Beauty, it’s often said, is only skin deep. The 2009 remake of Hyundai’s mid-size Sonata might lead you to re-think that saying. Though the automaker has made a few modest, cosmetic changes to its mid-market sedan, most of the significant updates are to be found under the exterior sheetmetal.
“We wanted to make sure we were setting the benchmark high enough,” explains Hyundai’s U.S. product czar, John Krafcik, noting that the 2009 Sonata plays in one of the most competitive segments in the market, alongside such powerhouses as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and the newly-resurgent Chevrolet Malibu.
A close inspection will reveal a few exterior tweaks, including revised headlamps, front fascia and grille, but the major dollars spent on this upgrade went into the cabin redesign.
The instrument panel is unexpectedly refined, with the subtle details that are normally seen on luxury products. (Hyundai has adopted a production technique, technically known as “slush molding,” that permits much more sophisticated texturing and shaping of the IP surface. The cabin makes extensive use of satin silver and chrome detailing, accenting even small switches such as the redundant audio controls on the steering wheel.
The center stack is illuminated with a rich blue back-lighting that also adds an unexpectedly elegant touch to the package. For the first time, buyers can order Sonata with a built-in navigation system, which features a large, high-resolution color display and XM satellite radio – a three-month subscription to the service is complimentary.
“Our goal,” says Krafcik, “was to deliver a car that was clearly better than people’s expectations.”
Hyundai also made some notable improvements to the ’09 Sonata’s powertrain offerings. The 2.4-liter in-line-four gets an eight-percent bump in horsepower, to 175. At the same time, it gets an extra mile per gallon fuel economy, at 22 city, 32 highway. That’s better than both the comparable Camry and Accord models.
The “heavily massaged” V-6 sees its output jump from 234 to 249 horsepower, while mileage also jumps 1 mpg, to 19/29.
Krafcik anticipates that 70 percent of Sonata buyers will opt for the smaller, more fuel-efficient engine.
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