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car review

In 2009, the Sonata turned 20.

Things were going well both for the car and the company. Hyundai sold its one-millionth vehicle in March of that year, and it was on track to sell 80,000 cars annually in Canada. At that point, the company was also out-doing Mazda, Nissan, Ford, and Chrysler in mid-size sedan sales.

No surprise then that the 2009 Sonata didn't hold too many surprises over the previous year. It received a mild engine upgrade, some front-end body tweaking, a little suspension work and a mildly restyled interior, but it was pretty much business as usual.

As before, two engine choices were offered: a 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.3-litre V-6. Both of these powerplants were used elsewhere in the company's lineup and the four-banger developed 175 horsepower, while the V-6 was now up to 249 horses. Torque numbers were up as well, but not by much.

One interesting highlight on the V-6 engine was a variable air induction system that reduces the distance intake air has to travel during lower rpms. This gave the V-6 a titch more snap and smoother power delivery than before. Both powerplants had a variable valve timing feature as well.

There were still two transmission choices: five-speed manual and five-speed automatic, but the manual gearbox was available with the four-cylinder model only. Although it was thirstier, the V-6 definitely had the edge when it came to extended highway cruising and/or carrying a full load of passengers. The automatic/four-cylinder combo actually returned slightly better fuel economy in the city than the manual gearbox model, and you could get up to 750 kilometres out of a tank of gas.

Hyundai also stiffened up the suspension bushing all-round and the car rode a little firmer than before. Still not a corner-carver, but very much in line with this market. The Sonata was, and is, a family sedan anyway, and not really meant to be flung around corners.

Standard equipment level – crucial in this market – was high, and with the base model, you got things like air conditioning, power door locks, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, MP3 and XM Satellite radio capability, remote keyless entry, one-touch-up/down power windows, 60/40-split folding rear seat and, best of all, heated front seats. For the money, you'd have to look long and hard to find a better equipped four door sedan – even now.

Safety equipment included four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, and front and side airbags, as well as optional vehicle stability control and traction control systems on the V-6. Other extras included leather upholstery, wood grain trim, larger 17-inch wheels and tires and an upgraded, 360-watt stereo system.

No safety recalls to report for the 2009 Sonata – either from Transport Canada or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the latter organization does have some 32 technical service bulletins on file. These range from the usual software upgrades and technical updates for service personnel, to issues with the transmission and engine during cold starts in extreme weather, to a reported "rough idle" when the vehicle is turned sharply during low-speed manoeuvres – parking, for example – with the air conditioner on at the time.

Consumer Reports is mostly positive about the 2009 Sonata. It likes the fuel economy of the four-cylinder models and, aside from some issues with the transmission, it get above-average grades in all areas. Some comments from owners: "Paint seems to scratch easily," "Sort of boring" and "Good value for the money." Complaints with the handling and suspension are common, but most feedback from owners is overwhelmingly positive, and it receives an above-average grade from this organization.

Market research company J.D. Power, meanwhile, loves the interior design and quality of the '09 Sonata, but is less than thrilled with overall performance and design, and the vehicle's powertrain quality. Nonetheless, it receives an above-average rating for predicted reliability.

As for resale, one of the raps against Hyundai products is that they don't hold their value. That's not the case here. From a base price of just less than $22,000 three years ago, the base four-cylinder Sonata GL is holding steady in the mid-teens, while the V-6 Limited is $3,000-to-$4,000 pricier.

2009 Hyundai Sonata

Original Base Price: $21,995; Black Book: $15,250-$17,225; Red Book: $14,150-$18,050

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder/3.3-litre V-6

Horsepower/Torque: 175 hp/168 lb-ft for four; 249 hp/229 lb-ft for six

Transmission: Five-speed automatic and manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.5 city/6.2 highway (four-cylinder with automatic); regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Mazda6