CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Hyundai, the largest car company in South Korea, invests in North America with a $1.1 billion assembly plant in Alabama, a vast technology and engineering center located in Michigan, $30 million worth of studios for research and design in Irvine, Calif., plus a $50 million test track pitched near California City on the Mojave Desert.
As a result, many of the vehicles in Hyundai's extensive line slant directly toward the American market -- such as the Sonata, a four-door and five-passenger sedan which is the first Hyundai to come out of that factory in Alabama.
Sonata fits in the class of a mid-size sedan, although generous space in the five-seat passenger compartment seems more like the cabin of a large-size car.
Two different engines -- one a four-cylinder plant and the other a V6 -- were developed for Sonata through three different trim grades, with all stocking extensive equipment for safety.
MSRP leader is the entry issue Sonata GLS, listing for $17,670 with the four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual shifter, or $18,870 for a four-speed automatic.
Middle model Sonata SE with the four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual tallies to $19,570, or $22,220 with the V6 upgrade and a five-speed automatic.
Top tier Sonata Limited packs lots of luxury goods including leather upholstery. Price points for this deluxe version are $22,470 with the four-pack engine and $24,170 with the V6.
Then Hyundai supports each Sonata with a warranty which goes beyond the protection for other vehicles -- the powertrain insured for 100,000 miles and a 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper shield against defects plus unlimited mileage for a roadside assistance program.
With body styling drawn in the mainstream of designs, a high content in comfort features, extensive safety equipment, the generous warranty program and prices whittled to keen low points, Sonata for 2008 makes a persuasive case for inclusion on any sedan shopper's list.
The structure for Sonata is sophisticated and strong, incorporating many safety features.
As a result, Sonata scores the top five-star crash test rating for both frontal and side impacts from NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety).
Styling of Sonata seems clean and simple with a smooth front fascia setting off bold contours on a concave-dimpled hood dome and followed by a windshield raking high to an arching brow of the roof.
Four-barrel jeweled projector headlights mount in slit-eye clusters on corners of the prow as separated by a streak of chrome capping the grille.
Sonata's side view reveals a beltline that's nearly level above rolled shoulders and curvy door panels with large round wheelwells added to house big wheels and tires.
Windows rise high to meet the arching roofline with support frames and the middle pillar in black to blend with a dark tint of the glass and kindle the image of a sporty coupe.
A brief decklid on the rump-side trunk conceals the compartment's generous interior dimensions -- there's more than 16 cubic feet of cargo space in there.
The passenger compartment also seems big -- but it is, encompassing more than 105 cubic feet. Sonata's riders will find a surprising amount of personal space.
Headroom amounts to 40.1 inches up front and 38.2 inches in back, with front-seat legroom stretching to 43.7 inches and 37.4 inches in the rear.
Layout of the cabin shows a pair of bucket seats up front flanking a floor-mounted console and a broad bench in back with two articulated seat positions but room for three.
The rear seatback splits 60/40 in sections and both sides fold forward to expand cargo room in the trunk.
Driver's seat faces a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an instrument cluster containing analog gauges with a large speedometer in the center spot ringed by chrome.
Stow spots are scattered around the cabin -- map pockets mounted on the front doors, the center console with integrated cupholders and cubbyholes, a hook in the footwell of the right front seat that flips out to hold a handbag, a fold-down armrest in the rear seatback which houses more cupholders in a pop-open section.
Sonata powertrains line up as a 2.4-liter aluminum four-pack with CVVT (continuously variable valve timing) or Hyundai's Lambda V6, a 3.3-liter plant also with CVVT.
The in-line-four Theta engine produces 162 hp at 5800 rpm plus torque of 164 lb-ft at 4250 rpm. The Lambda V6 romps with 234 hp at 6000 rpm and 226 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm.
On the 2.4 plant a five-speed manual is the standard, but a four-speed Shiftronic automatic is available.
The V6 engine ties strictly to Hyundai's five-speed Shiftronic automatic.
For responsive handling as well as a comfortable ride quality, Sonata employs a four-wheel independent suspension system with double wishbone design up front and a multi-link arrangement in back.
The rack and pinion steering mechanism brings a direct touch with power boost keyed to engine-speed sensors.
Brakes include a disc at every wheel with computer-controlled equipment for all trims -- an anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC) and a traction control system (TCS).
All versions also stock six air bags in the cabin including curtain-style air bags in the ceiling.
Equipment standard on Sonata GLS ranges from air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors to heated side mirrors, cruise control, a tilt-adjustable steering column and an audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3.
Sonata SE adds performance gear like 17-inch alloy wheels ringed by new 215/55R17 all-season performance tires, a new decklid spoiler, foglamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and eight-way power controls for the driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support.
Sonata Limited goes further with the leather-trimmed cabin, heated front seats, automatic climate system and a standard Infinity AM/FM/XM/6-CD/MP3 audio kit.