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2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS

Hyundai Sonata: cream of the mid-size crop Add to ...

Want a family sedan? You couldn’t pick a better time.

Sales of cars such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima have been in a free fall for a decade. At one time, mid-size cars held almost a quarter of the entire new-car market in Canada. Last year? Down to 9.1 per cent.

Naturally, this means two good things for buyers.

First, many manufacturers have very sweet offers to entice you. The 2011 Toyota Camry, for instance, comes with a $2,000 factory-to-customer discount. Chevrolet Malibu deals could add up to $5,000 or more. The right Ford Fusion buyer might be able to string together $6,000 in sales sweeteners. Nissan Altima? How does $1,600 in cash combined with 0.0 per cent financing for four years sound?

Second, there is the product story. Virtually every car in this class has good or excellent reliability. For safety, all of these are Top Safety Picks of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: the Malibu, the Fusion, the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy/Outback, Volkswagen Jetta and the Hyundai Sonata.

The 2011 Sonata is one of the hottest and one of the best in its class. Reinvented last year, the Sonata is priced well ($24,249 for the base GL with six-speed automatic) and right now has a $2,000 factory incentive in the trunk – not to mention the $500 Clean Air Cash rebate if you trade in a worn-out clunker.

Beyond the deal, the Sonata is simply an excellent automobile. The car feels solid in every way, boasts excellent fuel economy from its four-cylinder engine and if you want an alternative to the standard model, Hyundai offers hybrid ($29,999) and turbo versions ($28,999).

The 274-hp 2.0T turbo is the one you want if have a need for speed. There is no six-cylinder Sonata because Hyundai says less than 10 per cent of North American buyers want the bigger, thirstier engine. And the hybrid is the environmentalist’s ride.

Still, the vast majority of Sonata buyers are quite happy with the basic front-drive car. It’s big enough for family chores, quick enough to be entertaining for all but the most car-crazed suburbanites, and it’s fuel-efficient – 8.7 litres/100 km city/5.7 highway using regular gas for the most basic model.

Moreover, even the cheapest Sonata ($22,649 with a six-speed manual gearbox) is equipped with all the power accessories (door locks and so on), heated outside mirrors, keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system with steering-wheel-mounted controls, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity.

Standard safety gear includes front, side, and head-protecting airbags, as well as stability and traction control and four-wheel antilock brakes.

If you want more, step up to the GLS ($26,249) or the Limited ($28,999) and get everything from leather upholstery to a navigation system, backup camera and heated front and rear seats.

Regardless, this Sonata is as technologically sophisticated as any comparable sedan and better than many. For instance, that standard four-banger generates a hefty 198 horsepower, more than any other four in the segment. It also has direct injection, a fuel-saving innovation usually seen in more expensive vehicles.

The car looks good, too. The dramatic styling, with its curvy, carved side profile and radically raked roofline, owes some inspiration to much more expensive Lexus models, which is not a bad thing. At least as important, the Sonata’s co-efficient of drag – a measure of the slipperiness of its body in wind tunnel tests – is just 0.28, nearly the equal of the Toyota Prius.

Naturally, the Sonata has the best fuel economy in its class – better than four-cylinder Camry (9.0 city/6.0 highway), Malibu (9.4/5.9), Accord (9.8/5.8), Altima (8.8/6.2) and Fusion S (9.5/6.2).

All that hard data aside, the car has a well-constructed feel. The doors, trunk, and hood all feel solid when you open and close them, and the gaps surrounding them are very narrow. Steering is tight. Sound-proofing is good. Hyundai has even thickened the driver-side window to reduce road-noise in the driver’s ear. The car is reasonably quiet at highway speeds.

Sure, it’s nothing brilliant to drive, but okay. The Sonata is quick enough, with a 0-100 km/h time in the low eight seconds. But because Hyundai put such a high priority on fuel economy over responsiveness, there’s this annoying hesitation when you punch the gas. The steering feels vague, too, and ride quality is middle of the pack.

But cabin space is great, second only to the Accord for total space. Trunk capacity is second only to the Fusion. Head and leg room is adequate for most adults, but legroom in the rear is tight.

Finally, Hyundai has one of the best warranties on the market – five years, 100,000 km, bumper-to-bumper. But you may not need it, what with the dramatic improvements in quality at Hyundai. As for what your Sonata might be worth in three years, Canadian Black Books says 44 per cent of the original, which is second only to the Camry (50 per cent) and ahead of the Accord (43 per cent).

Yes, it’s a superb time to buy a mid-size car and the Sonata should be on your test drive list.

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2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS

Type: Mid-size family sedan

Price: $26,249 ($1,565 freight)

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 198 hp/184 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/5.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Accord, Mazda6

If you really want to save money on your next car purchase, appreciate a slow depreciation

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