What’s Hot: Sweet turbo engine, handles well, generous interior space.
What’s Not: Dull cabin design, front parking sensors only on high-grade model.
X-FACTOR: An appealing sedan on many fronts, and bigger inside than some 'large' cars.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $29,990 (Active) to $41,990 (Elite)
Engine/trans: 138kW/241Nm 2.4 petrol 4cyl, 180kW/350Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.3 l/100km (2.4), 9.2 l/100km (2.0 turbo).
Hyundai’s strategy sees the i40 become its midsize diesel sedan and petrol/diesel wagon option, while the newer Sonata will operate in the higher-sellling petrol sedan category.
Significantly, the 2015 Sonata is Hyundai Australia’s first non-performance car to get a turbocharged petrol engine.
While the entry-level Sonata Active comes with a conventional 2.4 litre engine, the Elite and Premium grades get a 2.0 litre turbo motor that produces more power and torque from less displacement.
Now, having driven it, we can declare it to be a good thing.
What of the rest of the car? We travelled to Tasmania to put the Sonata through the wringer, and the location for the launch is significant.
When the i45 was launched it received so much negative press for its suspension tune that it prompted Hyundai Australia to embark on a local tuning program for every new model it launched.
With no shortage of challenging driving roads in Tasmania, the company is clearly confident that the Sonata won’t have any of the soggy handling that hobbled its predecessor.
- Active: Air conditioning, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, power windows, 17-inch alloys.
- Elite adds: Dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, powered driver’s seat, auto-opening bootlid, 8” colour touchscreen with navigation, kelyess entry and ignition, power-folding wing mirrors
- Premium adds: Panoramic glass sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunblinds, bi-xenon headlamps, front parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers/
- Luggage capacity: 462 litres minimum. 60:40 split fold rear seats allow cargo area to expand.
On the subject of styling, the Sonata's interior is a bit bland. Nevertheless, this is a smart-looking, well-built interior that emphasises space and comfort.
And space truly is the keyword.
It may be a midsizer, but thanks to a wheelbase that’s just a few centimetres shy of a Ford Falcon, there is acres of legroom in the back seat and stacks of space for those up front.
The base-model Active (which Hyundai freely admits is targeted at rental and commercial fleets) only gets a 4.3-inch touchscreen display to control audio and phone functions, but the up-spec Elite and Premium gain an 8-inch colour screen with integrated sat-nav.
And as far as spec levels and price are concerned, the Elite is right in the sweet spot.
Priced at $36,990, the Elite boasts electric folding mirrors, leather-appointed upholstery, dual-zone climate control, an auto-opening boot, a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat plus keyless entry and ignition.
There are also some splashes of chrome and 'carbon fibre-like' trim in the Elite, and while the decor isn’t exactly upmarket, it’s far from low-rent.
If you’ve got the extra dosh, the Premium is worth walking up to. Heated and ventilated front seats are nice features to have, and the retractable rear sunblinds are good for keeping kids' heads shielded from the sun’s rays.
The Premium also scores a panoramic glass sunroof, front parking sensors (rear sensors and a reversing camera are standard on Active and Elite), bi-xenon headlamps and rain-sensing wipers.
ON THE ROAD
- 138kW/241Nm 2.4 litre naturally-aspirated petrol inline four (Active)
- 180kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four (Elite and Premium)
- Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension
- Disc brakes all around.
- Electric power steering, 10.9m turning circle
We spent the majority of our time in the 2.0 litre turbo Elite and Premium models for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a new engine for our market and the first time Hyundai has put a turbo petrol donk in a regular passenger sedan.
Secondly, Hyundai expects private buyers (in other words, the majority of TMR's readers) will ignore the base model Active and its 2.4 litre naturally-aspirated engine, and go straight to the Elite or Premium.
And we reckon they should.
There’s nothing wrong with the 138kW/241Nm 2.4 litre - its performance is perfectly adequate for the day-to-day - but the 180kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo is a much more enjoyable drive.
It’s a flexible motor with plenty of low-down pulling power. So much so, that we think the transmission could probably use a re-tune to hang onto higher gears for a little longer.
It seems a bit too eager to kick down faced with a climb, when it has ample bottem-end torque (peak torque occurs at just 1400rpm) to maintain momentum and hold highway speeds.
Stick the boot in, and the Sonata gathers speed at an impressive rate. Overtaking on highway roads is swift, and the 2.0 turbo accelerates with ease.
And the local suspension tuning program? The Sonata has definitely benefited here, with springrates, damper rates and the power-steering calibration all rejigged for Australia and the particular demands of our roads and highways.
The result is a suspension that is reasonably compliant, providing a comfortable ride that family buyers will feel is just right. Body control is actually quite good and free of the 'wallow' of the discontinued i45.
It is also reasonably quiet on the open road. The larger 18-inch alloys on the Premium don’t impact on road noise, which wasn’t intrusive in any of the variants we drove.
The electric power steering is lacking in feedback, but does provide a smooth and consistent in feel from lock-to-lock.
In Sport mode however, the throttle and transmission calibration sharpen up, and the steering assistance is reduced to give the wheel a sportier feel.
Complaints? Average fuel economy figures are a little high at 8.3 l/100km and 9.2 l/100km for the 2.4 and 2.0 turbo respectively.
A week-long loan will be the true test of how honest those numbers are.
ANCAP rating: The 2015 Hyundai Sonata has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist. Six airbags are standard (dual front, front side, full-length curtain).
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Toyota Camry is the dominant player in the midsize sedan market, but don’t discount the Ford Mondeo or Mazda6 either. The Kia Optima is another worthy product, as is the Subaru Liberty.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Hyundai has a fine vehicle in the Sonata; it is worlds apart from the somewhat mediocre i45 that came before it.
Is it destined for success? Who knows; unless you’re selling Camrys, the medium sedan segment can be a tough gig for a carmaker.
But we like this car; we think Hyundai has the right stuff in the Sonata to appeal to buyers shopping in that segment.
In Elite and Premium form, in particular, the Sonata feels more upmarket than you may expect for a Hyundai (unless you’ve already been in a Genesis, that is).
From the company that just gets better, the Sonata can more than hold its own against its European and Japanese rivals.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Sonata Active - 2.4 petrol - $29,990
- Sonata Elite - 2.0 turbo petrol - $36,990
- Sonata Premium - 2.0 turbo petrol - $41,990