Going on sale in July 2012, the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market. Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.
It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class. The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.
First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling. The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous. Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.
Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling. That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car. Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold. The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way. Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall. The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest. Nissan calls it “Altimaness”.
I’m really not a hypermiling type of guy – I usually drive a twin-turbocharged V6. When the opportunity to drive from Miami Beach to Key West came up, I admit the allure of Key West was more than the chance to get the maximum fuel economy out of a Kia Optima Hybrid and new Kia Rio. Having grown up in Florida, the northern part, I had never been to Key West – got as far as the Everglades a couple of times.
Kia Optima Hybrid and Kia Rio
The cars did not disappoint and Kia threw in the chance to attend GRAND-AM Continental Tire/Kia200 Sports Car Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Raceway. So how could I refuse?
Optima – Elegant Mid-Size Style With Maximum Fuel Economy The Optima is one of my favorite mid-size cars. Its styling is great and interior is very easy to live with. From my perspective, the Optima style is very sophisticated and European. Coming from the “junior” Korean manufacturer, the Optima is much better looking than the swoopy Hyundai Sonata that has turned so many heads since its introduction in early 2010. My guess is that the Optima style has more staying power than the Sonata which may age pretty quickly.
Adding the Hybrid model to the Optima lineup gives Kia a price-efficient, fuel-efficient combatant in the growing fuel economy battleground among mid-size cars.
All New Rio – Bottom-Feeder No More This was the first chance I have had to drive the all new Rio. As the bottom entry in Kia’s lineup, the Rio has evolved from a cheap, cheap tin can to a very worthy small car. Of course, it is not cheap, cheap any more, but it is reasonably priced. The model we drove was priced a notch above $20,000 but had everything on it including a navigation system, sun roof and leather seats. In previous generations, it would have been unheard of to have this level of equipment available in the lowest priced car from a mainstream brand. With a front seat package rivaling a mid-size car in size, folks are no longer “sentenced” to drive a small car.
If you have been watching sports on TV for the past couple of weeks you cannot have missed the Hyundai spot for Sonata winning AutoPacific’s first-ever President’s Award. Hyundai won the award going away with the highest score ever recorded.
Watch and enjoy…
Hyundai delivered a pearl white 2011 Sonata Limited to our office today for evaluation purposes. By now, you’ve seen the car’s standout styling and maybe even asked yourself if YOU could see yourself driving a Hyundai. One thing’s for sure, they have come a long, long way and their hits just seem to keep coming.
In any case, I took the car at lunch to run an errand at the store. Ten minutes later, I returned to the strikingly styled Hyundai to find this under the windshield wiper. Yes, you are reading that right: it’s a flyer for a local Mercedes-Benz service and repair shop. I looked around for any Mercedes-Benz vehicles nearby, and there was only one – a black GL450 SUV. Indeed, that was the only other car in sight that also had that flyer on its windshield.
In other words, the new Hyundai Sonata got mistaken for a Mercedes-Benz (probably the CLS)…by a representative of a Mercedes-Benz repair shop! If that isn’t ringing endorsement of the Sonata’s new duds, I don’t know what is.
One big difference between the Sonata and the CLS (other than many tens of thousands of dollars)…the Sonata actually has a big and spacious interior that you can easily get in and out of!
Sexy and Strong. And a Hyundai.
Hyundai has is developing its sense of style, seen in Genesis and followed up with the 2011 Sonata. This Sonata offers style inside and out, interior space and functionality, and entertaining driving dynamics. Easy on the pocketbook and easy on the eyes should be a killer combination.
Hyundai calls this design philosophy fluidic sculpture. Aside from sounding a bit like a physics experiment, the result is an expressive sedan in a sea of sameness. Though the grille could be called over-complicated, the sculpture in bodysides and hood is refreshing, one of the youngest of automakers. The chrome strip that runs below the window line, over the front quarter panels, and all the way down to heavily detailed headlights is a particularly attractive–and difficult to manufacture–element. This Sonata looks more expensive than it is. Even better, this exterior is matched with an equally good-looking, feature-laden interior.
The Sonata will offer four-cylinder power only, a brave choice. The 2.4L example we drove will be followed up by a turbo 2.0L and a hybrid by the end of the year. Details will be revealed at the 2010 New York auto show, but Hyundai has promised “substantially” more than 250HP from the turbo 2.0L.
Evolving through four generations and sporting a fresh facelift for the 2009 model year, the Hyundai Sonata won against extremely strong competition. Facing off against the segment-defining Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Hyundai Sonata won owners over and pulled off a significant class win in the Premium Mid-Size Car segment. Attributes where the Sonata is the clear class leader include:
• Value from its reasonable operating costs, its solid warranty – 100,000 mile powertrain, and its affordable price and monthly payments
• Exterior size
• Interior storage/compartments
• Driver’s seat forward and rearward visibility
Among our recent drives was an afternoon in the Chelsea-Ann Arbor, Michigan, area in a newly revised Hyundai Sonata. Reaching dealers as I write this, the 2009 Sonata doesn’t change dramatically on the outside, but offers a more comfortable interior, revised suspension, and both more power and better fuel efficiency. All the right buttons are checked, but were they successful? Our first spin around the neighborhood leads us to say yes, though there are niggles to be found, too.
The new Sonata gets a deeper grille and taller rectangular headlights, more chrome trim all around, and a very slightly revised lower rear fascia. The changes bring a VW Passat to mind, but these subtle changes make for a more grown up and refined Sonata. The taller, more vertical grille and headlights help the hood creases look less clumsy and make for a more imposing face. Changes to the rear are so subtle as to be irrelevant; there are new taillights, but the shape is the same.
Hyundai Sonata owners rate the Sonata as the Ideal Premium Mid-Size Car. Owner ratings for Sonata’s package – size, roominess, and cargo space establish Sonata as the class leader among Premium Mid-Size Cars. Sonata does especially well in cargo space, visibility, ease of getting in and out and interior storage. Hyundai knows what their Premium Mid-Size Car customers want, and provides it. A sure way to beat the competition.
The current generation (PS41) Mitsubishi Galant has been on the market in the USA since Fall 2003. Designed to be fully competitive with the big dogs in its class – Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima – Galant is about the size of the Accord, bigger than Camry and Altima (and the Hyundai Sonata). The car feels big for a Mid-Size Car, but size alone does not make for a competitive Mid-Size entry.
Our impression of the Galant is that it is a good basic car beset by too many cost-reductions that could be obvious to the buyer. Where most product planners would lament that they were $50-$100 short of a great car, the Galant planners were probably lamenting of a $500 shortfall. Somehow, the financial community won the product content battle and it’s tough to sell an obviously cost reduced car agaist the likes of Camry and Accord. The last generation Nissan Altima learned that lesson.
Premium Mid-Size Cars – Most Competitive Car Segment
In this most competitive of car segments, a car has to be superb to achieve class-leading status and Galant falls a bit short but it does deserve a look. It is now the oldest of the major competitors in the class. OK, all its major competitors are on a five-year product cycle. Camry was all new for 2007 as was the Altima. The Honda Accord received a major rear end freshening for the 2006 model year. Sonata was all new for 2006. With a normal cycle life, the Galant would be due for a major change in late 2008 as a 2009 model. So a major change for the Galant is not late – yet. Most Asian brands have a moderate mid-cycle freshening to keep interest up, but Galant got a very minor change for the 2007 model year and added the range topping RalliArt version.
We had not driven a Galant at VehicleVoice
since its launch and the intro of the new RalliArt edition gave us the perfect opportunity to see how the Galant has evolved.
Motorweek, the PBS-oriented car show, announced the winners of its 2006 Driver’s Choice Awards at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. It will be interesting to see how these winners correspond to the owner awards from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific. The surveys for the annual AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award are in the field during the 1st Quarter 2006 and winners will be announced in early May.
Their winners include:
Best of the Year: Honda Civic
Best Small Car: Honda Civic
Best Family Sedan: Hyundai Sonata
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Convertible: Pontiac Solstice
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M-Series
Best Sports Sedan: BMW 3-Series
Best Performance Car: Ford Mustang
Best Small Sport Utility Vehicle: Toyota RAV4 (guess they didn’t measure it… Mid-Size SUV now)
Best Family Sport Utility Vehicle: Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150
Best Eco-Friendly: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Dream Machine: Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe, Ferrari F430
Special Category: Most Jane Car: BMW 3-Series