Hyundai Sonata — A more sophisticated stance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

In 2011 Hyundai brought the Fluidic Sculpture design language to its mid-sized Sonata sedan deviating from the pedestrian styling of many of the other mainstream mid-sized offerings with flowing, coherent lines, a large expansive grille and swept-back headlights. Interior styling was also groundbreaking. And the sixth-generation Hyundai resonated with buyers.

Hyundai headed in a more conservative design direction in 2015 with the seventh generation sedan, tweaking it in 2016 and 2017with what some people call "more mature styling." This resulted in a sales slump for the Sonata, so today many in the biz are excited about the new 2018 that couldn't arrive too soon.

There is probably more to the sales drop off than just the Sonata styling. Mid-sized segment sales have dropped from 16.1 percent in 2012 to 10.8 percent of the overall market the first half of 2017 as crossover SUV sales surged.

Hyundai hopes it can buck this trend with the Sonata's major mid-cycle freshening because it remains the company's bread and butter vehicle in North America with 2.8 million units sold since it first arrived in 1989.

Hyundai's California Design Studio decided for more drama in the mid-cycle redesign. While there's still some restraint, there's also a return of some swoop in the redone nose featuring Hyundai’s new distinctive signature cascading grill shape in a body that matches last year's length and wheelbase.

Although the Sonata has basically the same drivetrain setup as last year, the steering and suspension have been updated to improve ride quality, steering feel and handling. Also, an eight-speed transmission has been added to the 2.0T engine, replacing a six-speed. The base engine is a 2.4-liter 4 cylinder making 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Also available is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four making 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The most energetic offering is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder producing 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The smaller turbo is reserved solely for the Eco trim level.

We have extensive seat time in the standard four-cylinder Sonata and have deemed it up to the task of adequately moving the sedan in all driving situations. While it's not going to win any performance prizes compared to the base engines from other manufacturers, it doesn't seem to be a deal breaker. What we like most is the 2.0-liter turbo with the new eight-speed transmission. It is quicker (around 7.0 seconds 0-to-60) and more athletic than the 2.4. It brings a fun-to-drive nature to the equation.

The thing here is that the base engine can be purchased with all the good stuff in the upper level Limited trim such as our test car. That will save some cash over the Limited with the 2.0 liter while yielding a respectable EPA of 25 mpg city, 35 highway and 28 combined. The bigger engine carries a rating of 23/32/26 on regular gas.

Inside, the reworked center stack and instrument panel match the exterior’s stylish new looks. The trend carries down to the gauge dial design and three-spoke steering wheel. Piano key buttons for audio and HVAC controls give a premium look and touch. Passenger space is rather dramatic with stretch-out room for back-seat passengers and more than 16 cubic feet of trunk storage space.

The Sonata offers more safety features in 2018. In addition to seven standard airbags and a battery of safety systems, comes a standard Blind Spot Detection system with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Hyundai says the Sonata is the only mid-size car sold with this safety technology as standard equipment. And we applaud that decision because it's our belief all vehicles should have blind spot detection. There’s also a new Lane Departure Warning system with an enhanced Lane Keep Assist function available.

The Sonata comes in six trim levels — SE, Eco, SEL, Sport, Limited and Sport 2.0T starting at $22,935 for the SE trim. That's an impressive price when the list of standard equipment is considered. Standard stuff includes blind spot detection, automatic headlights, power windows and door locks, a seven-inch touchscreen, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and rearview camera.

Our Limited 2.4-liter test car carried a base price of $28,285. The Ultimate package option, which we think is very worthwhile at $2,900, was added together with carped floor mats bringing the bottom line to $31,310. Ultimate brings such things as navigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, Infinity Premium Audio, rear parking sensors and heated steering wheel.

Base price: $22,395; as driven, $31,310
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 185 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 178 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.4 inches
Length: 191.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,311 pounds
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 25 city, 35 highway, 28 combined
0-60: 9 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry

The Good
• Spacious interior, generous trunk
• Long-term warranties
• Nicely styled inside and out
• Long list of safety features

The Bad
• Lackluster horsepower with standard engine

The Ugly
• Only turbocharged 2.0-liter gets new 8-speed transmission