On July 8, Hyundai began advertising its revamped, mid-sized Sonata, which are trickling into showrooms across Canada. The ads focus on the myriad of safety features that come standard with the car. And that's certainly a good focus, as the Sonata boasts a surprisingly impressive level of sophisticated bells and whistles.
The only problem? This angle does the sedan a disservice, as it doesn't even scratch the surface of the leap forward Hyundai has made with the Sonata. The revised mid-sized car is not just equal to or better than its competition, but it could even be a consideration for those looking at the entry-level luxury market. It's that good.
Strong words, I admit. But the South Korean auto maker has slowly been refocusing its products less on low price and more on value; consider that the base-model Sonata costs the same as the previous generation, yet has more standard equipment and is a better driver.
It's all-new from the ground up; give Hyundai engineers credit for acknowledging the fault of its previous cars: weak handling. The new chassis incorporates 51 per cent high-strength steel and extensive use of adhesives to make it 41 per cent more rigid than the last Sonata. All that's attached to a revised suspension system – McPherson up front and a four-link, dual lower arm setup at the rear. But you don't see the chassis; what you do see is striking. The new Sonata looks more like Hyundai's larger flagship, the Genesis, with a coupe-like sloping roof, sharper creases and aggressive front end for a more sophisticated look than its predecessor. Couple that with a chrome accent that runs to the front headlights, and this could be the best-looking car in its class.
You want more? Open the door. The interior is where Hyundai waved its magic wand: it's so voluminous the Environmental Protection Agency classifies the Sonata as a large car. With a tilt/swivel steering wheel, just about any driver can find a comfortable position; even passengers in the back can stretch their legs. It's easily the class leader here.
The driver's seat automatically slides forward to the last position used at startup. The steering wheel is thick and wrapped in leather. The switchgear is assembled logically and feels upscale to the touch. The cabin has a mixture of soft-touch rubber and other accents for a tasteful, elegant look.
Depending on which of the seven trim levels Hyundai is offering, you'll find the features you're looking for. Even the base model comes with heated front seats, Bluetooth, keyless entry, a rear-view camera and blind-spot detection, among others. Go up to the top-of-the-line Sport 2.0T Ultimate, and the Sonata will embarrass cars worth thousands more. And those safety features being touted in the advertising? Again, depending on the model, Hyundai offers lane departure warning, forward collision warning, driver's knee air bag and a helpful rear cross traffic alert, which warns of oncoming traffic when you're backing out of a parking spot or onto a road.
Hyundai offers two engines for the Sonata: a 2.4-litre inline four and a turbocharged 2.0-litre T. No V-6, you ask? No need, I say. On a recent drive on the rough roads of rural Michigan, the Sonata was composed and lithe, with a taut yet giving ride while staying flat in corners.
Add to all this that Hyundai as a company was ranked fourth on the latest J.D. Powers reliability list, under Porsche, Lexus and Jaguar – all premium car makers – and you get an impressive next step for the Korean automaker. The Sonata will force its direct competition to up their game with their next generations; with the mid-sized car segment improving by leaps and bounds, the likes of Volvo or Lexus might want to think about that, too.
Engine: 2.4-litre inline four, 2.0-litre turbocharged four
Base price: $23,999
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2.4-litre, 9.8 city/6.7 highway; 2.0 -litre T, 10.4 city/7.4 highway
Alternatives: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat
You'll like this car if: You know the difference between price and value.
Looks: Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture 2.0" design style has produced a sharp, sophisticated look.
Interior: Segment-leading passenger space and luxurious use of mixed materials.
Performance: The stronger chassis helps the revised suspension soak up bumps while staying flat in corners.
Safety: The Sonata rivals cars tens of thousands of dollars more expensive in this category.
Cargo: Multiple nooks in the cabin complement a generous trunk.
Infotainment: Even the base model is loaded with connectivity possibilities; a sat/nav comes in the higher levels.
The Verdict: 9.0. The Sonata is so good it could even attract those looking at the entry-level luxury market.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker.