The Hyundai Sonata is a refined midsize family sedan, with a roomy interior that's comfortable for four and can accommodate five. Its classic styling emulates high-end luxury cars, and it offers interior features and details well above its budget price.
Interior accommodations in the Sonata are comfortable, with detailing and workmanship above what's expected in this price range. The Sonata is easy to drive, with well-designed controls that are easy to reach and operate. The styling is distinctive, sleek and rounded with rich-looking details.
The Sonata cruises comfortably, even at highway speeds. Both the four-cylinder and V6 versions are pleasant to drive, with good handling and responsive steering. The V6-powered Sonata GLS and LX are more than competent for city and highway driving.
Overall, the Hyundai Sonata offers a strong value among midsize sedans. That's particularly true when you factor in Sonata's impressive warranty, with bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years/60,000 miles and 24-hour roadside assistance for a five full years. Hyundai's warranty includes limited powertrain coverage for 10 years/100,000 miles and corrosion coverage for five years/100,000 miles. Even if the car is pre-owned, Hyundai still backs the Sonata's powertrain for five years or 60,000 miles.
Three models are available: Sonata GL ($15,999); Sonata GLS ($18,779); and Sonata LX ($19,799).
The base Hyundai Sonata GL is well equipped for its price. It comes standard with air conditioning, side-impact airbags, AM/FM/CD audio system, rear defroster, power mirrors, power locks with keyless remote, power windows, cruise control, remote fuel door and trunk releases, 60/40 split folding rear seat, variable intermittent wipers, four-wheel-disc brakes, gas-charged shock absorbers, and 15-inch all-season tires. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission is standard. A four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is optional, and anti-lock brakes are available ($595).
The Sonata GL is also available with Hyundai's 2.7-liter V6 engine and four-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission ($17,649). In addition to the base model's trim features, the V6 GL has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and carpeted floor mats. This model can be ordered with a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($750), or sunroof and anti-lock brakes as a package ($1,345).
Sonata GLS is a V6 model with a higher level of interior trim. It's fitted with high-performance tires on 16-inch alloy wheels for improved handling. The GLS is upgraded with deluxe cloth upholstery, woodgrain accents, better carpet, an upgraded stereo, an improved center console, dual map lights, and rear cup holders. It also comes with heated mirrors and a power antenna. Front-seat side air bags are an added safety feature.
Sonata LX is the luxury model, and comes with all of the GLS features plus leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver's seat, plus electrochromic inside rearview mirror with Homelink remote transmitter.
GLS and LX can be ordered with anti-lock brakes ($595). The power tilt-and-slide sunroof is available as a separate option ($750). Traction control is available, but only as a package with the sunroof and anti-lock brakes ($1,445).
The Hyundai Sonata looks expressive without being oppressive, with graceful lines and rich details suggesting an upscale sedan. The Sonata's overall shape suggests the feline form of a Jaguar; while its headlight treatment could have been borrowed from a Mercedes-Benz. It's better looking than the Kia Optima, which shares the Hyundai's architecture.
The waterfall grille is formal but not pretentious. Like jewelry tastefully worn, chrome enhances rather than distracts from the appearance and is used around the grille, over the doors and on the trunk. The bold headlight design is more than stylish. The small low-beams are halogen projector lamps that produce a uniformly bright pattern, and the complementary high beams are bright, an excellent safety feature, especially on dark and stormy nights.
The Sonata's pull-type door handles feel solid. The doors close with a solid thunk. Sonata comes standard with a keyless remote fob.
Climb into a Hyundai Sonata and you feel like you're sitting in an upscale car. The cabin is conservative in appearance. The materials are of good quality, and fit and finish is good.
Characteristic of the attention given to detail throughout the Sonata's interior, even the base model steering wheel is wrapped with a buttery-soft, leather-like urethane. The V6 models get real leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob. The ignition switch is on the dash, more convenient than having it on the steering column.
The front seats are broad for maximum comfort, and lightly bolstered, making it easy to slide in and out. The driver's seat bottom adjusts from cushy to firm via a pair of knobs on the side, so you can select between softness and support for your legs and posterior. And whether you opt for cloth or leather, the upholstery is comfortable and of decent quality.
The plush fabric on the seats is repeated in the door panels. The GLS and LX also have a two-compartment center armrest. A nice rubber-lined spot is located ahead of the shifter for keys and coins. The glovebox opens with a firm feel. Only the ashtray feels flimsy.
The upper and lower portions of the instrument panel are dressed in contrasting shades of vinyl. Gauges are clearly marked. The splash of artificial wood around the center stack of the GLS and LX won't fool anyone, but makes a nice trim accent. A frame of burnished aluminum surrounds the automatic shifter quadrant, with the Shiftronic manual-override slot alongside. Illuminated manual-shift indicators let you know what gear you're in when using the manual override.
It's easy to operate the Sonata's accessories without taking your eyes off the road. Radio controls are big, clearly marked and easy to manipulate. Heating and air conditioning controls are straightforward, with two rows of big buttons and knobs that are easy to discern and operate. Window switches are conveniently mounted on the doors, but, alas, are not illuminated. Electric switches for the trunk and fuel door releases are placed on the driver's door, where they are easy to reach and operate. LX models now offer a HomeLink remote system and electrochromic inside rear view mirror as part of an option package.
The back seat area offers good room for two adults, with sufficient legroom and comfort for a long trip. The seat itself is contoured for two passengers, with a folding center armrest between them, but Hyundai has provided three-point seat belts for three people. Map pockets on the backs of the front seats add useful storage space.
Sonata's trunk volume is a decent 14.1 cubic feet. The rear seat splits and folds 60/40, allowing long items to pass through from the trunk. Articulated trunk lid supports stay out of the trunk itself, so you don't have to worry about groceries or luggage being crushed when you close the lid.
The Hyundai Sonata cruises nicely, with a smooth ride and good stability at high speed. The available 2.7-liter V6 provides quick acceleration from a standstill.
When equipped with the V6, the Sonata accelerates smoothly and without great drama. It idles quietly, but not silently. Hyundai doesn't have the most powerful V6 among mid-size sedans, so the Sonata would probably lose a drag race to a Toyota Camry V6 or Honda Accord V6. But the Sonata costs $4,500-$5,500 less than a comparably equipped Camry or Accord.
The automatic transmission is responsive and sophisticated. Shifts are smooth, almost unnoticeable. Stepping on the gas brings a prompt downshift for quick acceleration when passing. Using fuzzy logic, the transmission's electronic controller adapts to the driver's style and minimizes hunting when climbing hills. The transmission features a manual mode called Shiftronic that can give the driver more precise shifting control. Slap the Shiftronic lever to the right and, once there, row it fore and aft to shift up and down manually. The transmission will hold the selected gear rather than shifting automatically. The Shiftronic override is useful for engine braking on long, steep downgrades.
The four-cylinder engine that comes with the base model works well when paired with the five-speed manual gearbox. It does not, however, offer strong power, especially at higher elevations. It lacks the response of the V6, particularly at lower revs. It deliver 22/30 mpg with the manual or automatic transmission, however, compared to 19/27 for the V6 with automatic.
The Sonata rides smoothly, soaking up expansion joints and potholes. Some popping over seams can be heard, and at speed, the Sonata has a tendency to drift within its lane. However, our test car glided effortlessly at 75 mph, with only a ruffle of wind noise and the slightest amount of tire noise. We enjoyed even the pianissimo passages of classical music on the Sonata's standard CD player.
The nose dives a bit under hard braking and the rear suspension squats under hard acceleration, but otherwise the Sonata's four-wheel independent underpinnings work well in the daily grind.
Steering is responsive, though it's a bit slower than, say, an Accord's, so you have to turn the wheel more. The Sonata's tires don't feel as connected as we'd like on a wet road. Drive the Sonata very hard on a bumpy, winding road and you can feel some chassis flex. The current Sonata was introduced for the 1999 model year, and its structure isn't as stiff as that of the Accord, Camry, and Altima. For the most part, however, the Sonata is just fine and dandy, a good, competent mid-size sedan.
Braking is solid with the four-wheel disc brakes that come standard on all models. ABS is optional and we recommend it as it allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an emergency stopping situation.
The Hyundai Sonata is a comfortable car with smooth, easy going manner. The cabin is finished nicely and all controls are easy to operate. The four-cylinder is adequate for highway cruising, but the V6 models are better for responsive performance.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Matras is based in Pennsylvania.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Hyundai Sonata GL ($15,999); GLS ($18,779), LX ($19,799)|
|138-hp 2.4-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 170-hp 2.7-liter dohc 24-valve V6|
|5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|dual front and side-impact airbags with passenger presence detection, front seatbelt pretensioners, rear 3-point seatbelts, child seat anchors|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|ABS, traction control|
|5 years/60,000 miles|
|Asan, South Korea|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Hyundai Sonata LX ($19,799)|
|automatic climate control, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, woodgrain trim, power door locks w/ remote, power mirrors, power windows, cruise control, tilt wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, variable intermittent wipers, rear defroster, power antenna, heated mirrors, AM/FM/CD/cassette audio, dual front map lights, V6 engine, automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, power driver's seat, electrochromic rear-view mirror, HomeLink transmitter, deluxe carpeting, carpeted floor mats|
|Options as tested:|
|Accessory Group 5 ($1,445) includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, power tilt-and-slide moonroof with sunshade|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|2.7-liter dohc 24-valve V6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|170 @ 6000|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|181 @ 4000|
|4-speed automatic with Shiftronic|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|14.1 cu. ft.|
|independent, upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|disc/disc with ABS in.|