Test Drive: Hyundai Sonata Turbo and Sonata Hybrid

Hyundai is really on a winning streak these days, and they?ve raised the bar in the midsize family sedan market by remodeling their popular Sonata sedan into three different configurations.

In the standard Sonata, you get a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine making 198 horsepower and delivering fuel economy of 35 MPG on the highway and 22 MPG in the city. You have your choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. That?s pretty good performance, but if you were hoping for the V6 version, Hyundai has a performance alternative ? a 2-liter turbocharged Sonata.

The Sonata Turbo delivers 274 breathtaking horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, and it delivers that power at any RPM thanks to its quick twin-scroll turbo. And here?s the best part ? the EPA-rated fuel economy is almost identical to the base model, at 22 MPG city and 34 MPG on the highway.? But the better best part is that we ran an experiment ? what kind of fuel economy could we coax out of the 2.0T over a 50 mile drive?? And before you think we went to the top of a hill and coasted down, this was a windy mountain road and freeway trip ? with plenty of fast & slow, up & down, slow & go, and stoplights. In our real-world test, the Sonata Turbo gave us 41.1 honest MPG, and that?s nothing short of phenomenal in a family sedan.

And to answer the next obvious question, the Sonata turbo is really fast when you lay into the throttle.

But Hyundai didn?t just raise its game on the engine. The new Sonata is a state of the art sports sedan, with excellent handling, quiet interior, and all the bells and whistles you want in a new car. The seats are comfortable and the controls are all well laid out. Hyundai has done its homework and discovered that it really doesn?t cost any more to create a nice interior. Of course, there?s an optional leather package and optional heated seats, which we love. And in keeping with the top luxury cars on the market, you can now get heated rear seats in the Sonata.

The third player in Hyundai?s new 2011 Sonata lineup is the hybrid. In this car you get the same 2.4-liter engine as the basic Sonata, but you also get the electric traction motor and regenerative braking that have come to define the hybrid experience. The pairing produces 166 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque, which made for a pleasant driving experience, but obviously lacked the power of the Turbo engine. You also give up a little trunk space in the hybrid to accommodate the battery pack. We ran the Hybrid through another 50-mile test with both city and highway driving and came up with 51.4 MPG over the whole test. That?s much better than the official EPA rating of 36 city MPG and 40 MPG on the highway.

One thing to notice about Hyundai?s rated numbers is that most hybrids do better in city driving, but the Hyundai engineers told us that when they looked at actual hybrid driving patterns, people drive longer distances on the highway. In other words, hybrids aren?t just for people who never leave the city any more. The new Sonata hybrid is a hybrid for everyone. And did we mention 51.4 MPG in a real-world test?

So, to the bottom line ? what?s it going to cost you to own one of these nice new Hyundais?? Well, the basic Sonata GLS starts at $19,915 with a manual transmission, and at $20,915 with the automatic. Top price on a Sonata GLS is $28,115 with all the options. The turbo Sonata starts at $24,865 and goes up to about $30,000 if it?s all optioned up, while the hybrid starts at $24,900 before options.

With pricing as close as all that, the real question seems to be whether you like the Turbo or the Hybrid. But whichever Sonata you prefer, you?re getting a great car. So if you?re shopping the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, or even the 3-Series BMW, you really ought to stop by and take a look at the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata. You?re going to like what you see.

More from Our Auto Expert