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Sonata takes on Camry with 2.4-liter GDi

Hyundai Motor Co. is taking the Toyota Camry head on with its new Sonata F24 GDi, which comes with a 2.4-liter engine.

As it did with the Genesis sports sedan, a model also pitted against imported vehicles, Hyundai is airing a provocative television advert that shows a vehicle resembling the Toyota Camry fade into the background as a Sonata F24 GDi drives by.

The company also held a Sonata F24 GDi test drive event for journalists, where the Camry was also made available for comparison.

Although a 2.4-liter engine had been available in the Sonata that was replaced by the sixth generation Sonata in mid September, the new Sonata 2.4 has an important difference.

The Sonata F24 GDi is fitted with the first locally developed gasoline direct injection Theta 2.4 GDi engine, with specifics competetive with those used in the vehicles the Sonata will be competing against.

At 201 brake horsepower, the new Theta 2.4 GDi engine's power output exceeds that of Camry's 2.5-liter engine by 26 brake horsepower and that of the 2.4-liter engine used in the Honda Accord by 21 brake horsepower.

The new engine, coupled with automatic transmission, is also a step ahead of the rivals in terms of fuel economy.

Sonata 2.4 GDi manages 13 kilometers per liter of fuel with automatic transmission, while a similarly equipped Camry manages 12 kilometers and the Accord 10.9 kilometers per liter of fuel.

Measuring in at 1,465 kilograms, the Sonata F24 GDi is also 55 kilograms lighter than the Camry and 85 kilograms lighter than the Accord, and comes with improved safety features including side and curtain airbags as standard.

In the local market, a race between the Camry and the Sonata is almost a forgone conclusion.

The Sonata is a perennial bestseller of which more than 146,000 units, including the previous model, were sold locally last year.

Although Camry sales have grown quickly, with less than 61,000 units of imported vehicles having been sold here last year, its prospects in the local market are limited.

The more important question is whether or not the car can complete with the Camry in the United States and other overseas markets.

Although the company expects the Sonata F24 GDi to account for only about 10 percent of Sonatas sold locally, it will be the main model for the U.S. market, where the new Sonata is scheduled to be launched next month.

In competing overseas, Hyundai has been granted an unexpected boon in Toyota's decision to temporarily stop building and selling eight models on of which is its bestselling mid-sized sedan Camry in the United States.

The other seven models are the sedans Corolla and Avalon, sport utility vehicles Highlander and Sequoia, RAV4 crossover utility vehicle, Matrix wagon and the Tundra pickup truck.

Although temporary, Camry's absence from the United States leaves a wide gap in the U.S. market for mid-sized passenger cars that took up 29.8 percent - 1.64 million units - of the overall U.S. auto market last year.

With nearly 357,000 units sold last year, the Toyota Camry is the undisputed champion of the U.S. mid-sized passenger car segment. The runner up, the Honda Accord, fell short by about 70,000 units.

With just over 120,000 units sold last year, the Sonata ranked sixth among the 17 mid-sized models completing in the U.S. market.

Although the trouble at Toyota is considered by some in the domestic industry to present a window of opportunity, Hyundai says that it has no plans to make changes to the schedule.

"The question has been raised but we have no plans to change the launch date in light of the developments at Toyota," a Hyundai official said.

The company is also covering its bases by launching a Sonata fitted with a smaller 2-liter engine in the United States alongside the Sonata F24 GDi.

"U.S. motorists are downsizing engines, but some will still want high power output. This need will be met by the Sonata 2.0 which will be fitted with a turbo GDi engine with maximum power output of 230 brake horsepower," Yoo Jae-hyung, general manager of Hyundai's domestic product marketing team at the test driving event.


By Choi He-suk


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