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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Hyundai the next Honda?

Before Honda and Toyota started duking it out for bragging rights to who could sell the most midsize family sedans, Honda was a company that sold innovative, passionate cars.  They were pretty much an engineering house with an automotive department to showcase their new technologies.  Anybody could walk into a Honda (or Acura) dealer and buy a car with a motor that revved to the heavens, had some sort of black magic called VTEC, and could steer with all four wheels.  Honda has since lost some of its luster.  However, there is another "H" badged marque releasing new and innovative technologies.

2011 Hyundai Sonata courtesy of

Hyundai has been waging a war against all the established car companies.  Their Genesis coupe is up against all the performance oriented compacts as well as the V6 Mustang, 370z, and G37.  The upper class Genesis and Equus have their sights set on the German luxobarges. Yet, the technological juggernaut comes, ironically, in their midsized Sonata.

Disclaimer: It's about to get nerdy.

The Sonata comes in three distinct flavors.  There's the plain vanilla option with good gas mileage from a 2.4 liter  4 cylinder.  For those who want to get crazy, sprinkles, whipped cream, and hot fudge can be added for a nominal fee.  This will get you the Sonata Turbo.  For those in the middle ground, the chocolate chip type, a Sonata Hybrid will be arriving shortly.

The latter two options made me break out my pocket protector and slide ruler. 

Sonata Turbo motor courtesy of

While the high mileage variants make do with a 2.4 liter four banger, the Sonata Turbo has a 2.0 liter and, as the name would imply, a turbo.  That's right!  In the most boring car segment in the world, you can buy a turbo.  And what a turbo!  It's a Mitsubishi built twin scroll unit that pushes out 17.4 psi of boost.  That's more pressure than the atmosphere burdens us with.  All this is good for 274 horsepower.  That's more than the 2.3 liter turbo in my Mazdaspeed3 "performance car."  It's also more than the V6 in the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Chevy Malibu.  But wait!  The Sonata Turbo also gets better gas mileage than those cars too!  How does 22 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway sound?

Sonata Hybrid courtesy of

If that gas mileage isn't enough, there's the hybrid version to lust after.  It achieves 38 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway.  This is accomplished by very sophisticated electronics and materials.  To start, there's the battery which is a lithium polymer battery.  It is smaller, lighter, and less susceptible to changes due to temperature compared to the traditional nickel-metal-hydride batteries found in current hybrids.  This means that the same electrical power can be stored in a smaller space.  This eases the packaging constraints of the vehicle as well as making it lighter which aids in fuel mileage.  Also helping those high fuel economy numbers is proprietary technology developed by Hyundai to decouple the engine and transmission while at a full stop or while driving in full electric mode.  This car, with a light throttle foot, can accelerate to highway speeds with only electric power.  Once at highway speeds, drag becomes a huge factor in sapping fuel economy.  The Sonata has a wind tunnel tested coefficient of drag of .25.  This is equal to the much uglier Toyota Prius.

It seems that every new car that Hyundai releases questions the status quo of the established marques.  Their latest barrage of technology and performance has got this nerd all hot and bothered.  Time for some ice cream to cool off.

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