The 2009 Hyundai Sonata may be one of the less well-known vehicles in its mid-size sedan class, but it's not for lack of trying. Hyundai's endowed the four-door with a pleasing style, great interior room and the traditional choice of four- and six-cylinder engines. This year, they've only made the Sonata better by fitting a brand-new interior and a new four-cylinder engine, and by adding some high-tech features high on the shopping lists for today's family sedan buyers.
Let's start with styling. The 2009 Sonata gets a light touch-up on its front and rear ends. It's essentially the same as the previous version, and that's welcome. The Sonata's a handsome sedan with some strong character lines but mostly, a generically good-looking shape. Inside lies real change: the Sonata gains a new interior this year, and it's beautifully rendered in soft-touch plastics on most of the surfaces you'll touch on a regular basis. The matte-paint finish reminds TheCarConnection.com's test drivers of Lexus--and of Hyundai's much more expensive Genesis sedan. A broad band of metallic-finish plastic gives the dash elegant wings, and the high-mounted radio and climate controls are visible and easy to use. A few hard finishes live in places you'll hardly see or use. It's state of the art in a class with some classy cars.
Hyundai's trimmed the Sonata lineup for 2009, leaving it with a base four-cylinder GLS, a sporty SE edition and an upscale Limited. Both the SE and Limited can be outfitted with a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower or a 3.3-liter V-6 with 249 hp. A five-speed manual is available on the GLS and SE four-cylinders, but you'll be hard-pressed to find one. A five-speed automatic is the only other transmission, and in tandem with the four-cylinder, it's a smooth and adept freeway cruiser with enough torque for comfortable passes. The V-6 isn't that much quicker. Fuel economy ranges from 21/31 mpg for the four, to 19/28 mpg with the six. On the road, the 2009 Hyundai Sonata rides well and is agile enough. It compares well to the base Honda Accord and Toyota Camry models, but steering isn't as nicely weighted as in a Mazda6 or a Ford Fusion. The Sonata's firm shocks and softer bushings give even the SE versions an absorbent ride.
Interior room has been a strength of the Sonata since it was last completely redesigned for 2006. Along with the richly appointed cabin, there's a wealth of usable space inside. The front seats in the SE version are well trimmed but a little on the flat side--though plenty wide for American backsides. The back seat has legroom that qualifies this as a large car, just like the Honda Accord, and the seatback is reclined at a perfect degree. Doors open and close with a solid sound, there's enough trunk room for weeks of luggage, and cupholders and storage abound.
All 2009 Hyundai Sonata models include stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and side curtain airbags. The Sonata earns five stars for front and side-impact safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls it "acceptable" for side impacts.
A well-equipped car in base form, the 2009 Hyundai Sonata offers up AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio with USB and auxiliary jacks, air conditioning, cruise control, and a tilt steering wheel. The SE adds 17-inch wheels, a spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power driver seat and steering-wheel audio controls. The Limited gets a multi-disc CD changer, a subwoofer/amplifier, and heated front seats. A sunroof and a navigation system are available, and the Sonata now offers an Infinity premium audio system. There's Bluetooth as well, but the Sonata's setup is mounted like a speakerphone on the base car's headliner--a less convenient solution that contrasts with the steering-wheel controls offered on most other sedans in the class. Hyundai also backs the 2009 Sonata with a 5-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, plus a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain.
The Bottom Line:
TheCarConnection.com still rates the Honda Accord as the family-sedan champion, but the 2009 Hyundai Sonata lands solidly in the upstart tier that includes the Mazda6, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu.