As I write this, Hyundai is advertising its 2010 Sonata with a base price of $17,999, which must make it the best deal going in the mid-size sedan market.
That price applies to the GL, mind you, equipped with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. But the equipment level is still pretty high, with features like air conditioning, power windows and heated seats coming standard.
Toss in the fact that this iteration of the Sonata has won awards from Consumer Reports and the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and others, and you can see why the Sonata sells in such volume.
Indeed, the tester I was scheduled to drive this time around got sold between the time I booked it and the time I showed up to get it.
I wound up with a Limited V-6 instead, which, all things considered, is a pretty decent consolation prize. That said, my test car, with all the bells and whistles, has a price tag of more than $34,000 before taxes, which definitely takes the lustre off things.
Yes, you get a smooth 3.3-litre V-6, leather seats, XM radio and a navigation system, but this price tag puts the Sonata in some pretty formidable company. The same amount of money will get you a well-equipped Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry. You can also get base versions of the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Camry Hybrid, not to mention a nicely furnished Chevy Malibu.
The Sonata is a nice car, no argument, but it's most attractive quality is its value for money. Right now, the base GL is a bargain, the Limited V-6 not so much.
The V-6 propelling the Limited develops 249 horsepower and features Hyundai's version of a continuously variable valve timing system. It's as good a unit as anything else in this segment and is unobtrusive and well-behaved. The transmission is a five-speed automatic with a Shiftronic manual shift feature. Again, no quarrels here.
This drivetrain is eager, refined and has a nice linear power delivery. It also delivers highway fuel economy virtually identical to that of its four-cylinder stable mates.
That said, I'd like it better if the ride of the Sonata wasn't so flaccid; Hyundai engineers have put the emphasis on comfort over handling. The Sonata has a Buick-ish feel to it. This applies to all trim levels of the Sonata.
Inside, you're greeted with one of the least-inspiring interior layouts in this market segment. I like the simplicity and straightforwardness of the Sonata behind the wheel, but it's a titch too bland for my tastes. Again, the Malibu is much more interesting behind the wheel, and even the Accord makes you feel more at home.
Hyundai should take a page from their own book and adapt some of the interior styling cues from the Genesis, which has a superb interior layout.
Highway noise is another sore point. As soon as you get up to and over 80 km/h, the volume level inside the car rises. The Camry, for example, is quieter, as is the Malibu, and Hyundai should do something about this. A few bucks worth of insulation and sound-deadening would do wonders here.
Just for the sake of argument, Hyundai's top-of-the-line Genesis starts at about $5,000 more than a Sonata Limited, and it's a superior automobile in every way. If you're considering a Sonata Limited V6, I say find that additional five grand and move up. There's a universe of difference between the Sonata and Genesis. If I'm paying close to $35,000 for a car, I want it to be quieter than this.
On the plus side, the Sonata has 462 litres of trunk space, which compares favourably with the Malibu (428 litres) and the Accord (338 litres), and has a 60/40-folding rear seat, with all kinds of pass-through space.
And, though the interior is pretty bland, there's lots of head room and rear leg room and more than enough elbow room for five adults. Then again, you also get all this with the base version.
Here's something else to consider. Hyundai is about to release a completely revamped 2011 iteration of this car - it's already been revealed in South Korea and, compared to the current model, it's like day and night. Think of a slightly smaller version of the Genesis.
Last, but not least, there are virtually no differences between the 2009 and 2010 Sonatas, and if you can find one of the former you might get yourself a pretty good deal. The chances of that, however, seem pretty slim. These cars don't spend a lot of time on dealer lots.
Or you could also just forego the Limited altogether and opt for a GL four-cylinder automatic. It won't be as fast or have all the extras, but, quite frankly, it feels much the same and is almost $10,000 cheaper.
2010 HYUNDAI SONATA LIMITED V-6
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base Price: $32,999; as tested, $34,564
Engine: 3.3-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 249 hp/229 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.8 city/6.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Avenger, Suzuki Kizashi, Nissan Altima, Mazda6