2012 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T review: More tech, more power

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MSRP: $24,745.00
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

5 stars 2 user reviews

The Good The 2012 Hyundai Sonata's turbocharger adds a substantial amount of power. The optional navigation system is simple, yet effective. Bluetooth calling and most digital audio sources are standard. The voice command system is quite good and the addition of BlueLink telematics rounds out the dashboard tech.

The Bad No manual transmission available on this "sporty" SE model. Navigation maps don't feature a 3D view. Observed fuel economy left much to be desired.

The Bottom Line With more power and more tech, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T offers a lot of bang for your buck.

7.6 Overall
  • Cabin tech 8.0
  • Performance tech 7.0
  • Design 8.0

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata SE that rolled into the Car Tech garage this week was not very different from the 2011 Sonata SE that I tested previously.

It's got the same coupelike profile and Fluidic Sculpture design that I described as swoopy and polarizing in 2010. Although, after a year on the road and when compared with the Sonata Hybrid's fish face, its aesthetic is not nearly as polarizing as it was at its debut.

In the cabin, the fit and finish haven't changed much. The dashboard tech is essentially the same and is still a pretty darn good value. Hyundai's subscription-based BlueLink telematics system is new to the Sonata and is now standard, giving users an OnStar-esque set of connected features for a monthly fee.

However, the silver-and-blue 2.0T badge on the rear deck hints that this 2012 example of the Sonata SE is hiding something new under its hood. Compared with the 2011 model that I tested, which was powered by a 2.4-liter engine, this 2012 model loses 0.4 liter of displacement and gains a twin-scroll turbocharger and a heap of horsepower. Does more power make it better? The obvious answer is yes, but I hopped into the Sparkling Ruby 2012 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T to put that hypothesis to the test.

Performance: 2.0-liter turbocharged engine
The Sonata's power plant starts with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder block, adds a head with direct-injection technology, and finishes up with a twin-scroll turbocharger. Power is rated at a maximum of 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm when boost tops out at 17.4 psi. The maximum torque of 269 pound-feet comes on at much lower engine speeds, being available between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm. Power builds in a fairly linear fashion and there isn't much of what I'd consider to be turbo lag. However, there is a definite delineation at about 4,000 rpm when you can feel the engine coming to life, pulling the sedan forward with surprising zest. There's not enough grunt to snap your neck, but there's plenty to induce a grin.

engine bay
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Turbocharging allows Hyundai to make more power with less displacement in the 2.0T. Josh Miller/CNET

Power flows to the front wheels via a single-option six-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox features a manual shift mode that allows the driver to chose gears by pushing the shift lever forward and back or by smacking the plastic paddle shifters located on the backside of the steering wheel. Before you turn your nose up at paddle shifters on a front-drive "sport" sedan, know that the Sonata's paddles have a great, clicky engagement and trigger reasonably quick shifts. I must have spent most of my driving time playing around with the paddles, which defintely explains the low fuel economy averaged during our testing.

The EPA estimates the Sonata 2.0T's economy at 22 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 26 combined mpg. After a week spent aggressively using the manual shift mode to keep the turbo spinning with almost no highway cruising to balance things out, the trip computer reported only a 16.6 mpg average.

Drivers looking to get closer to that 26 mpg average should leave the gearbox in its automatic mode and be more gentle with their right foot when driving. However, if you lack self control, Hyundai has equipped the Sonata with an Active Eco mode. Activating this mode adjusts the shift program of the automatic transmission, favoring higher gears and lower engine speeds. Active Eco also remaps the throttle response, digitally lightening your lead foot. The result is a duller ride and slower acceleration, but better fuel economy.

Active Eco
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The Active Eco button compromises a bit of responsiveness for a potential boost in fuel economy. Josh Miller/CNET

Compared with the entry level GLS trim and the top-tier Limited levels, the Sonata SE 2.0T model features a firmer, sport-tune for its MacPherson strut front and independent multilink rear suspension. The SE uses the same 24mm front stabilizer bar as the GLS/Limited, but a thicker 17mm rear stabilizer bar (versus the standard 15mm bar). The Sonata SE also upgrades with 18-inch wheels and wider 225-width performance tires. So, the Sonata SE has slightly more mechanical grip than the other trim levels.

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