Americans love medium cars, especially conservative models such as the 2017 Hyundai Sonata Elite.
Whether Australian buyers look at a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or this Hyundai in the same way is debatable, as the ‘cookie cutter’ styling theme emerges – and divides - to a greater extent than with most other segments.
The latest 2017 Sonata Elite gets a modest $600 price rise but greater equipment than before, with new Continental tyres claiming to provide extra grip and quietness beyond the locally tweaked chassis – all to ensure this medium sedan doesn’t wallow like a waterbed.
With 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol power, a huge back seat and boot, and kit that costs thousands of dollars more in medium SUV models, the Hyundai Sonata Elite almost desperately tries to draw buyers in.
Vehicle Style: Medium car
Price: $38,350 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.2 l/100km | Tested: 9.1 l/100km
Although the Hyundai Sonata range kicks off with the Active model grade priced from $30,590 plus on-road costs, private buyers tend to look beyond the fleet-focused model, particularly one with an undernourished 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
Enter the Elite from $38,350 (plus on-road costs). Compared with the Active model, power jumps from 138kW to 180kW, and torque from 241Nm to 350Nm, and there is enough equipment as listed below (newly added heated leather seats for under $40K is very impressive) without scaling the heights of the flagship model grade.
The Premium costs a hefty $45,490 with the same engine as the Elite. While it jams in everything from a panoramic sunroof to adaptive cruise control to bi-xenon headlights and sexier 18-inch alloys, at this point buyers have probably wandered over to the Hyundai Tucson Highlander medium SUV across the showroom floor.
In the Sonata range, the middle-tier Elite seems like the sweet spot for what is a pragmatic, conservative, but hopefully convincing family sedan option.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddleshifters, leather trim with electrically adjustable driver’s seat and heated front seats, cruise control, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and auto on/off headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, DVD player, USB inputs, satellite navigation and six speakers
- Options Fitted: None
- Cargo Volume: 510 litres
It may stretch a large-car-like 4.86-metres front tip to toe, but the Hyundai Sonata Elite brings home the bacon inside.
With efficient front-wheel-drive underpinnings, the Sonata boasts an enormous and richly padded back seat without a bulky transmission tunnel hindering legroom and foot room. The lack of an in-vogue rakish roofline makes for excellent headroom, too, and frankly teenagers who have had a growth spurt early will appreciate the rear of this medium sedan to a greater extent than with any similarly priced medium SUV.
There are air-vents and a 12-volt socket on the back of console area, while the rear backrest folds 60:40 to expand the already equally capacious boot. Hyundai doesn’t offer a Sonata wagon for those who require extra practicality, however the Euro-focused i40 Tourer fulfils that brief, albeit with less potent engines.
We started at the rear because therein lies the greatest reason to buy a Hyundai Sonata. Up front, however, also confirms a few reasons to spend the extra on the middle-tier Elite grade.
The leather trim and climate controls help lift the staid dashboard design and sub-par 8.0-inch touchscreen graphics for the standard satellite navigation system, which is otherwise simple to operate but also lacks voice control functionality.
Everything fits well together, but the finish of some materials is not to the standard of a Mazda6 or Subaru Liberty, for example.
An electrically adjustable driver’s seat provides an excellent seating position with ample tilt function, the steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, and there are many storage spots available. It is a functional, if not fancy place to be.
A monochromatic trip computer screen between the speedometer and tachometer also should arguably be of the colour variety at this level, while the actual colour touchscreen threw up a single ergonomic dent during testing – at night it remains brighter than every other dial, even on the dimmest setting.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.9m turning circle
Hyundai’s turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder engine lacks refinement at idle. It sends a slight buzz through the cabin before smoothening out as throttle is applied.
If that creates a negative first impression, then the following one is better. The Australian-tuned Sonata Elite feels perfectly in tune with the promise of a luxurious touring sedan, with some soft movement over large bumps but without wallow. The suspension is disciplined while focusing on smothering the worst imperfections.
Freed from an urban environment the turbo engine is also allowed to shine. The Sonata is a superbly responsive and genuinely quick family car, humbling any equivalent medium SUV.
An equivalent Tucson Elite is $1400 more expensive than this Elite, for example, yet it is 15kg heavier and packs a smaller 1.6-litre turbo engine.
Hyundai’s six-speed automatic is a wonderfully fluent operator, too, although the throttle setting never feels right – in normal mode it is soft and possible to lose speed on hills without adding accelerator input, while Sport becomes too touchy.
Perhaps the trait is magnified given the Sonata is otherwise such an effortless operator. Even on coarse-chip roads it’s possible to take the audio volume to its softest setting and still hear music. Thanks must go to the Continental ContiPremium Contact 5 tyres, which replace the squeal-prone Hankook Kinenergy GT rubber.
Teaming with among the most responsive and naturally weighted steering of any South Korean-built car, the Elite’s newfound grip also enhances its dynamics. While the Sonata tends towards the more subtle aspects of driver enjoyment rather than outright sharpness – like the firmer, noisier Mazda6 – this Hyundai remains pleasing.
A main criticism centres around the lack of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or collision warning and blind-spot detection technologies that are reserved for the Premium, but for which are fast becoming the norm across other model ranges.
Urban fuel economy can also be a sore point, although on the open road the Sonata beat its fuel consumption claim of 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres by 0.1L/100km.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Hyundai Sonata range scored 33.84 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2015.
Safety Features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors with reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/unlimited km.
Servicing: Hyundai offers a ‘lifetime’ capped-price servicing program, however the Sonata turbo engine requires servicing every six-months or just 7500km, at an average annual cost of $418 until 60,000km and 75,000km – for those timed years expense soars to $558 per annum.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Mondeo and Mazda6 add styling flair and sharp dynamics missing here. But, viewed another way, the Sonata and its cousin the Optima each provide sophisticated driveability missing from the more basic Accord and Camry crop. In this way the Hyundai is probably closest to the fantastic but pricey Passat.
- Ford Mondeo
- Honda Accord
- Kia Optima
- Toyota Camry
- Volkswagen Passat
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
On the face of it, the Hyundai Sonata looks like just another chrome-laden medium-to-large sedan bred for the American market. But it deserves better than being pigeonholed like that.
Behind its conservative styling lies a well-appointed and deeply accommodating cabin matched by a mostly smooth and quiet driving experience. Yet this middle-tier model grade also delivers surplus performance and a decent dose of driver appeal.
The Elite’s downsides are largely in the detail – an antiquated touchscreen, a buzzy engine at idle, peculiar throttle response, some missing active safety equipment and disappointingly short servicing intervals.
Thankfully the bigger picture shines far brighter than the smaller, darker downsides.
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