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Driving the 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Excellent room, styling and fuel economy ambush competitors.

by on Jun.15, 2010

Len Katz Photography

Maintaining momentum with a strong redesign. Len Katz Photo.

Funny thing about incremental gains in automobiles, they eventually add to something big.

Last year was something big for Hyundai Motor America as it picked up more than one percentage point of U.S. market share during the worst business climate since the Great Depression.

Over the previous decade, the Korean maker edged slowly along, picking up a tenth of a point each year. However, taxpayer financed “Cash for Clunkers,” coupled with years of product refinement, reasonable pricing, along with some deft marketing of an extended warranty made for what was a ten-fold increase in the rate of gain.

The momentum has not stopped. This May marked the seventeenth consecutive month of year-over-year share gains for Hyundai. Year to date, Hyundai sales are up 23% to 205,000 vehicles compared with 2009.

The volume car at the heart of the lineup is the completely redesigned for 2011 Sonata sedan that is just appearing. So far, this sixth generation version has been well received. To find out why, I spent a week testing a pearl white Limited model – $26,315 delivered. There are leases advertised starting at under $200/month for less well-equipped models.

What emerged after several hundred miles of testing was a comfortable, fuel efficient (26 mpg average) and generally pleasant car. This bodes well for Hyundai, but not for competitors, since Sonata is, arguably, the most important launch thus far for the upstart Korean maker.

Critical Reviews!

If there is a problem here, it is caused by the companion company Kia with its Optima derived from the same corporate parts bin. However, that is a nit, and a longer-term marketing separation issue for the parent company as each brand grows.  Kia sales through May at 138,000 are up 15%. The overall market is up 17%, but that number is heavily influenced by Detroit Three fleet sales, which have doubled compared to the year before, and are running at 30% of units wholesaled. (more…)