When Consumer Reports magazine named the 2004 Sonata as the most reliable car sold in North America, it was a bit of a wake-up call to other manufacturers.
Hyundai had come of age and was no longer the new kid on the block. Quality had ceased to be an issue, and it could stand beside any other manufacturer in the world - and that included the Japanese.
Which meant that the Sonata was a pretty safe bet and, for 2006, it became longer, wider, taller and more powerful, with two new engines offered and a restyled body.
Power duties were handled by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine and a 3.3-litre V-6 that developed 162 and 235 horsepower, respectively. Both power plants had Hyundai's variable valve timing system and the four-banger also featured a pair of internal engine counter-balancers.
Some of the Sonata's rivals at the time - such as the Honda Accord - did have more power, but the Sonata could hold its own in the pedal to the metal department. There were three transmission choices: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic and five-speed automatic. The V-6 came with the latter gearbox only.
Even during its darkest days, Hyundai always managed to turn out nice-looking cars and the Made-in-Alabama Sonata was no exception. It had just the right combination of mass appeal, inoffensive styling and middle-of-the-road visuals that this market demanded. No off-the-wall styling cues here.
And it came nicely equipped, which made all the difference for a lot of buyers. Standard equipment included air conditioning, power windows and door locks, heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control and 16-inch wheels and tires.
Safety equipment included four-wheel-disc brakes, dual front airbags, dual side curtain airbags and dual seat-mounted side airbags. All this for less than $22,000 for the base four-cylinder GL.
Step up to the GL V-6 and you got anti-locking brakes, telescoping steering wheel and driving lights. The top-of-the-line GLS, meanwhile, came with heated leather seats, wood-grain interior trim, power sunroof, larger wheels and tires and a power driver's seat. The GLS started at just over $26,000, but even so, you still got a lot of car for your money. A comparably equipped Toyota Camry, for example, was thousands more and so was the Honda Accord.
Then, as now, one of the criticisms levelled at the Sonata had to do with its suspension, which tended to be a little on the soft side. If you were looking for a taut-handling sports sedan, you were in the wrong place, and although it had four-wheel independent suspension and could keep up with most of the competition, handling was best described as adequate. But then, that's pretty much what the family four-door sedan market has always demanded.
Because of its new larger dimensions and bigger trunk, the 2006 Sonata was actually categorized as a "large car" by the people who regulate these things. It had almost 85 litres more interior cabin volume than the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima, for example.
Transport Canada has five safety recalls on file for this vintage of Sonata. Two concern possibly flawed exterior lighting - specifically, wonky brake lights and a front signal light - and one involves a front airbag sensor that may incorrectly identify the seat's occupant as an adult when it's actually a child. There is also an alert for a possibly malfunctioning electronic stability control unit on some models, and the driver-side seat reclining mechanism may need to be replaced.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has these glitches on file, too, as well as 43 technical service bulletins. Typically, many of these are specification confirmations or updates for service personnel, but there are some maintenance and mechanical advisories as well, including variations in engine idle speed, difficulties shifting out of Park, an interior roof headliner that may come loose, noisy antilocking brakes and so on.
Consumer Reports gives the 2006 Sonata a "neutral" rating for predicted reliability and the four-cylinder version seems to fare better than the V-6, which, according to CR, may have issues with its power accessories and engine. Still, no glaring problems or black flags here.
Although the '06 Sonata doesn't garner top marks from market research company J.D. Power, nor does it get failing grades. Most areas of the vehicle receive "about average" or "better than most" ratings from this organization and, in terms of overall reliability, it's about average.
Expect to pay from about $11,000 to $13,000 for a three-year-old Sonata. The V-6s tend to hold their value better than the four-cylinder models and the top of the line Premium version is approximately $2,000 higher than the base GL.
2006 HYUNDAI SONATA
Type: Five-passenger family sedan
Original Base Price: $21,900; Black Book Value: $11,500-$13,100; Red Book Value: $11,750-$13,650
Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder/3.3-litre V6
- 162 hp/164 lb-ft for four-cylinder
- 235 hp/226 lb-ft for V-6
Transmission: Four-speed automatic/five-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.5 highway (four-cylinder with four-speed automatic); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chrysler Sebring, Pontiac G6