Hyundai Sonata — Raising the bar photo

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

You've probably spotted one on the road, turned your head to take a better look, and wondered what was that — a new Audi or a late-model Mercedes? No European luxury car here, however. You were gawking for the first time at a 2020 Hyundai Sonata. The South Korean Hyundai/Kia group has become known for its cutting-edge styling, and the Sonata is the latest iteration of its design superiority.

The new Sonata has longer and lower dimensions together with an aggressively styled grille and lights, a striking contrast to most mainstream sedans. The interior has also been given stylish new looks, and the 2020 Sonata has some of the most advanced technology this side of luxury automobiles costing thousands more.

We were drawn to the Sonata that has a Mercedes-esque look with flowing lines that are connected in one cohesive design blending the in-your-face grille to the rear taillight treatment. From the side, sleek forms combine with sensual lines to accentuate the car’s sportiness and coupe-like silhouette. Sporty details include a trunk spoiler and black side skirts along the lower flanks.

The 2020 Sonata is the first model to be based on Hyundai’s new vehicle platform, which delivers increased strength and reduced weight to enable improvements in design, safety, efficiency and driving performance. Hyundai says the car uses an extensive array of advanced technologies to boost comfort, convenience and active safety. It's also the first model to premiere a new collaboration with Bose to deliver an exceptional audio experience.

Perhaps the most well-known of Sonata's first-in-class technology is the optional self-parking feature that can be activated with the key fob from outside the car and was famously recreated in a Super Bowl advertisement entitled "Smaht Park."

The Sonata comes in four trim levels — SE, SEL, SEL Plus and Limited — and with two engine variations. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque and the up-level engine is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four making 181 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic. A new hybrid version released this spring comes in just two trims — SE and Limited — and is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with an electric motor for a combined 193 horsepower. The hybrid uses a standard six-speed automatic that gives it the feel of a standard gas-engine unlike virtually all other mainstream hybrids that come with continuously variable transmissions (CVT). 

We drove Limited versions of both the standard Sonata and the Hybrid. We were pleased with the performance of the 1.6-liter turbo that delivered effortless and refined power in all driving situations with precise upshifts and downshifts from the 8-speed. The engine has been measured at 7.3 seconds from 0-to-60, an adequate number, but the Sonata proved to be a car that actually feels better than its stats. The suspension offered a pleasant ride, and its cornering ability is what you would expect from a mainstream mid-sized sedan.

We did not drive the standard non-turbo engine, but based on its horsepower and torque ratings, we think it would perform adequately. One publication has clocked it at 8.0 seconds from 0-to-60, about average for base engines in the segment.

While the hybrid version is a bit slower than the gas engine as well as competitive cars such as the Honda Accord Hybrid, we found performance adequate and we did not have an issue. The traditional six-speed's shifts were imperceptible and handling was surprisingly good on our usual rural paved winding road "test track." The hybrid is all about gas mileage, and the Sonata is average for the segment EPA-rated at 45 mpg city, 51 highway and 47 combined. An interesting hybrid feature is the array of solar panels embedded in the roof helping provide additional electric driving range.

Both versions of the Sonata come with features not found in the segment including the aforementioned remote parking, which lets you be outside the car and direct it to move forward or backward using buttons on the key fob. The car can even make minor steering adjustments to line up in the space. Another new high tech feature is Hyundai's digital key, an app that lets you use your smartphone as a key. Unfortunately, this feature is only compatible with Android phones, but Hyundai said it is working on partnering with Apple to also enable the app for iPhones.

Inside, you will find a modern, attractive setup. Most impressive to us was the 10.25-inch HD infotainment screen high up at center dash on our Limited test car. It's big enough to accommodate a split screen with such things as navigation and audio readouts sharing space. Also featured is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which can be configured into different driving modes and preferences something usually only seen in expensive luxury cars.

The Sonata comes with considerable standard equipment starting at $24,530 in the base SE including LED headlights, an eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane-centering assist, forward collision warning with automatic braking, remote keyless entry, a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and power door locks and windows.

But we recommend moving up to the SEL level that brings virtually all things most people want these days for $26,655. Some of the standard equipment includes Blindspot monitor with cross-traffic alert, dual climate control, Sirius XM satellite radio, eight-way power driver's seat, and liquid chrome interior accents. The SEL Premium begins at $28,605 and the Limited at $34,455.

The hybrid sedan starts at a very affordable $26,670 for the base SE. The top trim Limited starts at $32,220 including destination charge. The mid two trim levels are not available. Our Limited 1.6-liter test car carried a bottom line of $34,365 and out Limited Hybrid test car carried a bottom line of $32,220.

The Sonata comes with its usual outstanding warranties of five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, and a 10-year/100,000 miles on the drivetrain. The Hybrid has a 10-year/100,000 mile warranty on hybrid components.

2020 Hyundai Sonata


Base price: $24,530; as driven, $34,365
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 180 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 195 pound-feet @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.8 inches
Length: 192.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,336 pounds
Turning circle: 35.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 city, 36 highway, 31 combined
0-60: 7.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda5

The Good
• Aggressive exterior design
• Pleasing interior
• High-end technology
• Comfortable ride
• Best warranty in the segment

The Bad
• Not as nimble as some rivals

The Ugly
• Sonata needs bigger optional engine

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Base price: $26,655; as driven, $32,220
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, electric motor
Horsepower: 193 @ 6,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.8 inches
Length: 192.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,560 pounds
Turning circle: 35.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 45 city, 51 highway, 47 combined
0-60: 8.0 seconds (observed)
Also consider: Honda Accord hybrid, Toyota Camry hybrid, Ford Fusion hybrid