Hyundai's 2011 Sonata 2.0T, with its four-cylinder engine's power boosted by a turbocharger, is on the leading edge of a wave that will likely become a sea change as car makers increasingly move toward using these exhaust gas driven air pumps to meet consumer power demands while delivering a more efficient and "greener" product.
Despite the hype, hybrids and electrics won't be major factors in the North American fleet any time soon, but what we will be seeing more of is smaller-displacement engines with forced induction replacing the traditional reliance on naturally aspirated large-displacement units. Fours force-fed to act like sixes and sixes stimulated to perform like V-8s.
Hyundai's 274-hp 2.0T is one of the best examples out there of why this will be a good thing.
This four-cylinder-engined mid-size sedan's high level of performance and drivability more than matches V-6-equipped rivals while delivering fuel economy numbers they, and even some four-cylinder models, can't attain.
North American drivers may be showing signs of throttling back their automotive power aspirations in the face of climatic threats to the planet and the more immediate discomfort of gas pains in their wallet area, but most still enjoy and many insist on something significant happening when they prod the gas pedal.
For the auto industry, which always wants to give consumers what they want, reality in the form of severe new fuel economy regulations looming for 2015, means performance demands will increasingly have to be met by more compact, lighter, smaller-displacement engines, many with their power and fuel economy improved by forced induction devices such as superchargers or turbochargers.
Turbo maker Honeywell predicts 20 per cent of engines in North America will be equipped with turbochargers by 2015 compared to 5 per cent today - in Europe, it's already 67 per cent. And it predicts worldwide some 35 million vehicles will be fed their fuel/air mixture by a turbo versus 17 million currently.
The Hyundai Sonata, Buick Regal and Subaru Legacy are currently available with turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline-fuelled engines with Volkswagen offering a turbo-diesel in its new Passat. A size smaller is Chevy's new turbo-equipped Cruze.
The 2.0T version of Hyundai's latest-generation Sonata was introduced last fall with prices for the base version starting at $28,999 and the more highly equipped Limited at $31,749. The test 2.0T was the latter with a navi system boosting its price to $33,499.
The new Sonata with its good looks, classy and well-equipped interior and competent driving characteristics has won a number of "best" awards and enough people have driven one out of Hyundai showrooms to establish that it has most of the attributes required to woo mid-size buyers so let's concentrate on its mechanical advantages.
The 2.0T's Theta II engine is an all-aluminum, 2.0-litre, twin-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder (actuated by a continuously variable timing system) four-cylinder, which make it pretty much state of the art. But it has also two latest-tech features: gasoline direct injection (GDI) and a twin-scroll turbocharger.
The former injects fuel at very high pressure and with great precision directly into the combustion chamber and the twin-scroll turbo works more efficiently by making better use of exhaust gas flow and delivers its boost in a way that also improves combustion efficiency.
The result is 274 hp at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque available through a range from 1,750-4,500 rpm. The 2.0T's power rating of 137 hp per litre betters the Regal's 110 hp per litre and the 70-75 hp per litre produced by most V-6s.
The 2.0T sedan, at 1,541 kg, is lighter than V-6 rivals, and 90 kilograms heavier than its 2.4-litre four-cylinder, 198-hp-engined sibling when it is equipped with the six-speed automatic they share. The previous-generation Sonata V-6 weighed in at 1,569 kg and its 3.3-litre engine produced 234 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque.
Not only does this new turbo-four produce more rapid acceleration than its V-6 predecessor (and probably most of its V-6 competition) but thanks to the turbo-induced broad spread of torque and the six-speed automatic, city drivability is great and performance firmly in the sports sedan category.
There's virtually no sense, other than perhaps the well-muted sound, that there's a turbo-four under the 2.0T's hood and not a V-6. Turbo-lag, a delay in response early turbocharged engines often suffered from, is essentially non-existent from the driver's perspective. If there is any, the smooth and quick-shifting automatic takes up the slack.
And along with that, it produces exemplary fuel economy. Government ratings of 9.3 litres/100 km city and 6.0 highway compare to the old V-6 model's 11.5 city/7.2 highway. At four-lane highway cruising speeds, it surprisingly burns only a tad more fuel than its rating number.
Basically the only area in which the 2.0T's turbo-four might come up short for some buyers is its lack of V-6 cachet. My advice - get over it.
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base Price: $31,749; as tested, $33,499
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 274 hp/269 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.3 city/6.0 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Buick Regal Turbo, Nissan Altima 3.5SR, Kia Optima 2.0T, Mazda6 GT, Ford Fusion Sport, Subaru Legacy GT
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