Hyundai has gone from the role of follower to pacesetter in a very short time. The automaker added steady improvements and innovations to its lineup that are obvious in the 2013 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan.

At First Glance

The exterior styling of the Sonata has a boldness and edginess that Hyundai calls "fluidic sculpture." This amounts to a look that's both eye-catching and unique. There are three Sonata trim levels -- GLS, SE and Limited, along with the Sonata Hybrid.

Beyond Its Doors

No matter which trim, the interior of the Sonata has an upscale feel, with soft surfaces and cabin upholstery reflecting an above-average fit and finish. Front and rear seats are comfortable. Legroom is generous, too, but headroom is slightly reduced by the low-profile roof line.

Even the base GLS comes with a full assortment of technology features, such as iPod, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as Hyundai's Blue Link telematics with many clever tech features, including voice-recognition capabilities.

Unfortunately, the electroluminescent gauges on the Sonata Hybrid are not used across the Sonata lineup. The standard Sonata gauges are legible but not as crisp, clear and attractive as the hybrid's meter illumination.

On a brighter note, the Hyundai has expanded sunroof choices for the 2013 Sonata, but that means its unique panoramic sunroof, which we're fans of, is now part of a pricey Premium Package option.

The Driving Experience

The Sonata offers two inline 4-cylinder engines, the base 2.4-liter or a turbocharged 2.0-liter. Both engines provide good performance, but the turbo engine is one of the most impressive powerplants in the midsize sedan segment. Offered in 2.0T editions of the SE or Limited trim levels, it produces 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, making it our engine of choice.

The Sonata has developed athletic moves, too, compared to Hyundai vehicles of the past. When equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, it offers a firm and steady ride. But the Sonata's steering is a downside, with its slow response to handling. Driving over certain road surfaces also generates noticeable interior noise in its otherwise quiet cabin.

Midsize Affordability

We're impressed with the Sonata's fuel economy with the base and turbo engines, which deliver mileage estimates of 24 miles per gallon city/35 mpg hwy and 22 mpg city/34 mpg hwy, respectively. To that end, you can expect to save at the gas pump.

Pricewise, the Sonata definitely is a bargain. The base GLS starts at barely over $21,000, while the top-drawer Limited starts at just under $26,000. But choosing among the Sonata, the Kia Optima, the Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat may not be easy. They're all in the midsize sedan sweet spot.

In Short

The 2013 Hyundai Sonata mixes together upbeat styling, an upscale interior and an up-tempo powertrain. The Sonata's loose steering and tight headroom are drawbacks, but these are ultimately minor issues compared with the overall driving and ownership experience. In the end, the Sonota's a real winner.

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Jessica Shea Choksey is an automotive journalist and former writer/reporter for the PBS/Discovery Channel television series "MotorWeek." She began her career in journalism as an editor for numerous magazines and publications mainly outside of the automotive field. Jessica currently resides with her family, in Southern California.

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