Sonata 2.0T Review
The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T is a good; just not heart-poundingly good.
This is a review that I've been mulling over for a few weeks, trying to find the right angle. The problem I've been facing is that the Sonata is too good. It doesn't have any glaring defects I can viciously attack. Nor does it conjure up any anecdotes or rambling opinions. It's a very good car. But just because something is good doesn't make it worthy of coverage.
I enjoy plenty of deserts. I am exhilarated by a great deal of wooded walks in the Portland area. And I'm rather fond of several of my pairs of pants as well. None is, however, worthy of an article of its own. This is the problem facing me when I turn to the Sonata 2.0T review.
I first drove the normally aspirated Sonata last year, when it was new. It was fine. Pretty good in most every respect but it didn't really stand out. I then drove the Sonata Hybrid, which was great on the highway but absolutely nightmarish in the city--especially when attempting to parallel park.
So when I was thrown the keys to the Sonata 2.0T ("T" stands for turbo) I expected more mediocrity. To my surprise, it was far better than I had anticipated.
I feel like I should have seen it coming: the Sonata's greatness. After all, turbochargers make everything better. My first car was a perfect example: a 1983 Volvo 245 Turbo. Having more in common with a tractor than a car, the 245 should have been crap. But with the turbo, it came to life. I loved that damn car. With it I enjoyed many an evening filled with turbocharged adventures.
The Sonata, now in its sixth generation, shares its underpinnings with the Kia Optima and has benefitted hugely from its newfound turbo. Although Hyundai is a Korean car firm, the Sonata is built in Alabama. The turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine placed under the hood of the Sonata 2.0T produces 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque and has been mated with a six-speed automatic transmission. Altogether, the Sonata 2.0T has been rated by the EPA to achieve 22 MPG in the city and 34 MPG on the highway.
The SE model I tested had a sticker price of $28,455. For that money, the Sonata was fitted with sport suspension; 18-inch wheels; power windows, doors, and locks; dual climate control; Bluetooth; a backup camera; and satnav. Strangely, however, at this price point, the Sonata 2.0T is still comes with cloth seats. Arguably more durable, I found them out of place. On top of all of that, the whole vehicle is protected by Hyundai's five-year/60,000-mile warranty.
While small engines fitted with turbochargers for extra, on-demand power sounds nice on paper, customers are beginning to find turbochargers aren't quite what they're cracked up to be in terms of fuel economy. In actuality, unless blessed with a featherweight foot, drivers are finding their mileage numbers far below the EPA estimates in turbocharged cars. I, for example, achieved 13 MPG in the city in the Sonata 2.0T--far below the EPA rating. But one of my fellow automotive journalists on an extended trip at speeds upward of 75 MPH achieved 36 MPG, which was above the rating. Go figure.
In spite of its unpredictable fuel economy, driving the Sonata 2.0T was a delight. Every aspect of the vehicle was easy and enjoyable. I had plenty of room. The seats were wonderfully comfortable. The cabin was quiet. The satnav and Bluetooth were easy to use. The acceleration from the turbocharged four was the perfect mix of pull and grace. The steering was light but precise and didn't leave me feeling disconnected from the road. And the suspension was firm, luxurious, and forgiving. Add to that the Sonata's stunning looks and the fabulous "Sparkling Ruby" paint color, the strikingly large rims, and chrome-tipped exhaust and I was sold.
In spite of all its wondrous qualities, I am not sure I'd still buy the Sonata 2.0T. That, you must understand, is my ultimate rulebook. I can only comfortably recommend a car if I would realistically put down my own money for it. I could sit there in the driver's seat of the Sonata and list every reason why I should be chomping at the bit to own one. But logic wasn't enough. It lacked that X-factor.
The Volkswagen Passat--one of the Sonata's competitors--has that X-factor. Like the Sonata, it's big, powerful, fuel-efficient, and gorgeous to behold. For whatever reason, the Passat has 'it' but the Sonata doesn't.
I would never anyone buy a Passat, however. After the warranty is up, the Passat will be a maintenance nightmare. The Sonata on the other hand will be cheap and reliable, especially since the powertrain in the Sonata is covered by the 100,000-mile warranty.
Here I am left writing a review for a wonderful car that I am just not in love with. Perhaps it's for the best. When I am deeply in love with a car, it usually turns out all wrong. I get my priorities all screwed up. The Sonata might be better off with my admiration over my undying love.
Ultimately, I recommend the Sonata 2.0T over its competition--even if it isn't heart-flutteringly good. It's just great. And that'll have to just be good enough.