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2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0. (Hyundai)
2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0. (Hyundai)

The mid-size squeeze

Hyundai Sonata and its competition are becoming niche models Add to ...

Mid-size sedan? Want one? You could not have picked a better time.

It’s a stretch to say intermediate cars are on life support, but as a percentage of the car market, mid-sizers have collapsed to 20 per cent of the total, versus more than 40 per cent in the early 2000s. Battered by the growing appeal of crossover wagons, the segment is suffering a slow, steady death, kept breathing (wheezing?) in large part by sales to rental car fleets. For the retail buyer, that means two things:

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1. Hyundai Sonatas, Toyota Camrys, Honda and Accords, Ford Fusions all are terrific cars by necessity, even if they are fleet-sales darlings. The only way to keep suburban, middle-class buyers remotely interested is to offers loaded cars with delicious looks. Technology, styling, fuel economy. … Today’s mid-size car typically gets the fuel economy of a compact from the previous decade. Case in point: a 2014 Sonata’s basic 190-horsepower four-banger gets 8.5 litres/100 km in the city and 5.8 highway, versus a 2004 Hyundai Elantra’s 138-hp four-cylinder rated at 8.9 city/6.4 highway.

2. Thrifty as these sedans are, car companies find themselves forced to throw incentive money into the negotiating pot. Lots of it. The 2013 Sonata, for instance, has a $5,300 cash offer available until the end of February – if you can find one of these clear-out models.

If you can’t, the 2014 Sonata has been nicely updated and comes with 0-per-cent financing for up to 60 months. Free money is good, and so is a better car.

Remember, the Sonata was last reinvented as a 2011 model. Here, just past halfway to the next Sonata remake, the changes are subtle but real.

The grille is different but not by much. The 17- and 18-inch wheel designs are also changed. Changed for the better, giving the car a luxurious look, are LED tail-lamps and available high-intensity discharge Xenon headlamps.

The Sonata remains a modern design and that flowing roofline does not squish headroom inside. The numbers say the Hyundai’s cabin is, in fact, larger than many rivals. It’s a good-sized sedan with room inside for four normal adults.

The base Sonata for 2014 starts at $23,999 and it’s powered by that 190-hp four, which is more powerful than all its main rivals. My tester was a top-of-the-line Sonata 2.0T with fancy features such as Hyundai Driver Selectable Steering Mode, which lets one adjust the feel and feedback of the rack, along with safety bits like blind spot detection, and a luxurious heated/ventilated driver’s seat.

My tester’s eight-inch touch-screen navigation system let me easily program a destination without cracking the manual. The instrument cluster has sharp readouts with all the basic information, as well as extras such as an instant fuel economy readout. At higher speeds, the cabin is muted – thanks to more sound-deadening foam in the pillars and new carpet.

Both available engines have just four cylinders and are modern, direct-injection mills. And both can be programmed to emphasize fuel savings. The system is called ActiveECO and it plays with the power curve and shifts of the six-speed autobox to get you up to 7 per cent better fuel economy.

The fun engine in the 2.0T is a 2.0L turbo four (274 hp). It’s quick to light up, but like all turbos, it can be jumpy if you’re carelessly aggressive with your right foot. That’s the reality of turbos.

Turbos generate a lot of heat, however, and heat can lead to quality issues. Indeed, the Sonata Turbo is rated slightly below average for reliability by Consumer Reports, while the basic four-cylinder Sonata is ranked above average, and about on par with the four-cylinder Accord. J.D. Power and Associates ranks the Sonata above the average for quality, too – runner-up in its class in the latest Initial Quality Study, just behind the Camry. Crash test scores are good.

And so is the overall ride. Generally, the Sonata is on a par with others in the mid-size pack. The steering could be more precise and heavier, though.

Hyundai Canada has sold nearly 60,000 Sonatas over the past four years, with only the Fusion and Camry more popular. That’s because the Sonata is a good car, even if the segment is heading to niche from mainstream.

TECH SPECS

2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

Type: Mid-size sedan

Base price: $34,199

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 274/269 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.0 city/6.3 highway using regular fuel

Alternatives: Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Chrysler 200, Chevrolet Malibu

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