Award-winning Hyundai Sonata goes hybrid, or turbo
This year’s Denver International Auto Show, running through Sunday at the Convention Center, has got plenty to offer – an indoor off-road track at Camp Jeep, test drives of the much-ballyhooed Chevy Volt and the Fiat 500, plus the world’s most ridiculous, belt-buckle-encrusted Toyota Tundra, from country stars Brooks & Dunn.But a few hidden gems lurk around the corners, offering examples of real-world technology and the future of fuel frugality, not such a bad thing as gas prices keep climbing. One of which, the Hyundai Sonata, was picked by members of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press as Car of the Year. Among its various forms, Hyundai’s new Sonata Hybrid, available later this year, is on display. The hybrid is packed with revolutionary, lithium polymer batteries and a traditional six-speed automatic transmission (versus the whining and slack variable-speed transmissions found on other hybrids).The hybrid is said to generate 39 mpg highway and 37 mpg city, helped in no small part by an electric drive system that can operate in full-electric mode all the way up to 62 miles per hour. Blended together, the hybrid system’s 2.4-liter gas engine and electric system will produce 209 horsepower. Its lithium polymer battery system is also nearly 30 percent lighter, takes up 40 percent less volume but offers 10 percent greater efficiency than the nickel-metal hydride batteries found in most other hybrids currently on the market.For those interested in impressively high mileage and performance, you can also check out the Sonata’s new, optional 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct injection four-cylinder engine boasting 274 horsepower and up to 33 miles per gallon on the highway. Twin scroll superchargers mean more power and much better fuel efficiency than even V6 competitors such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord or Nissan Altima. And even with a regular 2.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine making 198 HP, the new Sonata is a pretty fine machine that will turn heads and return 35 mpg on the highway. The Sonata’s makeover comes on the heels of a massive massaging of the Tucson, Hyundai’s small SUV, whose new swoopy shape was crafted in Munich and has been dubbed “fluidic sculpture.”Sonata’s revamped rendition renders a machine with angular, cat-eye headlamps, a superhero-inspired chrome grille and long, sweeping lines that cascade over the hood and along the body. Inside, the mixture of leather and plastics combine for an equally pleasant experience. The plastic is a bit more pronounced on the doors and center console, but leather wraps on the wheel and center console up the sophistication.Leather-surfaced seating lives up to European aspirations and is both sporty and supportive; I’ve found that the seats in several Hyundais come the closest to matching my 5′ 10” frame than any other vehicle I’ve driven, so that’s always enamored me to the products.Interior design keys are impressive and intuitive, ranging from the human-shaped HVAC airflow indicator (a clear nod to Volvo there) to the slick shift knob and small, bottlecap-styled audio controls. Technology is available by the bucketful, including HD radio, XM satellite radio and standard Bluetooth, plus iPod input jacks and an electronically dimming rear mirror. An optional 400-watt Infinity sound system tops out an array of stereo choices.As for the driving itself, the Sonata is quiet, svelte and sporty, with a nice handling feel, responsive braking and plenty of power even in the 2.4-liter guise. The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension add to the smoothness of ride, and the overall tuning results in flatness that’s remarkable for a vehicle of this category. Low-rolling resistance tires, provided on the GLS and Limited models, also contribute to the Sonata’s fuel economy.If you’re looking for a more sporty experience, the SE model offers tuned suspension with stiffer springs and larger stabilizer bars, making for a machine almost as versatile as the Genesis Coupe. It’s also got an extra two horsepower, for some reason.
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