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Hyundai Sonata 2011 early vs. late/NHTSA vs. IIHS

Hi folks,

After three frustrating weeks in search of a car, I’m now looking at a 2010 Hyundai Sonata GLS vs. a 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS.

All things being relatively equal (price, MPG, etc.), it comes down to safety for me. But with the change in the NHTSA ratings in 2011, I’m a bit darn confused.

The 2010 gets 5 stars in everything from the NHTSA, but the IIHS gives it “acceptable” or “poor” for side impacts. Okay. I suppose that’s a variance in how they conduct tests.

But then it gets more complicated:

the NHTSA rating is 3/5 stars for front-end impact, 4 stars overall in the 2011 Sonata “early” models, manufactured prior to July 2, 2010 (the car I am looking at fits in this category). The “later” models get 4/5 stars for front-end and 5 stars overall. So apparently Hyundai did something (which I cannot find anywhere on the internet) to change the front end of the car?

Then I read an article on Consumer Reports that said the the new NHTSA ratings may not be immediately helpful because of the way they changed them, so to rely on the IIHS ratings for a bit. The IIHS rating is “good” for ALL 2011 Sonatas. It gave it the top pick. It even acknowledges that Hyundai made some structural changes to the car between the “early” and “late” release but it made no difference in the IIHS’ ratings so the rating applies to BOTH cars.

Here are the relevant links:

IIHS Hyundai Sonata ratings.
NHTSA ratings for the 2010 Sonata.
NHTSA ratings for the 2011 Sonata.

So, the question I have is: what does any/all of this mean? Is the 2011 Sonata safe? I do a lot of highway driving. I really like the way it rides, but I’m a little uncertain on how to decode these various ratings.

Thanks in advance.

Since the IIHS tests are tougher than the ones conducted by NHTSA, I would tend to rely more on the IIHS ratings.

NHTSA uses a full-on frontal crash. The nose of the car is propelled into the deformable barrier. IIHS/HLDI uses an offset crash test. The driver’s side or passenger’s side hits the deformable barrier.

Here’s what NHTSA says about their tests:

“Starting with 2011 models, NHTSA has introduced tougher tests and rigorous new 5-Star Safety Ratings that provide more information about vehicle safety and crash avoidance technologies. Because of the more stringent tests, ratings for 2011 and newer vehicles should not be compared to ratings for 1990-2010 models. Overall vehicle score and frontal crash ratings should ONLY be compared to other vehicles of similar size and weight.”

Even though the NHTSA test is tougher to pass, Hyundai did better in 2011 than 2010.

Read about what they do here: Then click on 5-star safety ratings

They explain the ratings in addition to showing them.

The Sonata was redesigned for the 2011 model year, so that would explain the differences between the 2010 and 2011 ratings. For the early/late 2011’s I would wager on the later models they made something like knee airbags available later in the production run, that weren’t available in the early 2011 models.

Yours is a legitimate question, and you’ve gotten excellent information here. But you should be aware that both vehicles are extremely safe and while the newer year might have some slight difference (as FoDaddy pointed out), you cannot go wrong with either from a safety standpoint.

Want to improve safety even more?

  1. drive with your lights on…in all weather, at all times of day
  2. add fog lights
  3. stay aware, always concentrate on only the road around you and nothing else
  4. always keep enought room between you and the cars arouund you to allow you to stop or to react if one of them does something stupid. I absolutely guarantee that one of them will. If not today, tomporrow or the next day.
  5. beep your car in good working order. Don’t procrastinate on repairs.
  6. keep your windows clean inside & out, and your wipers capable of clearing the window as if they were new. They start to deteriorate, change 'em.
  7. never let your tires get all the way to the wear bars. Wear bars are an absolute legal minimum. Tires are unsafe on wet roads as soon as the wear bars become obvious.
  8. don’t drink and drive. Ever. Not even one drink. That goes for drugs too.

Happy motoring.