On the Road Review: Hyundai Sonata Limited

If you are like many other drivers, you are noticing more Hyundai and Kia badges on new cars. It bears repeating here: these products are no longer the throwaway cars of two decades ago, the entry-level vehicles meant for an audience with limited resources. Since 2006, when Hyundai got very serious about its products in this market, all of the cars and crossovers have been on a steady, rapid increase in quality and performance. Buyers should not have any reservations about cross-shopping Hyundais, and Kias with any other mainstream automaker’s offerings.

The most discernible difference consumers will find is the apparent value. Like this week’s Sonata, in Limited trim with an extensive standard equipment list ($35,000), you are inspired by the classy stance, with new “Lightning Signature” front LED lamps following the hoodline, and distinctive red LED lamps shaping the rear. While the current Camry and Accord have bulked up and actually look quite muscular, the Sonata is more about finesse.

Inside, a roomy interior packs lots of features and content levels that increase the Sonata’s inherent value edge over the competition. Simplified but modern controls, backed with tons of convenience pieces and driving aids, like driver-less parking space exit program, show that Hyundai is more than serious about conquering sedan buyers in this segment.

The screens, one ahead of the driver as a selectable instrument cluster, and the large horizontal screen in the center dash, are both easy to see and easy to access. What good is technology if it is inaccessible or dangerous to use while driving? The Sonata negates those concerns.

And while many new arrivals get their overeager active driving assist features turned off, immediately, Hyundai provides aids that don’t overwhelm but encourage their use. The full portfolio includes blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic surveillance, forward collision avoidance and braking assist, pedestrian detection/braking, front and rear parking assist, surround view monitor, Smart Cruise and more.

Plus, the Sonata has standard safe-exit warning for the driver-side doors, a rear seat passenger alert program, as well as the dual lane-change cameras that pop up in the instrument cluster when you employ your turn signal. These are active safety features that everyone can embrace.

Under the hood, the Sonata offers four powertrains. A few months back we had the excellent Sonata hybrid sedan, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine — which exceeded the EPA fuel economy estimates, while this week’s elegant looking Stormy Sea metallic blue Sonata featured the 1.6T turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a conventional eight-speed automatic. One, the automatic is preferred over the droning of a CVT, while maximizing the 180-hp efficiently, and two, the turbo-engine provides more usable mid-range and low-end thrust than regular non-turbo four-cylinder engines, making the car feel more powerful. EPA estimates are 27/37/30-mpg with a realized 33.5 mpg.

The other engines are a 2.5-liter four without the turbo, (191 hp), plus there will be a new N-Line sports Sonata with a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine packing 290 hp coming later this fall.

On the value side, the Sonata Limited packs heated and cooled power leather seats with memory, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Bose audio system, dual climate controls and Apple/Android access into a cabin that exudes quality in its textures and surfaces. A line-by-line comparison with Camry/Accord will show a large positive variance for the Sonata on costs.

On the flip side, the composed ride could be quieter at highway speeds, the parking brake will not disengage and allow you to drive until you fasten your seat belt, while the curvy lines limit overall trunk space to 16 cubic feet. That’s not a bad number but not as much space as some rivals.

With pricing starting at just under $25,000 for SE models, and with a Five-star safety rating for all models (including SEL, SEL Plus, Blue and Hybrid) the Sonata has seen sales increase by more than 50 percent this year. Built in Montgomery, Ala. (as many Hyundais are now built in the USA), the Sonata is part of a multi-pronged effort to expand the brand’s U.S. market share. The remodeled Tucson is now on sale, several more hybrid and battery electric models are soon to arrive, plus the brand’s first pickup will go on sale later this fall — the all-new Santa Cruz. With dealers struggling to keep buyers in line for the hot-selling Palisade, and Sonata and compact Elantra sales very hot, it is a very good time to have the Hyundai brand in America.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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