Sonata, Hyundai’s contender in the midsize sedan segment is our first “test-guest” in the “post”-Covid-19 era.
The 8th generation Sonata challenges segment leaders like Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Its fuel-efficient and “sufficiently powerful” engine is a strong selling point even if the specs are lower than the class average. A strong design language and a comprehensive list of safety and comfort features make this automobile more appealing.
It was almost 40 years ago as Hyundai was selling the Pony, its first product in North America. The progress in quality and image since then is beyond any recognition.
With its three-box shape, sedans give designers maximum freedom to create a unique, boring, exciting or timelessly beautiful product. Also with the shrinking sales in this segment, exclusivity becomes a more important factor for sedans. Not many buyers will tolerate a model with a dull or boring design.
Luc Donckerwolke, Hyundai’s Chief Designer (who left the company after four years) and his team tested the limits of creativity with the current sonata. The grill, to start with is impressive. Even if not as big and aggressive as at the new flagship Genesis G90, it is still somewhat polarizing.
Engine and Powertrain
Our tester, the range-topping Ultimate has a 4-cylinder, 1.6L GDI turbo engine that delivers 180 horsepower and 195 ft-lb of torque. Unusually the new Sonata model range offers a bigger 2.5L engine without turbo for its base model called Preferred. The higher models (Sport, Luxury and Ultimate) all have this higher performance yet smaller displacement engine. The GDI engine is mated to an 8-spped transmission and with different drive modes, its gives you a significant amount of driving pleasure and “impression of performance” You feel the difference between normal and spirited driving as the revolution counter climbed up to 5K revolutions per minute in the Sport mode.
Our mixed-mode test drive with more than 60 percent highway driving yielded an average consumption of 7.7 liters. A very satisfying result for a midsize sedan.
Inside the cabin
The interior is well crafted with high-quality materials anywhere you can reach, touch and feel. Even if the front legroom is generous and beats most of its rivals, the rear legroom could be better. This reminds me of the G70, Genesis’ key model to compete in the luxury compact class. With this vehicle we tested early this year, we observed the same problem. Koreans probably should pay more attention when developing future models: Rear legroom matters in this class.
The big infotainment screen is easy to read and very functional yet some improvements are needed. Worth mentioning: The evolution of voice recognition was and is slow across all brands. As I tried to choose navigation from the main menu, the system did not understand despite several attempts. Finally, I had to choose manually and once “inside”, the voice commands became easier to execute. Also the graphical design of navigation could be better for instance to cancel a route. On the other hand, Bose sound system was excellent, a feature which is not standard in most non-luxury models.
Despite the low profile and the panoramic sunroof, the headroom was good.
To have a deeper understanding of the new Sonata, we hit the road towards Muskoka with my friend Serdar, a distinguished photographer and graphic designer. We drove from Toronto until Haliburton Wildlife Centre with several stops from Weber Burger to Peterson Road, Wedgewood, Minden and Gravenhurst. This mixed route consisting of highways and sideroads gave us the opportunity to test the car under different modes, speeds and road surfaces. We also felt sad to witness the ongoing effects of Covid-19. Restaurants and stores not opened yet, silent towns despite the wonderful weather in early June and marinas with almost no traffic.
Highway Driving Assist (HDA) provides a self-driving illusion when you are ready to grasp the steering wheel in a moment’s notice. Lane Following Assist (LFA) helps you to stay in the lane against any distraction. And Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) helps to obey speed limits while monitoring the traffic. With other active safety features such as Blind View Monitor (BVM), Forward Collision Avoidance Assist (FCA) and Rear Cross Traffic Avoidance Assist (RCCA), Sonata is equipped with everything that today’s technology offers. These systems are capable of forgiving some minor driver errors and caution is advised to focus on safe and defensive driving even if these systems are at your service. Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA) can be very helpful in some narrow parking spots especially if your vehicle “surrounded” by other cars to the left and right.
Pricing and Conclusion
With an attractive design, very rich equipment level and hence very good value for money, Sonata will stay as a strong contender in the midsize sedan segment which is dominated more and more by Japanese and Korean brands.
Our tester, the range topping Ultimate has an MSRP of 40,609. This price includes the dark-grey headliner as the only option. This version is fully loaded with almost everything imaginable. The only feature which is not available even as an option is AWD. Hyundai must have thought that clients who prefer this feature should have a closer look at the comprehensive list of SUV’s. Sonata falls a bit short in terms of engine performance compared to Camry, Accord or Legacy. Nevertheless, An N version in the near future should fill this gap. Anybody who is looking for a midsize sedan must shortlist Sonata.