2020 Hyundai Sonata

PHOENIX — It’s a fact that nearly 75 percent of all new vehicles sold in America today are SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks. And while that craze continues, it’s also a fact that people are still buying sedans. The all-new-from-the-ground-up 2020 Hyundai Sonata is proof positive that the Korean automaker is committed to serving those buyers.

Most noticeable, the new eighth generation Sonata brings completely new and striking styling that’s longer, wider and lower than the previous version with a sleek, sloping, semi-fastback coupe-like roofline that reminds us of the current Audi A7 sedan.

The new Sonata’s signature design cue is its wide, curvaceous hexagonal grille, and deep-set LED headlamps connected by a chrome line that starts below the headlamps and completely surrounds the cabin and glass of the vehicle in one sweeping motion; Hyundai calls it “the lasso.” However, what appears to be chrome trim is actually the daytime running light. It’s unique to be sure and like nothing we’ve seen on any other vehicle. The rear of the Sonata gets an integrated spoiler and an LED strip that links the taillamps for a distinctive look.

Inside, our Limited trim test car looked handsome with leather upholstered seats and door panels. While not quite luxury class, it won’t disappoint either. Other initial trim levels include the base SE, SEL, and SEL Plus. Later in the year, Hyundai will add a gas-electric hybrid and a first-ever performance-oriented N-Line Sonata.

The entire cabin is satisfyingly roomy and even tall drivers like me are able to find a comfortable seating position, with ample leg, hip, shoulder and headroom thanks to the widely adjustable power seats and telescoping steering wheel.

Rear-seat passengers will find room that’s usually only found in larger sedans. Rear headroom is surprisingly generous, given the sloping roofline, and there’s plenty of legroom. All seats are well padded with bolstering in just the right spots. There’s power lumber adjustment in our Limited trim Sonata. Seats are heated and cooled — but not for the rear seat even in the Limited — and there’s a heated steering wheel too. There’s an elastic mesh pocket on the back of the passenger’s seat, but oddly not on the driver’s side. There are, however, USB outlets to charge devices.

Hyundai has switched to Bose for its premium audio system. A wireless charging pad has fans to keep phones cool. As for the infotainment user interface, vehicles equipped with navigation get a 10.5-inch screen that operates much like a Smartphone, with pinching to expand and contract images and one finger swiping to move images and content. 

We liked the “Sounds of Nature” icon located among the vehicles apps that calls up soothing nature sounds such as Calm Sea Waves, Warm Fireplace, Rainy Day, Lively Forest and others. It may seem funny but we found them to be relaxing and enjoyable.

While most controls are operated via knobs and switches, the Sonata uses just one knob to control the audio system volume levels. Station tuning is handled by two buttons but they’re a long reach over on the passenger side of the display screen.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. There’s ambient lighting about the cabin trim and yes, you can change the colors.

The trunk is especially roomy, and the rear seatbacks fold forward in a 60/40 split for long items even with two passengers sitting in the rear seat. We liked that Hyundai also includes a real spare tire rather than just the flat-tire sealing canister.

The new Sonata offers a comprehensive suite of safety and driver-assist features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection. An enhanced backup camera with a 360° overhead view of the car uses guidelines that move when the car turns while backing up for extra help when negotiating a tight parking space. The lane-keeping assist system alerts when the car drifts out of its lane; lane follow assist helps keep the car lane centered. Adaptive smart cruise control with full stop and go, automatic high-beam control, and a driver attention warning system that warns of distracted driving are also included.

SEL and higher trims add blind-spot monitoring, but to get rear cross-traffic alert you’ll need to opt for the Limited model. The blind-spot monitoring provides a live image on in the instrument cluster to show what’s on either side of the vehicle when that side’s turn-signal is activated. Our Limited also included a Highway Drive Assist feature that, when active, automatically adjusts the Sonata’s road speed to posted road signs.

The new Sonata is also the only vehicle in its class where you can use your phone as the car key; you can leave the key fob at home. However, at launch, it’s only available on Android, but Hyundai tells us iPhone compatibility should be available by year end.

Another new feature — and one that was repeatedly shown in Super Bowl commercials — is Remote Parking Assist. This feature requires using the car’s key fob, and allows the driver to pull the Sonata forward up to 30 feet out of a tight parking space, exit the vehicle and the Sonata will park itself without a driver behind the wheel. Yes, the car does have sensors that will keep it from running into anything or anyone. It also works in reverse. I’m not sure of the value of this feature since the parking space might be so tight as to prevent entry to a vehicle parked on either side of the Sonata. You might get a goodly amount of door dings. The real value might be for those who have a very tight garage space and the vehicle can pull in and out of it with ease.

Also new for 2020 is a standard rear occupant detection that alerts the driver to check the back seat for children or pets after the engine is turned off if a rear door was opened before the trip. We first saw this feature a couple of years ago on the then-new Hyundai Santa Fe.

Our Limited was powered by 1.6-liter 180-horsepower GDI turbocharged four-cylinder teamed up with a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. The base SE and SEL models come equipped with a standard 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 191-horsepower four-cylinder engine. All gears are selected via push-button gear selector located on the center console. It’s identical to the one in the Hyundai Palisade three-row SUV.

I spent a full week driving the Limited and found the throttle response excellent over a wide range of engine speeds. That’s thanks to the quick-spooling turbocharger, even though the base engine has more standard horsepower. We found the ride comfortable, the cabin especially quiet, and body motions well-controlled on twisty roads and around corners. To be sure, it isn’t a sports sedan and some competitors in its class feel more athletic, but we suggest that most drivers will thoroughly like the on-road driving characteristics.

For those who prefer a more sporting feel and extra power, it might just be worth your wait for the introduction of the Sonata N-Line arriving later this year.

In our opinion, the biggest drawback to the new Sonata is that it is front-wheel-drive only, and does not offer all-wheel-drive like some of its competitors.

Overall, for those who prefer a sedan over a truck or SUV, the new Sonata is a very compelling package. We thoroughly liked the new design both inside and out, along with its spacious cabin that’s one of the nicest in its class. For the top-of-the-line Limited, the all-in window sticker was $34,365. That just might be the best value in its entire class.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $23,600 - $33,500
Price as Tested: $34,365
Powertrain: 1.6-Liter 180-hp turbocharged four-cylinder paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 27/36/31 mpg – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Where Built: Montgomery, Alabama

Crash Test Results: Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not yet been crash test rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as of this writing.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Malibu
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Kia Optima
Nissan Altima
Toyota Camry
Volkswagen Passat

Fab Features
Great design inside and out
Latest technology, comfort, safety
Superb bang for the buck value

— Jim Prueter