2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Road Test Review

Dave Van Sickle - CAP staff
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When Hyundai announced that their 2011 Sonata would no longer be offered with a V6, there was some doubt about the wisdom of such a move. It takes real leadership, the right products (and guts) to change the mindset of the buying public.

Clearly, the 2011 Sonata is a big hit.  Sales of this freshly designed family sedan have more than doubled those of its predecessors. Now, the risk of eliminating the V6 in future Hyundai models looks more like clever marketing at a time when rising fuel economy standards are the norm. 

Even though the base Sonata's four-cylinder is a good performer, and there is still a significant market segment that wants the performance of a V6, Hyundai has chosen to replace the V6 using turbocharging and direct injection to get V6-like power with four-cylinder economy. Thus, the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T.

"The Sonata 2.0T is a great example of what our 'Blue Drive' product strategy is doing for consumers," said John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America president and CEO. "Think about it – more horsepower than any of our V6 competitors, with better gas mileage than any competitive 4-cylinder model. We're not fans of compromising at Hyundai, and the Sonata really demonstrates this aspect of our business approach."

The interior and exterior design of the base Sonata and the 2.0T model are identical.  The only clue as to what's under the hood is a small 2.0T badge on the deck lid. That's because Hyundai does not want the 2.0T model to be thought of as a performance variant. It's just a replacement for the V6. And what a replacement!

The 2.0-litre turbocharged Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) four-cylinder engine is a downsized version of the current 2.4-litre engine, equipped with the necessary hardware to withstand the forces associated with turbocharging. It produces 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque from 1800-4500 rpm with regular fuel. The Sonata 2.0T will deliver an estimated 8.7L/100km city and 5.7L/100km highway. Expect a 0 to 96.6 km time around 6.5 seconds.

Driving the Sonata 2.0T is pure pleasure. Just as in the non-turbo version, the steering is precise and linear, while handling dynamics have not been sacrificed for the sake of a good ride. Throttle response is instantaneous, making the launch from a stop not only surprising, but also very satisfying.

With so much power being sent to just the front wheels, one might expect serious torque-steer problems, but that was not the case during our test drive. Abrupt applications of power during turns and from a stop produced very little steering interference.

The GDI fuel delivery system is the major contributor to improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions. This shorter, more direct path of fuel delivery allows for greater control of the fuel mixture at the optimum moment, thus improving efficiency.

In a traditional multi-port system, gasoline is delivered via the intake port of each cylinder, where it mixes with air and is drawn into the cylinders when the intake valve opens and the piston moves down. The problem with that system is when engine speeds increase the time to open the valve to deliver fuel becomes progressively shorter, making fuel delivery less accurate.

Hyundai says its GDI system solves that issue by injecting gasoline directly into the combustion chamber at up to 2,175 PSI. The pistons are "domed" to increase combustion efficiency. Each injection consists of two pulses. The first pulse occurs during the intake stroke and the second at the end of the compression stroke, when the rest of the fuel is injected.

Compared to a conventional engine, GDI delivers 7 percent more torque at low engine speeds and 12 percent more torque at the high end. Best of all, GDI boosts gas mileage by up to 10 percent.

The 2.0T engine also uses a twin-scroll turbocharger that when combined with the GDI system results in almost instantaneous power delivery. Twin-scroll turbochargers have traditionally been used on more expensive high performance engines, but as with GDI, Hyundai has chosen to apply this efficient technology in high volume to its most popular model. 

Twin-scroll turbocharger designs have two exhaust gas inlets divided by split walls inside the turbine housing, with both gas passages controlled by a wastegate. A twin-scroll turbo recovers even more energy from the exhaust than a single-scroll turbocharger thanks to a divided manifold.

Essentially, Sonata's twin-scroll turbo directs more air into the engine while a compressor increases the pressure entering the cylinder. This allows the air entering the cylinder to be more densely packed for higher compression and better performance, contributing to a more efficient burn and better fuel economy.

By adapting a motor-driven electrical wastegate, the boost pressure is precisely controlled. The backpressure is reduced when turbo boost is not necessary by opening the wastegate, which improves fuel efficiency. In addition, during cold starts, the wastegate remains open which results in faster catalyst light-off for reduced exhaust emissions.

Hyundai's commitment to making the Sonata 2.0T extremely fuel-efficient continues with a six-speed automatic transmission. Developed over a four-year period, this new six-speed automatic is 11.9 kg lighter than the five-speed it replaces. It is also 4 cm shorter and considerably simpler, having 62 fewer parts, which is key to increased durability, lighter weight and lower cost.

When it comes to transmissions, more gears are definitely better. The addition of a sixth gear enables closer spacing between gear ratios providing a better balance of performance and fuel economy while the wide overall gear ratio helps deliver strong acceleration.

The gearbox has three planetary gearsets and a unique flat torque converter that shortens the unit's overall length by 1.2 cm. Four pinion differentials improve durability and further minimize size. It has no dipstick because it is filled with automatic transmission fluid that is good for the life of the vehicle under normal usage conditions, thereby reducing maintenance costs.

Drivers can access the SHIFTRONIC feature by moving the gear selector into a separate gate. Pushing the selector forward or pulling it rearward will shift the transmission up or down sequentially, adding to driver control. Turbocharged Sonatas will also feature steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A clear LCD readout on the instrument panel shows the gear being used.

The new Sonata is the first Hyundai vehicle to have both GDI technology and a turbocharger. By the end of Hyundai's 24/7 version 2.0 product initiative (seven new models in the next 24 months), four nameplates will be available with GDI or the combination of GDI and a turbocharger. Turbocharging and GDI are part of "Hyundai Blue Drive," the company's initiative to continue industry leadership in fuel efficiency.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Hyundai, 2011, Sonata 2.0T, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Hyundai

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