When Hyundai entered the North American auto market in the mid-late’80’s, my initial impression was, “Who are they fooling?! Nobody’s going to mistake that piece of crap for a Honda!” I assumed, given the similarities in their name – and their cars’ badging – that they were attempting to capture the segment of the car market made up of consumers who thought they were buying a Honda weren’t capable of thought. Consumers quickly realized that Hyundais weren’t Hondas, however. Honda had gained a reputation for well-built, reliable vehicles, while Hyundais were quickly discovered to be poorly built, unreliable, and basically not worth the low price in their window stickers.
That was twenty years ago. So, what’s changed since then? Well, Hyundais have. After a few faulty starts, they’ve successfully moved into the luxury market with the Genesis. They’ve also legitimately moved into the performance market with the Genesis Coupe. And now, they’ve created the 2011 Sonata – a high-feature car for the masses that’s actually quite attractive. They hired IAV Automotive Engineering (whose clients also include Bentley) to help them trim weight from the Sonata. Since the car is only available with a 4-cylinder, the engine cradle structure didn’t have to be designed to accommodate any optional V6 – allowing a reduction in mass that translates in weight reductions elsewhere (such as the braking system) without a performance compromise. (I love whole-systems thinking!) All of this results in a car that has a little more power than a similarly featured Honda Accord (its most direct competitor), gets slightly better highway fuel efficiency (35 vs. 34 mpg), weighs approximately 100 pounds less, and is arguably more attractive. The fact that the Sonata combines the impressive 200 horsepower 2.4 liter 4-cylinder (with continuously variable valve timing) with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and an SE trim-level that actually comes with performance goodies like stiffer springs, better shocks, and larger anti-roll bars, makes the $2k discount relative to the Accord all the more impressive.
A 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty? Initial Quality Ratings at the top of their class? What’s not to like? …Well, there’s that whole “no available V6” point where Honda has the advantage. Then again, the 274 horsepower 2.0 turbo due out later in the model year should fix that. And still reach 34 mpg. …A fake Honda indeed!