Has any other automaker gone from imitator to innovator this quickly? That's what the 2014 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan has us wondering. It was only a few years ago that Hyundai models came across as Korean-flavored interpretations of more established cars, but now every family sedan seems to be taking cues from Korea's finest. What's more, the 2014 Sonata boasts numerous changes designed to keep it competitive with newer rivals.
Eagle-eyed observers will notice new front and rear fascias on this year's Sonata, but that's just scratching the surface. There's also a novel new steering system with three driver-selectable effort modes, and all Sonatas except the entry-level GLS model have at least a 4.3-inch touchscreen (a new 8-in upgrade comes with the optional navigation system). In fact, if you look at standard features across the board, you'll find that the 2014 Sonata is better equipped than its 2013 predecessor. It's fundamentally still the same car, but meaningful improvements boost the Sonata's stock.
The Sonata continues to be a leader under the hood, where its base 2.4-liter engine offers up to 192 horsepower, and the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged engine marshals a whopping 274 hp. We can remember when only high-strung performance machines such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution made that kind of power with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Fuel economy is a strong suit, as well, easily surpassing 30 miles per gallon with either engine.
Naturally, the Sonata is not perfect, even with this year's changes. But when you take all the Sonata's strengths and add Hyundai's traditional value advantage to the mix, it's no wonder other automakers are scrambling to keep up.
What's New for 2014?
The Sonata receives a slew of revisions -- most notably, freshened exterior styling, driver-adjustable steering resistance and a pair of new touchscreen interfaces.
What We Like
Good fuel economy; strong optional turbocharged engine; daring styling; big trunk; plenty of features for the price
What We Don't
Artificial steering feel; limited rear headroom
All Sonatas feature front-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Sonata GLS and Limited start with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque, while the base SE gets the same engine with ratings of 192 hp and 181 lb-ft (thanks to its dual exhaust system). Fuel economy is an excellent 24 mpg city/35 mpg hwy either way.
The SE and Limited are eligible for an upgrade to a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that cranks out 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. You still get 21 mpg city/32 mpg hwy, which is laudable given the turbo's muscular performance.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Hyundai Sonata models are offered in three trim levels: GLS, SE and Limited. Hyundai had not released any information about the 2014 Sonata Hybrid as of this writing. For details on the 2013 Sonata Hybrid, please see our 2013 Sonata review.
The GLS ($22,145) starts with 16-in alloy wheels, full power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, a trip computer, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, the Blue Link telematics system and a 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
The optional GLS Popular Equipment Package adds niceties like a 4.3-in touchscreen, a backup camera, fog lights, LED ambient lighting, upgraded door trim and heated front seats with driver power adjustments.
The SE ($24,995) boasts 18-in alloy wheels, a sport suspension, dual exhaust pipes, automatic headlamps, fog lights, chrome exterior accents, keyless entry with push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, hybrid cloth/leather upholstery and a color driver information display.
The turbocharged SE 2.0T ($26,545) brings a sport exhaust and standard dual-zone automatic climate control. (The latter is added to the base SE with the Premium Package.)
The SE's optional Premium Package tacks on a sunroof, a 10-speaker Dimension stereo, a blind spot warning system and a navigation system with an upgraded 8-in touchscreen.
The Limited ($27,695) dials it back to 17-in alloy wheels and ditches the SE's more aggressive touches, such as the paddle shifters and sport-tuned suspension, but it gains a sunroof, leather upholstery, unique interior rim, dual-zone automatic climate control and heated rear seats along with the 4.3-in touchscreen.
The turbocharged Limited 2.0T ($29,445) reclaims the 18-in alloys and paddle shifters.
The Limited's optional Technology package contributes xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, LED taillights, the larger touchscreen with a navigation system and premium Infinity audio.
The Sonata's back seat provides plenty of legroom and a nice high bottom cushion, but headroom may be tight for passengers with long torsos -- one of the prices you pay for the rakish roofline and supportive rear bench.
Trunk space, however, is quite generous at 16.4 cu ft.
The 2014 Hyundai Sonata comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, active front head restraints and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side curtain).
In government crash-testing, the Sonata received a perfect 5-star overall rating, including five stars in every category except frontal protection, for which it received four stars. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Sonata its highest rating of Good in all crash tests except the new small overlap frontal-offset test, in which a Marginal rating (second worst of four) was assessed.
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation, we were reminded that Hyundai seats tend to be soft, and that tradition continues with the Sonata's front chairs, regardless of upholstery. We appreciate the long-distance cruising comfort they provide, though, even if lateral support for sporting maneuvers is lacking. The stylized dashboard features mostly good-quality materials; in fact, the Sonata is above average in this regard. The central controls are a generally ergonomic mix of buttons and knobs, with the unusual addition of a Volvo-inspired human figure that you press to change the airflow setting.
The base 2.4-liter engine is strong for an entry-level offering, and it's reasonably refined, too. The standard 6-speed automatic shifts quickly yet smoothly -- we like it. As for the 2.0-liter turbo, it's one of the most impressive engines in any midsize sedan. You get a ton of low-end torque for effortless passing, yet it keeps on pulling at high rpm -- and it remains civilized all the while.
The Sonata's suspension tuning marks a paradigm shift for Hyundai. Whereas previous Sonatas prioritized a soft ride above all else, the current Sonata is more like a Honda Accord in the way it keeps the driver connected with the road. The ride is still compliant, but the Sonata now feels like it has athletic ability in corners, especially in the SE's tighter state of tune. Alas, the Sonata's steering is numb and vague, a habit that Hyundai can't seem to shake -- even with the new adjustable-effort feature. Also, road noise can rise to objectionable levels on certain surfaces, though the Sonata's cabin is otherwise quiet.
Other Cars to Consider
Kia Optima -- The mechanically similar Optima has a bold styling language of its own, and we prefer the Kia's interior.
Toyota Camry -- The Camry's V6 is one of the few engines in this class that can give the Sonata's 2.0T a run for its money. This one's a tossup.
Volkswagen Passat -- The Passat offers an intriguing engine lineup of its own, and it has restrained German styling that's an intriguing counterpoint to the Sonata's exuberance.
The turbocharged engine hits the trifecta for power, fuel economy and value. Make ours a base SE 2.0T to keep the cost in check; that's a lot of car for less than $27,000.