Hyundai Sonata Eco — Best of both worlds

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Perhaps the new 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco is mislabeled. Yes there's an element of "Eco" — as in economical — to the new model, but we also discovered more than a hint of performance from the rather unique combination of a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The Sonata lives up to the Eco label with an EPA rating of 28 mpg city, 38 highway and 32 mpg combined. Then there's the performance aspect of the small engine, which makes 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. While that's 68 fewer horses and 65 less pound-feet than the Sport 2.0T, which produces 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the Eco — even with its elevated fuel economy — can run circles around the 2.0T "performance" version of the Sonata.

The Sonata Eco feels good accelerating through its quick-shifting seven gears. Good enough for a 0-to-60 time in the lower reaches of 7 seconds. In fact, a major automotive magazine wrung 6.7 seconds out of the Eco with a quarter mile time in 15.3 at 92 mph. That's 1.3 seconds faster than the 2.0T. It makes the family sedan fun to drive and a willing partner when it comes time to merge into freeway traffic or surge around a slower-moving vehicle.

As for the economy part of the equation, we managed almost 35 miles per gallon in 750 miles of rather hard driving when compared to the average driver. Quick starts and a few "run-ups" through the gears and we were still a couple of mpg above what is rated as combined mileage. Impressive! 

Beyond its exemplary powertrain, the Eco comes with the new Sonata’s dynamic qualities including a unibody markedly stiffer than that of the previous generation; suspension tuning that strikes a nice balance between Euro firm and family friendly; and electric power steering that’s quick and connected.

Beyond the Eco, the Sonata comes in four additional trim levels —†SE, Sport, Limited and Sport 2.0T, plus an-all new 2016 Sonata Hybrid is now just reaching the market. A majority of Sonatas will come equipped with the standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder making 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque mated to a standard six-speed automatic starting at $21,960 including destination charge.  Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated mirrors, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Blueto
oth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio.

The Eco carries a base price of $24,085 and brings with it an outstanding powertrain and considerably more standard equipment than the SE model. For instance, the Eco gains automatic headlights, a rearview camera, eight-way power driver's seat, Blue Link telematics, and a five-inch touchscreen audio interface over the SE. Plus the Eco gets the best performance of the bunch and the best gas mileage outside of the new hybrid model.

This newest second-generation Sonata, simply called Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, it is more conservative and although toned down, the exterior is handsome with the character of a more expensive car. The interior has also been rewarded with significant changes. It has a more horizontal layout enhancing the feeling of spaciousness and the elimination of clutter on the center stack. And to make things even more user friendly, steering wheel controls are now standard across the lineup. Materials in all trim levels are tasteful and appear of higher quality than the outgoing generation.

Perhaps the biggest changes have to be felt on the road. The car is definitely quieter than the outgoing model, which lends a more luxurious experience; and handling and ride quality are improved. We were also impressed with the generous stretch-out rear-seat leg room, in our estimation as good as almost any in the industry. Trunk space is also generous with 16.3 cubic feet available. A standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat will add even more cargo space when hauling is the object of the day.

The Sonata carries the requisite standard safety including antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and numerous airbags including full-length side curtain airbags.

But we are disappointed that Hyundai has not made the backup camera standard across the lineup in an all-new model. It will be mandated by the government in coming years. We also think side-mirror blindspot monitoring should be standard, as well.

Our Eco test car came with the $4,100 Tech Package which adds, among other things, navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen, leather seating surfaces, proximity key entry and hands-free trunk opener, dual automatic temperature control, and upgraded audio system. That brought the bottom line to $28,310.

Base price: $24,085; as driven, $28,310
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 177 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 195 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.4 inches
Length: 191.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,270 pounds
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 38 highway, 28 city, 32 combined
0-60: 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Fusion 1.6-liter turbo, Honda Accord, Mazda6

The Good
• Excellent performance from 1.6-liter engine
• Stellar gas mileage
• Quiet, spacious cabin
• High level of standard equipment

The Bad
• Swooping roofline compromises rear headroom

The Ugly
• Automated manual transmission lacks paddle shifters