The Hyundai Sonata cruises nicely, with a smooth ride and good stability at high speeds. The available 2.7-liter V6 provides quick acceleration from a standstill.
When equipped with the V6, the Sonata accelerates smoothly and without great drama. It idles quietly, but not silently. Hyundai doesn't have the most powerful V6 among mid-size sedans, so the Sonata would probably lose a drag race to a Toyota Camry V6 or Honda Accord V6. But the Sonata costs $4,500-$5,500 less than the Camry or Accord.
The Sonata's automatic transmission is responsive and sophisticated. Shifts are smooth, almost unnoticeable. Stepping on the gas brings a prompt downshift for quick acceleration when passing. Using fuzzy logic, the transmission's electronic controller adapts to the driver's style and minimizes hunting when climbing hills. The transmission has a manual mode called Shiftronic that can give the driver more precise shifting control. Slap the Shiftronic lever to the right and, once there, row it fore and aft to shift up and down manually. The transmission will hold the selected gear rather than shifting automatically. The Shiftronic override is useful for engine braking on long, steep downgrades.
The four-cylinder engine that comes with the base model works well when paired with the five-speed manual gearbox. It does not, however, offer strong power, especially at higher elevations. It lacks the response of the V6, particularly at lower revs. It does deliver 22/30 mpg with the manual or automatic transmission, compared to 19/27 for the V6 automatic.
The Sonata rides smoothly, soaking up tar strips and potholes. Some popping over seams can be heard, and at speed, the Sonata has a tendency to drift within its lane. However, our test car glided effortlessly at 75 mph, with only a ruffle of wind noise and the slightest amount of tire noise interfering with our utter tranquility. We enjoyed even the pianissimo passages of classical music on the Sonata's standard CD player. The nose dives a bit under hard braking and the rear suspension squats under hard acceleration, but otherwise the Sonata's four-wheel independent underpinnings work well in the daily grind.
Steering is responsive. It's a bit slower than the new Honda Accord's steering, so you have to turn the wheel more. The Sonata's tires don't feel as connected as we'd like on a wet road. Drive the Sonata very hard on a bumpy, winding road and you can feel some chassis flex. The current Hyundai Sonata dates from the 1999 model year, and its structure just isn't as stiff as that of some bigger-name sedans that have been re-engineered since then. (Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima all have been completely re-engineered within the last two years.) For the most part, however, the Sonata is just fine and dandy, a good, competent mid-size sedan.
Braking is solid with the four-wheel-disc brakes that come standard on all models. ABS is optional and we recommend it as it allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an emergency stopping situation.