The skinny: It wasn’t always this way. The Hyundai Sonata of ten or more years back was more porridge than chilli (that’s for sure). But this new Sonata, re-released here to replace the i45, is a much more enjoyable car than we might have expected.
Its Australian-tuned suspension is part of the reason: tested and refined on our worst roads, it has no trouble with our better ones.
The new Sonata also matches a lusty 2.0 litre turbo with a quality roomy interior and quiet comfortable ride. There will be a bit of scepticism in the market, but, aside from the new car’s thirst, we find little to complain about.
Vehicle style: Mid-size sedan
Engine/transmission: 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo | six-speed automatic.
Fuel consumption, claimed: 9.2 l/100km; tested: 9.9 l/100km.
But, stung by media criticism of the i45’s suspension tuning, Hyundai set out to do something about it.
And these days, local suspension tuning is the order of the day for Australian models.
For the new Sonata, Hyundai Australia engineers and leading international suspension-tuning consultant David Potter started work back in 2012 when a fleet of six disguised ‘test mules’ covered more than 50,000km here on punishing outback roads.
Then, late last year, the final sign-off test regime was completed over a 100,000km/four-month period – again in outback Australia, followed by more local on-road testing and computer modelling.
After spending a week in the top-spec Premium model driving on country and suburban roads and freeways, I can report that the result is very good indeed.
Standard equipment: Front-and-rear sensors, rear-vision camera, automatic windscreen de-fogging, bi-Xenon headlights, automatic-dimming rear-vision mirror, power-adjustable and heated exterior mirrors with memory function, leather-appointed seats, smart boot-lid opening, dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, heated and ventilated front seats, panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, 12-way electrically adjustable memory-equipped driver’s seat (including lumbar support), eight-way electric adjustment for the front-passenger’s seat
Infotainment: 8.0-inch touch-screen, satellite-navigation, bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio, CD/DVD player, USB input with iPod connectivity, six speakers
Cargo volume: 510 litres minimum, 60:40 split fold rear seats
Not surprisingly, the Sonata Premium is “one with the lot” and offers a menu of standard features that the premium Europeans would be hard-pressed to match.
Quality: The Sonata Premium comes with a restrained high-quality feel to the interior. The dash is not as glitzy as some in the Hyundai line-up, but this more conservative treatment adds to a sense of class.
With leather-appointed seats, carbon-fibre trim highlights and appealing soft-touch materials on the dash, door tops and trims, it looks and feels the ‘premium’ package.
Comfort: The new Sonata Premium is comfortable for both driver and passengers.
The well-bolstered front seats offer eight-way adjustment for the person in the left-side bucket and 12-ways for the person behind the wheel; it’s no tussle finding the right setting to sit back and relax.
If it’s hot, the front seats can be ventilated with cool air and if you’re getting into the car outside your ski lodge in the dead of winter, a warm posterior is also just a click away.
Dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning with plenty of vents means all occupants waft along in supreme comfort.
And it’s surprisingly roomy. For the rear-seat occupants, there’s as much leg room as a ‘limo’ – even with the front seats right back.
Storage: The Sonata has a 510 litre boot, but 60:40 split folding for the rear-seat backs adds greatly to the space and flexibility.
Other storage cubby holes include bottle-friendly front-and-rear door pockets, map pockets behind the front-seat backs, two console-mounted front cup holders with a sliding lid, two rear cup holders in the drop-down centre arm rest, a good-sized illuminated glove box, a bin beneath the front centre armrest and a roof-mounted sunglasses holder.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder DOHC turbo, electronic sequential fuel injection
Transmission: six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
Wheels/tyres: 17-inch alloys shod with 215/55 R17 tyres
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes, 305mm ventilated front, 284mm solid rear
Steering: Electric power steering, turning circle: 10.9m
Driveability: The focus by Hyundai engineers on ‘the driver’, shows in the new Sonata. The concessions to comfort are evident, and there is still a way to go to close the gap on the ‘alive’ feel of European sporting sedans, but that gap is rapidly closing.
As well as the suspension tuning, little things such as angling the hexagonally shaped centre-stack towards the driver all combine to make the car a pleasure to steer.
Driver ergonomics are excellent with controls falling nicely to hand. Easy adjustment of the electric height- and reach-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel also helps here.
Crank the 2.0 litre turbo into life, and you will find a willing turn of speed underfoot. With 350Nm of torque on tap, the Sonata will pick up its skirts and ‘get outa town’ very briskly – hills and overtaking are dispatched in a blink.
Refinement: Noise, vibration and harshness is another area that received a good deal of attention in the new Sonata.
For a mid-size sedan, the car is remarkably aerodynamic; a drag coefficient of just 0.27 means that wind noise is barely evident, even at higher speeds.
Engineers reduced the size of bulkhead apertures and added extra sound-deadening materials in the dashboard to limit noise intrusion.
They also beefed up sound-deadening materials under the floor pan and a new under-body tray also cuts road noise while also adding to aerodynamic performance.
Ride and handling: Quite simply, the Sonata’s suspension works a treat, thanks to those months of testing and re-engineering for Australian roads.
The ride is supremely comfortable with an elastic initial compliance, but which then firms for a flatter, controlled ride. It leans to ‘sporty’, but this is arguably more in keeping with the kind of performance the Sonata’s two-litre turbo engine can deliver.
Pushed hard, we noticed a hint of torque steer – tugging at the wheel – but that is not unexpected in a car with 350Nm and front-wheel drive.
Braking: Stopping power comes from ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear. The pedal feel is good and the performance, as with most modern cars, is flawless and very secure.
ANCAP: The Sonata has been awarded a 5-Star ANCAP rating.
Safety features: Electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and an emergency-stop signal.
There are driver-and-front-passenger airbags, driver-and-front-passenger side thorax and full-length side-curtain airbags.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Although now bettered by Kia’s seven-year warranty, the Sonata, like all Hyundai cars, carries a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Service costs: The Sonata comes with lifetime capped-price servicing and a complimentary 1500km first service. Service intervals are annual (or 15,000km) and the first three are capped at $259.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Camry Atara SL ($37,440) – With more than 40 percent of the mid-size market, the Camry clearly ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people.
It’s 2.5-litre engine is good for 135kW and 235Nm, but far short of the Sonata’s 180kW/350Nm. But, 7.8 l/100km, the Toyota holds a fair advantage for fuel consumption.
At 515 litres, the Camry’s boot is a tad larger than the Sonata’s, and the tried and tested Toyota holds strong resale values. (see Camry reviews)
Mazda6 Atenza ($49,620) – With 138kW and 250Nm, the classy Mazda offering also can’t match the Sonata for power and torque, but at 6.6 l/100km, it too is significantly less thirsty than the Hyundai. The Mazda’s 483 litre boot is also smaller than the Sonata’s. (see Mazda6 reviews)
Subaru Liberty 3.6R ($39,990) – The big difference between the Sonata and the Liberty is the Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system.
The Liberty’s 3.6-litre boxer ‘six’ has more power but the same torque (191kW and 350Nm). Because of its bigger-capacity engine, the Subaru’s 9.9 l/100km fuel figure is 0.7 litres thirstier and its 493 litre boot is slightly smaller than the Hyundai’s. (see Liberty reviews)
Note all prices are Manufacturers’ List Price and do not include dealer-delivery and on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Sonata is yet another example of how far the Korean car industry has come in a relatively short time.
Today, cars like the Sonata – let alone Hyundai’s Genesis flagship – can hold their own against many of the European brands in terms of styling, build quality, technology and creature comforts.
We enjoyed the Sonata Premium during our week behind the wheel; its zest (from that willing 2.0 litre turbo), restrained quality and comfort give this car a lot of appeal.
If you’re in the market for a mid-size sedan, put it on your test-drive list… we think you may be surprised.
MORE: Hyundai News and Reviews