This story should be about the 2011 mid-size Sonata sedan but what’s happening at Hyundai Canada is perhaps just as important.

It wasn’t so long ago that Hyundai thought it was a banner year if they sold 25,000 units. In 2009, it sold 103,233 making Hyundai one of only six car companies to exceed 100,000 in sales in Canada. In January of this year alone, they sold 6,084 vehicles.

But the big number is Hyundai’s 7.1 per cent of the market in 2009 up from 4.9 per cent in 2008. For those of you who follow the car industry, a jump like that is unheard of.

How are they doing this when others are faltering?

The 2011 Sonata says it all. The car is solid, even fun to drive which you couldn’t have said about a Hyundai 10 years ago. And in a break from Sonatas that have gone before, it looks great.

Hyundai vehicles now have a substantial residual (trade-in) value. The Sonata, for example, has a residual of 53 per cent that is higher than Camry or Fusion at 49 per cent each.

Hyundai is coming to market with a hybrid in the fall. Rather than being late in the rush to electrics, Hyundai is actually moving ahead of the rest with a lithium-polymer battery that can be shaped to fit instead of being a big box of batteries.

No longer a “cheap and cheerful” A to B sedan, the 2011 Sonata is also part of a plan to get across the message that Hyundai now stands for quality which we saw begin with the Genesis sedan.

But what really stands out is the styling. To me, this is the first Hyundai to look enticing. With a touch of C-Class at the front and mixture of Lexus/Bimmer at the back, there is a wonderful character line running from the headlight along with door window sill and capped with chrome that makes the kind of “look at me” statement that Hyundai has never made before.

Power is Hyundai’s new gasoline direct injection (GDI) 2.4-litre, twin cam inline four-cylinder engine. GDI results in more power and less fuel consumption. At 198 hp and 164 lb/ft of torque, which is a lot for 2.4-litres, Hyundai claims it is the most fuel-efficient in the segment at 8.7/5.7L/100 km city/highway for the six-speed manual transmission and 9.4/5.7L/100 km with the six-speed automatic.

The base GL ($22,649) comes with the manual or with the optional automatic ($24,249). The GLS ($26,249), Limited ($28,999) and Limited with navigation system ($30,999) are all fitted with the automatic.

Instead of being a bland handler, the Sonata not only points well, but it has a feel more like a European sedan. You sense with the inputs coming through the steering wheel to the fingertips which I really can’t quite remember in previous Sonatas.

What Hyundai has in the 2011 Sonata is an affordable car with the kind of looks and reliability that consumers in the mid-size segment now consider seriously as the sales numbers are already proving.

But I also think it goes beyond that. It’s the first Hyundai people can aspire to own, not because of the fuel economy or the price, but because they are proud to have a Hyundai in their driveway.

Spec and highlights

Type: Mid-size sedan
Price: from $22,649
Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC four-cylinder
HP: 198

• Feels like a European sedan

• Impressive styling

• Affordable