likes of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. If you're going to steal, steal from the best, we say.
Though there are a few places in the interior where it's obvious that Hyundai has cheaped-out on materials, the automaker did a good job of making sure that all the places that the driver comes into contact with (the steering wheel, shift knob, dashboard, door pulls, etc.) feel substantial and pleasing. Push-button start and smart, keyless entry help to create an upscale feel. As an SE model, our Sonata featured leather-trimmed seats with cloth center inserts and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter meant to evoke a sporting feel. Factor in the great cabin technology suite and the Sonata's driver seat isn't an unpleasant place to be.
An optional touch-screen navigation system that helps drivers to get from point A to B lives at the top of the center stack. The system is fed by 8GB of flash memory, so there's not as much raw storage space as the average hard-drive-based system. However, the system is just as snappy and responsive, and with no moving parts (save the single CD transport for audio) it is a bit more rugged. The Sonata's maps are crisp and easy to read, but, oddly, there is no 3D view--only top-down 2D views. The system also features graphic lane guidance--which illustrates upcoming turns with lane data--and text-to-speech turn-by-turn directions.
The standard XM Satellite Radio connection pulls in XM traffic, weather, stocks, and sports data. Traffic-flow info is then overlaid onto the map as color-coded highways. When routing, if the navigation system sees heavy traffic or an obstruction, it will attempt to route around it. While navigating, if a new obstruction appears on the chosen route, the navigation system will notify the driver, giving the option to reroute around the slow spot at the touch of an onscreen button.