The best – as defined by the general niceness of the thing as well as a reputation for value as impenetrable as the armor belt of a battleship – were basically two: The Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
Everything else was a second choice. The car you bought because you couldn’t afford a Camry or an Accord.
This included Hyundais.
They were not bad cars. Just not quite as good as the blue chips.
And, of course, they cost less.
They still do (well, mostly).
The difference now is they’re also solid alternatives to the blue chips. In some ways, they’re arguably preferable.
Their reputation rises accordingly.
The Sonata is Hyundai’s mid-sized family sedan, in the same general class as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It’s available with your pick of three engines vs. the usual two – and can be had with more-than-the-typical for this this class amenities and features.
Base price is $21,750 for an SE with 2.4 liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
A top-of-the-line Limited with a turbocharged 2.0 liter engine stickers for $34,075
A Sport trim is available with the same turbo 2.0 engine as the Limited but gets a more aggressive 18-inch wheel-tire package, quad exhaust tips, a larger-diameter steering wheel and exterior/interior trim unique to this model.
Also available – and arguably the most interesting Sonata – is the Eco trim, which comes with a 1.6 liter turbocharged engine and a seven-speed automated manual transmission. This version of the Sonata can deliver almost 40 MPG on the highway, exceptional mileage for a non-hybrid (and gas-engined) mid-sized sedan. And it performs nearly as well as the 2.0 turbo engine.
Base price for this version of the Sonata is $23,275.
Base SE, Eco and Sport trims get an updated 7-inch LCD touchscreen with new apps, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Limited trims continue with the same-size (8-inch) touchscreen but also get the new apps, as well as an automated braking/collision avoidance system.
Lower price to start than the blue chips (SE Sonata lists for $1,320 less than base Camry LX).
Sonata Eco can deliver nearly 40 MPG on the highway – 5 MPG better than four-cylinder Camry – for about the same price as the Camry.
Nearly five inches more legroom up front than in Camry. Three inches more than Accord.
Available roster of high-end equipment includes: rear seat heaters, a cruise control system that can bring the car to a dead stop and get it going again without the driver touching the gas or the brake; a “smart” automatic trunk opener that pops open for you automatically just by standing behind it and “geo-fencing” (an electronic way to monitor teenage drivers).
Powertrain warranty lasts almost twice as long as the blue chips.
Get pricey as you move up the trims. A Sonata Limited stickers for $3,330 more than a comparably equipped V6 Accord EX; $2,750 more than a V6 Camry XLE.
Sport and Limited trims with 2.0 engine are under-engined (and under-performing) compared with V6 equipped versions of the Camry and Accord.
Backseat legroom is almost four inches less than in Camry; 2.9 inches less than in the Accord.
Long-haul reliability of turbo’d 1.6 (and 2.0) engines is still unknown. The not-turbo’d engines in Camry and Accord may prove to be the safer bets.
Ditto the technologically impressive – but very complex – automated manual transmission used in the Sonata Eco.
The base trim Sonata comes standard with a 185 hp 2.4 liter four – not turbocharged – paired with a conventional (hydraulic, with torque converter) six-speed automatic driving the front wheels.
This stacks up competitively with the base engines in the Camry (2.5 liters, 178 hp) and the Accord (2.4 liters, 185 hp).
Acceleration-wise, the Hyundai can get to 60 in about 8.2 seconds – not quite as quick as the four-cylinder Accord (7.8 seconds) but slightly quicker than the four-cylinder Camry (8.3 seconds).
Gas mileage-wise, it’s also a close race: 25 city/37 highway for the Hyundai vs. 25 city, 35 highway for the four-cylinder Camry and 27 city, 37 highway for the four-cylinder Accord. However, the Accord’s numbers are for a car equipped with the optional (read – you pay more) automatic transmission – which bumps the MSRP up to $23,005 ($1,255 more than the price of the SE Sonata, which comes standard with an automatic).
Optional with the Sport and Limited trims is a 2.0 liter four – this one turbocharged – and also paired with a six-speed automatic. It makes an advertised 240 hp – which is 28 hp less than the Camry’s optional V6 (3.5 liters, 268 hp) and 38 hp less than the Accord’s optional V6 (3.5 liters, 278 hp).
This is one of the few areas where the Sonata’s under-par vs. its rivals – and not just horsepower-wise. The performance of the 2.0 turbo-equipped Sonata is only slightly better than the performance of its four cylinder-engined rivals: Zero to 60 in the high sevens. This is way behind the pace of the V6 Camry – derided by the know-nothings as the Mrs. Doubtfire of family sedans – which can make the run in 6.2 seconds.
The V6 Accord is even speedier. It’s capable of getting to sixty in about six second flat.
This hurts the Hyundai – and not just because of the power/performance deficit. The V6-powered Accord and Camry also cost less than the 2.0 turbo-equipped Sonata, especially if we’re talking the top-of-the-line Limited trim – which costs literally thousands more than the V6-equipped/top-of-the-line Camry and Accord.
But, there’s a third option – and it’s where the Sonata earns back some points.
It’s the Eco Sonata – and its turbocharged 1.6 liter engine.
Although this engine is smaller – and on paper – much less powerful (170 hp) than the Sport and Limited’s available 2.0 liter engine, it is both an excellent performer and extremely economical: 28 city, 38 highway while also getting the Sonata to 60 in the high sevens.
This is quicker than the four-cylinder-powered Camry and nearly as fuel efficient as the Camry hybrid (39 MPG on the highway).
To be fair to Toyota, the hybrid Camry does rate 43 in city driving. However, it also has a base price of $26,790 – $3,515 higher than the Sonata Eco.
That could buy an ocean of gas at today’s roughly $1.60 per gallon.
Hyundai has fitted the Sonata with a comparatively large fuel tank: 18.5 gallons (the Camry’s is 17 gallons; the Honda Accord’s is 17.2). This plus the Eco’s near-40 MPG highway capability means you can trundle along for quite a while before pitting. Conceivably, up to about 700 miles – depending on how heavy your right foot gets. That’s diesel-esque highway legs, using a gas engine (which does not need to use diesel exhaust fluid – DEF – the stuff all new diesel-powered cars must be fed to keep their emissions within spec).
The 1.6 liter engine is paired with a seven-speed automated manual – a more technologically advanced box than the Camry and Accord’s conventional (hydraulic, with torque converter) and continuously variable (CVT) automatics. It has Sport Normal and Eco modes as well as a driver-selectable manual mode.
ON THE ROAD
The mid-sized “family car” segment doesn’t really exist anymore. It is in the process of changing into (cue Jennings/Dark Overlord from Howard the Duck)…. something else.
Even the Camry has gone sport sedany.
The Sonata, too.
The Sonata’s optional turbo 2.0 engine – despite being a little gimpy vs. the Accord and Camry’s V6s – still makes more power than a Tuned Port Injection 5.7 liter V8 Corvette offered back in the ’80s.
We live in an era of orgiastic horsepower and performance … that we dare not use much.
Or at least not often.
For everyday A to B driving, the base 2.4 liter engine is plenty. It’s three seconds quicker to 60 than a Prius hybrid and strikes a good balance between cost to buy/performance you get and gas mileage delivered.
For more than plenty, go with the turbo engine.
But not the 2.0 turbo engine. I urge you to choose the 1.6 turbo. You’ll get similar acceleration potential when you need it and can use it…along with fantastic gas mileage.
Mid-sevens to 60 is nearly as quick as the Reagan-era Tuned Port Injection Corvette while using half the gas.
The performance (and economy) of the 1.6 engine is so good it makes the 2.0T’s look pretty bad.
The 2.0T Sonata Sport/Limited needs more power to make a case for itself – and not just vs. the V6 Accord and Camry but also (and especially) vs. the Sonata Eco.
The Sport trim is, as you’d expect, the firmest-riding of all the Sonatas – chiefly due to its short sidewall 18 inch tires (base trims come with 16s, the Limited gets 17s) but all Sonatas (and Camrys and Accords) ride firmly relative to what was once par for the course in the “family car” class.
Times change. When you corner, the hubcaps no longer get Frisbee’d into the woods.
Two other observations about the 1.6 liter Eco-engined Sonata. It is almost unreal how vibration-free this engine is. As dead-calm at idle as a hybrid when you’re stopped at a red light. Absolutely no indication through the steering wheel or shifter or anything else that the engine’s even running. I thought maybe my test car had auto stop-start and that the engine was off.
Second, the Sonata can corner.
It doesn’t look it – and you might not think it – but this car puts out; it also has minimally invasive/pre-emptive traction control (the Camry’s is and – infamously – can’t even be turned off once the car’s moving) and won’t let you down if you decide to screw with that dude in the BMW 3.
Try it – see for yourself.
You can drift, throttle steer, make the tires squeal like the Toothless Man did to Ned Beatty. .
Hyuindai stylists seem to have been impressed by the Aston-Martin-ish themes of the Ford Fusion. Why not? Ford, after all, cribbed the Fusion’s look from Aston.
Remember what Bill Mitchell once said about robbing a bank rather than a liquor store.
It’s a good look – especially dramatic with the available smoked glass panorama roof.
The Sonata is bigger now, too.
Overall length now stands at 191.1 inches and the wheelbase has been extended slightly vs. the previous-generation Sonata to 110.4 inches. it is also 1.2 inches wider through the hips (73.4 inches vs. 72.2 for the old Sonata).
Inside, you will find Benz S-Class/BMW 7-esque front seat legroom: 45.5 inches. The Camry’s only got 41.6 inches up front; the Accord comes in second with 42.5. But the Toyota fires back with full-size-car backseat legroom – 38.9 inches vs. the Sonata’s kinda crampy 35.6 inches.
Still, a six-foot-three man (me) can sit in the Sonata’s back seats with several inches of air gap between his knees and the front seat. The Sonata’s meaningful deficit is backseat headroom – 38 inches – which will not leave much air gap between the top of your head and the car’s ceiling, if you’re a tall geek like me.
This is a common problem with all the cars in this segment – including the Camry, which has only marginally more headroom in the second row, 38.1 inches. The Accord’s got even less – just 37.5 inches. It’s all because of the design trend toward “sporty” appearance – which typically means steeper-sloped windshields and receding fastback rooflines.
It looks sexy – like high heels.
You can fit the Sonata out executive style, with rear seat heaters (standard equipment in the Limited trim) which is a very unusual feature in the class. Ditto the Adaptive cruise control, which can bring the car to a dead stop and then resumes the set speed without any input from the driver whatsoever.
Hyundai’s BlueLink system (standard in all but base SE trims) includes automatic crash response and teenager monitoring features such as curfew limits and geo-fencing. An interesting feature that Hyundai (and corporate cousin, Kia) offer is an Auto Hold system (press the button adjacent to the gear shifter) that keeps the car stationary without taking it out of Drive – or you having to keep your foot on the brakes. It’s handy for those long-red situations on your everyday commute.
The Sport trim gets a flat-bottomed/meatier-feeling steering wheel and quad exhaust tips, plus Xenon HID headlights. Limited trims get LED exterior lighting, upgraded leather trim and standard Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Major options include the full-length, panorama sunroof and manual side privacy screens, a larger 8-inch LCD touchscreen and a 10 speaker Infinity surround-sound system.
The GPS system’s map is upgradable via an easily accessible SD card slot just above the CD slot.
The Safety Cult is a constant source of aggravation (and expense) to people who aren’t idiots and don’t need to be “proofed” against it. For instance, some of the Sonata’s in-car information cannot be accessed (or settings adjusted) unless the car is parked.
Not merely stopped.
This sort of thing is not peculiar to Hyundais, unfortunately. And Hyundai is far from the most preemptively nannyish.
All new cars are afflicted to varying degrees.
Stuff I really liked about this car: Large (but not senior-citizeny) buttons for most major secondary functions (audio, climate settings) on the center stack. Easy to see – and to use. I loved the handy secondary thumb switch on the steering wheel to increase or decrease the audio system’s volume. Also the well-designed cupholders (deep enough and wide enough to handle real-world-sized coffee cups) and the good-sized (and deep) center console storage area.
USB port and power points visible – and accessible.
The available “smart” trunk opener is neat, too.
It one-ups the foot-swipe systems you may have read about that some other cars offer. The Sonata can sense your presence – no foot swipe needed – and will pop the trunk for you automatically if you just stand behind it for 3 seconds or so with the transmitter fob in your pocket.
Finally, there’s the warranty. The entire car is covered for five years or 60,000 miles. The powertrain (engine and transmission) for an incredible ten years or 100,000 miles. Toyota and Honda (and Ford) leave you on your own after just three years and 36,000 miles (whole car) and five years or 60,000 miles (powertrain).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Hyundai got where it is by offering slamming deals on cars that were credible alternatives to the blue chips. The latest Sonata (and other Hyundais, like the new Genesis sedan) take it up a notch. They’re still slamming deals.
But they’ve become more than just the value-priced alternative.
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