Entries in Hyundai Sonata (3)
Over the last 18 months, Toyota has done everything they could to make everyone forget about the unintended acceleration headlines they had to deal with. Just as that was disappearing, the disastrous earthquake and tsunami caused a disruption to the entire manufacturing base. This event caused a shutdown of plants, a shortage of parts and a sharp drop in sales and profits.
Now that both of those issues have been put behind them, Toyota is looking to have a full court press in refreshing their lineup with the new Camry, the Prius V, Tacoma pickup and the Scion iQ to name a few that will be rolled out over the next several months.
The Camry, while not the most expensive Toyota by a long shot, is in many ways the flagship of the company, how goes sales of the Camry, so goes the fortunes of Toyota. Since 1983 Toyota have sold 15 million Camry's worldwide, and 9.7 million of those sales were in North America. The Camry has claimed the title of "Best selling car in America" 13 of the last 14 years.
While not a completely new car, the 2012 Camry is a major mid cycle refresh for the car. The chassis is the same, however, all the sheet metal is new, and only 10% of the parts are carry over. The one thing that people will notice is how little the Camry has changed in appearance. There is a new front and rear end look to the cars, but it is not dramatically different.
When queried about the very conservative looks of the new Camry, officials at Toyota mentioned that styling was far down on the items Camry buyers found important. Items such as quality, reliability, dependability and fuel economy ranked higher in importance than styling.
However, the paradox is that Toyota would like to lower the average age of the Camry purchaser from 60 as it currently is, to something in the mid to late 40's, and to do that the Camry needs to stand out as something more than "blandtastic". There are other sedans in the segment that are conservative in appearance, yet cut a much more striking appearance. To best describe the looks of the Camry, is to say it looks like the suit you get from The Men's Warehouse in a 3 for 1 sale, and something like the Kia Optima looks like it's right off the Brooks Brothers rack. Both are "conservative", however, one makes a much better first impression.
The interior to the Camry is a nice update, though there is no new ground broken here. Of note, while the pricing of the Camry is less than the outgoing model, the interior looks and feels as if is of a higher quality. One very interesting part of the instrument cluster, however, is the fuel economy gage on the right side of the pod. The average fuel economy is shown on a mechanical gage, much like the instant fuel economy gage of old BMW's and then the instant fuel economy is shown asa series of green lights along the outside of that gage. It's a different take, and for the most part we like the execution.
One item that will be an option for the 2012 Camry is the Entune infotainment system. The system works in combination with your iPhone or Android phone. You download the apps to your phone, then they work in conjunction with the Toyota system to provide access to Pandora, Open Table, navigation and more. The Entune uses your phone for an internet connection, it does not have a 3G/4G system built in. The Entune system also uses speech recognition software from Nuance and Voice Products to make for a better experience when you use voice commands to navigate the system.
One thing that Toyota was proud of was that they were able to bring the Camry to market with the same or higher levels of content, and do it at a lower price then the outgoing model. Pricing for the Camry line looks like this:
Model Price +/-2010 Model
LE $22,500 -$200
SE $23,000 -$1,000
XLE $24,725 -$2,000
SE $25,900 -$1,150
XLE $27,400 -$800
*all pricing excludes $760 destination fees.
While not finalized the 2012 Camry is expected to carry a 5 Star safety rating from the IIHS, it will have 10 airbags, an optional blind spot warning system and back up camera.
Fuel economy for the Camry will be at or above the class leaders:
Engine City Highway Combined
I-4 25 35 28
V-6 21 30 25
Hybrid 43 39 41
The mix is expected to be 75% four cylinder, 14% V6 and 11% Hybrid for sales.
We had a chance to take a short drive in a Hybrid model of the Camry. It was an SE model with cloth interior and standard radio. When driven in "Eco Mode" it feels as if only 100 of the 200 horsepower available is there to be used. Acceleration is anything but brisk and on ramps and passing opportunities need to be planned carefully.
In standard mode, the car feels much more responsive. We tried a little experiment to see just how the different modes responded to throttle position. While holding a steady throttle, we exited out of "Eco Mode" into "Normal Mode" and immediately began a rapid acceleration. This was confirmed by another journalist we were driving with trying the same thing, and having the same exact results. This showed us that "Eco Mode" requires much larger throttle movements to achieve any forward movement.
If we had to guess, a good driver using a light throttle would get better results then an average driver using "Eco Mode" in a standard manor.
The handling of the Camry is not inspired, in fact taking a gentle on/off ramp at anything more than 35 miles an hour started the tires howling. The ride is fine, not fantastic, the interior is fairly quiet, maybe a bit better than average.
The regenerative brakes in the Camry feel as if they are a generation behind others. Ford, GM and Honda all have a much more "natural" feel to their re-gen brakes in the latest models, in the Camry, there seemed to be no consistency in the peddle feel. In hard stops this is even more exaggerated where there seems to be no action in the first bit of travel and then hard braking all of a sudden.
It should be noted that we were driving a pre-production model of the 2012 Camry and there might be some final calibration that will be dialed in for the production cars.
Fit and finish for the 2012 Camry are what you would expect from Toyota. It is solidly built, the materials have a quality feel to them, door closing has a solid sound, we found nothing to complain about when it came to build quality.
Overall, our take on the new Camry is that we are underwhelmed. For us, Toyota played it WAY to conservative in this refresh. This segment of the market has become ultra competitive, it's a close in knife fight between five or six manufactures, and it feels as if Toyota approached this as if it was still 2005 and they were unopposed in the market from anyone other than Honda.
While there is nothing wrong with the Camry, there is nothing that stands out either. Toyota may feel as if they didn't need to move the needle with this car since it still one of, if not the top selling passenger car in North America. However, with the average age of a Camry buyer being 60, that demographic while having money to spend, isn't going to help you grow new sales, rather you may just be able to hold on for a short period of time before it begins to shrink.
Hyundai's Sonata, Kia's Optima, Chevy's upcoming Malibu and an all new Ford Fusion on the way, are making statements, and appealing to younger buyers. The strength of these players is bound to eat into Toyota's sales for the Camry, maybe not today or tomorrow, but certainly in the very near future.
It's possible to be conservative with the design and execution of a car, and still make it feel special. To use an earlier example, buying a Camry is like buying a suit at The Men's Warehouse, it's save, it's not cheep, however, it's not special.
April 15th is usual a day that most American’s look on with dread. I believe the number is something like 65% of people in the US wait till the last day they can, to file their income taxes.
Rather than have any worries about that, we had filed ours over a month before the date, we were invited out to Hyundai’s Technical Center in Ypsilanti Michigan for a briefing on the new 2011 Sonata, and then a chance to drive the car over a 70 mile loop.
The big news for the all new Sonata, other than the killer styling of the car, was that there would be no V6 option for the it. Because of this decision the engineers were able to make some basic changes to the architecture of the frame, and save a significant amount of weight without compromising the structure.
In previous generations of Sonata’s less than 20% of the cars were ordered with V6’s, yet the car had to be designed with the V6 in mind for structure and crash standards. By making the decision to go with a four cylinder only philosophy, Hyundai were able to bring the car in at 3199lbs, which is a couple hundred pounds less than some of their competition. With a 198 horsepower engine that gives a power to weight ratio of 16.2 pounds per horsepower, which the best in class for four cylinders in a C segment car.
The “fluidic sculpture” design works really well on the Sonata. In a segment where design is not the strongest attribute of any of the cars in the North American market, there are a few that are good, but nothing that is a George Foreman like haymaker, the Hyundai comes close to being that knockout.
While the overall profile of the car is quite organic, there are character lines throughout, such as on the body side, the grill, and trim elements that carry seamlessly from nose to tail. The “jewelry” in the headlights and taillights is something you normally associate with a car costing twice as much.
On the inside the material quality is good. In Limited trim the leather is quite nice, and the touch panel control with sat nav was nice. If were to pick nits the screen could be a bit larger, but it never feels small. With the GLS and SE trim models we also had a chance to sample, the cloth interior was nice, nicer than what we’ve sampled in the Ford Fusion, but, given how good the rest of the car is, you would have hoped it could be just a tick or two better. It’s nice, don’t get us wrong, we just didn’t come away thinking, this is nice cloth, like say Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe we currently have in for review.
Transmission choices are a dual clutch automatic, what Hyundai calls the SHIFTRONIC (A6MF2), or a 6 speed manual for the 37 people that will order a manual in the car. We aren’t joking about that number of people ordering manuals. At our briefing, 37 was the number of orders, year to date, for manuals in the Sonata. The manual will be in the order of 1-2% of all Sonata’s sold in the US.
On the road the 2.4l inline four has adequate power. We say adequate as enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the 276 horsepower turbo version coming later this year. For 95% of the people who buy the Sonata the power is fine. Being a four cylinder the horsepower and torque numbers are higher in the range than we like for every day driving, and probably higher than most American’s are used to as well. Horsepower peaks at 6300 rpm and peak torque isn’t till 4250 RPM’s. Mileage for the car is 22 city 35 highway for the automatic, we got around 32mpg in our spirited driving on some two lane backroads west of Ann Arbor.
The overall driving dynamics for the car are solid. It’s no sports car, and even in the sport “SE” trim, which has a 10% stiffer ride calibration, it’s not going to wow you. But, for a family car it does have some connective feel to the road, and that’s not often found in this segment.
Hyundai continue to provide great value for money across their range. With a starting price of $19,915 including freight charges for the GLS with the manual and $21,915 with the automatic, to a loaded up Limited with sat nav, premium audio and XM for $28,115, it’s no wonder that Hyundai’s market share has jumped to almost 4.5%, with a forward trajectory that looks like a hockey stick.
Given the malaise going on at Toyota and Honda these days, it’s little wonder that Hyundai has “the big MO” (momentum) carrying it forward. If they continue to execute as they have, try to grow to fast, or become to arrogant, then their future will continue to be very bright.