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The 2020 Hyundai Sonata is scheduled to arrive in Canada at the end of this year.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

Sedans are popular here in Asia. They’re prestigious and comfortable, although they’re often not as powerful as in North America, owing to the high cost of gas.

I’m driving the all-new, not-yet-for-sale Hyundai Sonata and it’s straining a little on the hills, but this car has a docile engine designed for sitting in endless South Korean traffic, as well as a cushy suspension for the numerous speed bumps everywhere. When the new Sonata comes to Canada at the end of this year, I’m assured its two available engines will be much more powerful.

It will probably be a sportier car all-round. Hyundai showed a Sonata at the Seoul Motor Show that has different bumpers and air vents and a unique rear spoiler. We may get that as our only option if sales keep falling for the North American sedan market, but it will probably be an alternative, instead, to the model I’m driving.

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It takes a while to roll out a new generation of a car, and I’m one of the first journalists to drive this eighth generation of the Sonata. Some of its features are very clever indeed: When you signal a turn, either the digital speedometer on the left or the digital tachometer on the right will change into a small camera screen that displays the view down that side of the car. Genius. When you park, if there’s a bicycle or pedestrian or other vehicle coming up alongside from behind, the car will automatically lock the doors on that side until it’s passed. Brilliant.

The Sonata's digital gauges become side-view screens when the driver signals a turn.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

Those are the things you notice, but Hyundai’s been busy sweating the basics to make sure the over all car doesn’t disappoint. It’s the first model built on the maker’s new “innovative-Global Modular architecture Platform,” or i-GMP – neither of which is a catchy moniker, but it belies the efficiency of the design. This new car is 45 millimetres longer, 25 mm wider and 30 mm lower than the current generation. It can accommodate a hybrid motor, although Hyundai’s staying mum on that.

Last year, the mid-sized sedan market in the United States dropped to 1.5 million vehicles, from a high of 2.4 million in 2013, as SUVs and crossovers grow more popular. It’s no different in Canada. But even if the market drops as predicted to just a million vehicles by 2023, that’s still a lot of cars. “The sedan market is shrinking,” says design chief Luc Donckerwolke. “Should we just kill the sedan, or should we do something else? We decided to do something else.”

Tech specs

The car detects who is driving through that person’s key fob or smartphone and personalizes the seat position, steering wheel and ambient cabin lighting.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

  • Base price/as tested: not available, (2019 pricing is $24,899 to $37,199).
  • Engine: 2.5-litre inline-four (191 horsepower, 182 lbs.-ft.), or 1.6-litre turbocharged inline-four (178 hp, 195 lbs.-ft.).
  • Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic / FWD.
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2.5-litre: 7.1 comb.; 1.6-litre: 7.6 comb.
  • Alternatives: Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Nissan Maxima, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. It did not review or approve this story.

Looks

Chrome strips around the headlights give the Sonata a signature look.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

Hyundai’s gone out of its way to make the new Sonata stand out on the road. The chrome strip that sweeps up from the grille to surround the windows accentuates the fastback-style lines of the car, but it’s the strip around the headlights that is most distinctive. Tiny holes are drilled there in the chrome, becoming more intense as they move toward the headlight, to allow strip lighting to shine through. This is a unique light signature for the car. There’s no doubt, when you look in your rear-view mirror on the highway, that it’s a Sonata coming up behind.

Interior

Five adults can comfortably fit in the Sonata, and the rear seat can accommodate taller passengers.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

There’s plenty of space for five adults, which is impressive in a car that’s still considered mid-sized rather than large. Scoops in the headliner accommodate taller passengers in the rear seat. The leather seating of my test car was comfortable and all surfaces felt refined and well-finished.

A 10.3-inch high definition touch screen sits in the centre fascia for controlling most of the car’s functions, while a larger 12.3-inch digital screen behind the steering wheel includes the gauges and an information panel. This is an improvement over the current Sonata, but pretty much standard for sedans these days.

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The drive can be more personalized than usual, though. The car detects who is driving through that person’s key fob or smartphone, and not only sets up the driver’s seating and steering-wheel position, but even the preferred colour of the interior ambient lighting and the sound of the warning chimes. Such individualization is nice to have in a car that’s shared between drivers.

Performance

In Canada, drivers will get a choice of either the all-new 2.5-litre inline-four engine, or the 1.6-litre engine that’s turbocharged. On the road here in South Korea, I drove only the domestic 2.0-litre engine that any North American would consider underpowered. The push-button, eight-speed automatic transmission was flawless, however.

I did drive the turbocharged engine later on a closed slalom course and it was much more energetic. It creates a bit more torque than the larger engine, which in turn creates a bit more horsepower. The larger engine is also expected to be a little more fuel efficient, although both are very frugal, with combined averages of 7.1 litres/100 kilometres for the 2.5, and 7.6 L/100 km for the 1.6.

Technology

These days, it’s just expected that a new car will come fitted with every newly developed gizmo the manufacturer can think of, and the Sonata is no exception. It’s fully connected, but now so much so that your smartphone can completely replace the key fob – just leave the fob at home in a drawer. Once paired, you hold your phone against the locked door and it will unlock, then it will let you start the car and drive away. You can even give permission to somebody else’s phone to open the trunk – useful for parcel deliveries.

The Sonata is loaded with three radar units, 12 electronic sensors and five cameras, and includes forward and rear collision avoidance, active cruise control and highway driving assistance; this lets it follow the vehicle ahead at a reasonable distance if the lane markings aren’t visible. Just a few years ago, this technology was only available in cars that cost at least six figures.

Cargo

A pass-through from the trunk to the passenger cabin helps compensate for the fact the rear seats don't fold down.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

There’s reasonable space in the trunk, although the rear seats don’t fold down for additional room. At least there’s a pass-through, but there would have been considerably more practical space in the back if the Sonata was designed as a sort-of-hatchback, such as the VW Arteon or Buick Regal.

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The verdict: 8

The only question left for the well-appointed 2020 Sonata is the performance of its untested 2.5-litre engine.

Hyundai Motor Corp./Handout

A very stylish rendition of a mid-sized sedan. It will offer plenty of value for money with few compromises, but it’s too soon to know if the untried engine will satisfy or disappoint.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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