The world of the midsize sedan is very competitive, and Hyundai is determined not to let its stylish Sonata fall behind. Last redesigned for the 2011 model year, the outgoing Sonata was initially praised for its groundbreaking looks and muscular, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Since its debut, today's Sonata has seen each of its competitors redesigned. The Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Mazda6 all look like they've been carefully crafted to appeal to a wide range of sedan shoppers.
Enter the all-new 2015 Hyundai Sonata, which offers a new look, a revised cabin, a new powertrain and a few new features. How does the new model stack up to the competition? We spent some time behind the wheel to find out.
The Hyundai Sonata is fully redesigned for 2015, which means it's completely changed inside and out. On the outside, revisions aren't as dramatic as they were for the Sonata's last redesign. Instead, the styling is smoothed and modernized while retaining the same basic look as before. Things are more drastically updated on the inside, with a wider center stack leading the charge and giving the Sonata a more mainstream appearance.
Changes under the hood are interesting in that both gas engines actually lose power for 2015. The standard 4-cylinder goes from 190 horsepower to 185, while the turbocharged engine makes a huge drop from 274 horses to 245 -- likely in the interest of fuel economy. Speaking of fuel economy, there's a new Eco model out for 2015 with a 177-hp 4-cylinder engine and a dual-clutch automatic, both factors that Hyundai says will help the car return 28 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. The Sonata Hybrid will carry over with its current look for at least one more model year before it, too, is redesigned.
Of course, the Sonata also adds a few new features for 2015. There's a newly optional rear cross-traffic alert system, a new adaptive cruise control feature, and lane-change assist technology that audibly warns drivers if a lane change isn't safe. The sedan's 8-inch touchscreen offers a host of new features, including the ability to rewind and record SiriusXM Radio. There's even more new tech for iPhone users; the 2015 Sonata offers the easy-to-use Siri Eyes Free system and Apple's upcoming CarPlay technology, which brings iPhone apps right to the dashboard. Finally, updates to the Sonata's Blue Link system let drivers start their car remotely from a mobile app and search for destinations using Google.
On the Road
So, how does the new Sonata drive? In short: a lot like the old one. The sedan's ride is smooth, with each model soaking up bumps surprisingly well. There's some audible tire noise, especially at higher speeds, but no more than most class competitors. Wind noise is surprisingly well controlled, allowing you to easily have a conversation with your passengers at highway speeds.
The Sonata's driving experience is hardly exciting, though. Handling is secure, but the steering feels more overassisted than in midsize sedans such as the Honda Accord and Mazda6. More importantly, acceleration feels dulled. The power drop in the turbocharged 4-cylinder model is easily noticeable, for instance. It's so noticeable that we'd eliminate it from contention against rival V6-powered midsize sedans. The base-level 2.4-liter engine doesn't stand out, though it offers similar performance to most other midsize 4-cylinder sedans.
We're not trying to pick on the Sonata here. We happen to think its driving experience is a lot like most midsize sedans, including mainstream rivals such as the Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu. But if you're interested in sporty driving, don't be fooled by the fact that the Sonata has a Sport trim level -- this probably isn't the sedan for you.
The Sonata Experience
Of course, the Sonata is about a lot more than just driving feel. Interior comfort is also a consideration, and that's an area in which the Sonata shines. We found its driver's seat to be surprisingly comfortable, and rear seats had ample legroom and headroom for even a tall passenger. The center control stack is intuitive and easy to operate, regardless of whether you go for the standard 5-in screen or the 8-in upgrade. We felt that the colored stitching in the Sport model was a nice, upscale touch that helps the Sonata stand out from its rivals.
The Sonata's key strongpoint is value. With a starting price of $21,960 with shipping, the base model is $300 cheaper than the outgoing Sonata, and yet, it offers even more equipment. Opt for the $1,200 Popular Equipment package, which we suspect nearly all dealers will, and you'll get high-end items such as automatic headlights, a 5-in touchscreen, a backup camera and a power driver's seat.
For only $2,000 more than the base-level SE, the Sonata Sport offers heated front seats, 17-in alloy wheels, and an attractive look punctuated by interior stitching, chrome accents and a dual exhaust. The leather-lined Sonata Limited, which starts around $27,300 with shipping, boasts some truly luxurious features, such as heated rear seats, a blind spot monitoring system, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and Hyundai's automatic trunk-opening feature. Value like this will be a huge driver of sales for the latest Sonata.
Sonata vs. Rivals?
The ultimate question you must ask, of course, is whether you should choose the 2015 Hyundai Sonata over its rivals. To us, the answer depends on what you're looking for in a midsize sedan.
If you're looking for a stellar driving experience, the Sonata still can't touch class leaders such as the Mazda6 and Honda Accord, especially with its newly curtailed 4-cylinder turbo engine. Likewise, if fuel economy is your thing, look elsewhere: Except in Eco trim (which we didn't get the chance to thoroughly evaluate because Hyundai says its launch is delayed), the Sonata's gas-mileage numbers are mid-pack at best.
If you're looking for value, comfort and equipment, the Sonata is worth a look. From a value standpoint, it remains one of the top midsize sedans on the market, and its ride is surprisingly comfortable and free of noise or jarring bumps. The new Sonata may not be a class leader, but it's still an excellent choice in the competitive world of the midsize sedan.