2011 Hyundai Sonata SE review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE

Adding Hyundai's $35 iPod cable gives the Sonata full control of a connected iPod or iPhone. The cable features a 30-pin Apple dock connector on one end and a combo connector on the other that occupies both the USB and the auxiliary inputs. Connected in this fashion, the Hyundai's stereo is able to browse an iPod's songs by artist, album, genre, or any other category the iPod supports.

The Sonata's standard audio rig is a six-speaker AM/FM/XM system with a single-slot CD player with MP3 playback. However, our tester was equipped with an optional Dimension-branded seven-speaker system with a 360-watt amplifier. The system has a feature called Variable-EQ, which allows users to choose between three audio equalization settings that actually do make certain types of music sound better. The Sonata Limited gets a six-disc, in-dash CD changer and have access to yet another level of audio fidelity with an optional eight-speaker Infinity-branded system that boosts the amplification to 400 total watts.

SE performance
The Hyundai Sonata SE is the sportiest of the three Sonata trim levels, but these days the term "sporty" more often refers to a sporting aesthetic rather than any performance gains.

In the SE's case, "sporty" means that its 2.4-liter direct-injected gasoline engine gets a 2-horsepower and 2 pound-foot boost over the standard Sonata GLS and Limited models. Power is now rated at an even 200-horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Most users aren't going to be able to discern a 2-horsepower difference, but every pony counts toward bragging rights, we suppose.

The SE's 2.4-liter engine makes a nominal 2-horsepower more than lesser Sonatas.
The Sonata SE is available with a single-option six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. The tranny doesn't feature any sort of sport mode and a manual transmission is not available at this trim level--you'll have to step down to GLS trim for that. In lieu of a proper manual gearbox, Hyundai has equipped the SE model with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Zero-to-60 mph acceleration isn't mind blowing, but the Sonata does a good job of hauling itself up to and above highway cruising speeds. Under normal conditions, the automatic transmission doesn't suffer from the gear hunting issues that some slushboxes do, but its tendency to want to stay in top gear makes sport driving a bit of a mess, with downshifts coming on unpredictably. Using the equipped paddle shifters somewhat alleviates this issue, but the shifts are still fairly laggy, requiring a good deal of forethought to get the timing right.

Fuel economy sits at 23 city and 35 highway mpg and doesn't change with different trim levels or transmissions. In our testing--which consisted of mostly stop-and-go city driving, curvy back road blasting, and just enough highway cruising to get between the two--we hovered at about 25-28 mpg.

A slightly stiffer spring rate, larger stabilizer bars, and uprated dampers boost the SE trim level's handling, and drivers are treated to a set of 18-inch wheels (the largest available on the Sonata) and dual chrome-plated exhaust tips. We weren't able to drive the SE back-to-back with a non-SE model, so we can't gauge how much of an improvement these mods make, but we were pleased with the SE's handling. She's no canyon carver, but we were able to power around cloverleaf off-ramps at speeds we're a bit ashamed to print.

In sum
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE impressed us, not only as a great value, but also as a good car overall. At an as-tested MSRP of $25,950, the Sonata slots in at about $2,000 less than a similarly equipped four-cylinder Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. For your cash, you get a good-looking sedan with more power, better fuel economy, and a comparable suite of cabin tech.

Spec box

Model 2011 Hyundai Sonata
Trim SE
Power train 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy 23 mpg city/35 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 26 mpg
Navigation Optional touch-screen navigation with 8GB SSD and traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard w/ A2DP audio streaming
Disc player MP3-compatible single-disc CD player
MP3 player support Standard USB-port and aux-input with iPod playback
Other digital audio Standard XM satellite radio
Audio system Seven-speaker Dimension premium audio with 360-watt amplifier
Driver aids cruise control
Base price $23,315
Price as tested $26,200

What you'll pay

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