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By: Bob Gritzinger on 12/28/2011

Nine months into our yearlong tour in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T, our praise couldn't be higher. Every time another staffer takes our long-termer for a drive, the same notes of satisfaction come back. It's as though we're all singing from the same hymnal.

"Underrated" was the Hemingway-esque report from one staffer.

And that's as our South Korean wunder-sedan rolled past 20,000 miles on the clock (we stacked up another 7,582 miles in the third quarter), with everything from the ride to the powertrain seemingly improving with age and miles. Even our fuel-economy numbers are getting better. We averaged more than 29 mpg in the third quarter, up from a mere 25.6 mpg early on in the Sonata's stay. Overall, the car is posting 27 mpg over nine months, topping its EPA combined estimate of 26 mpg. That's significant, especially considering that it's a turbocharged engine with a paddle-shifter tranny in the hands of editors who aren't heralded for their hypermiling skills.

Kudos keep rolling in for the power, responsiveness and surprising refinement of the Sonata's 274-hp turbo four. Our SE's sport suspension is another strong point, with most staffers preferring extra cornering grip and body control over a plusher ride. We remain unimpressed by the steering--the entire system seems too heavy for this midsize application. Weighty steering does not a BMW 3-series make.

The interior is holding up well, and we continue to applaud the simple and functional center stack and controls. Exterior styling also remains a winner with most, or at least it's an element that differentiates the Sonata from the rest of the midsize field.

"The Sonata impresses me because Hyundai took a mainstream product and made it stand out in an ultracompetitive segment," one staffer said.

That said, our third quarter didn't pass without problems, including a failed turbocharger temperature sensor that made for some uncertainty during one long trip and subsequently put our black beauty in the barn for three days awaiting a replacement part. We also handled a few recall items while the car was in the shop.

Speaking of service, call us Monk-ish, but we can't wrap our brains around the Sonata's 4,800-mile maintenance schedule. Would a nice, round 5,000 miles be so hard to hit, just to make it easy to remember?

That little nit aside, we do look forward to our final three months with the Sonata and that looming 22,200-mile checkup.

Third-Quarter Update

2011 Hyundai Sonata SE

As-Tested Price: $27,630

Miles Driven (Quarter/To Date): 7,582.0/20,793.3

Fuel Economy (Quarter/To Date): 29.0/27.0 mpg

Fuel Cost (Quarter/To Date): $989.99/$2,839.61

Days Out of Service (Quarter/To Date): Three/three

Maintenance: 17,400-mile service, including oil change, tire rotation, replace engine air filter, replace cabin air filter ($98.80); recall to update automatic transmission control module (warranty); recall to repair sticking fuel door (warranty); replace turbocharger temperature sensor (warranty); recall to replace automatic-transmission shift knob (warranty)

Read more: 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE: Long-term car review - Autoweek
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