In 2011, Hyundai took a big swing, design-wise, with its Sonata compact sedan. It was hit, taking cues from luxury automakers with an exterior that made it look twice as expensive as its low base price. The interior wasn’t shabby either. For the seventh generation (2014-2019) designers reeled it way back, joining the ranks of many of the other shapeless blobs on the market. For 2020, the Korean automaker is back up to bat and again, it’s swinging for the fences.
First, Hyundai pulled the roof of the eighth-generation Sonata back to the tail, sportback style, like the current Honda Accord, not to mention the Audi A7, Mercedes CLS, etc. It has a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs. The rear gets an integrated spoiler and there are sporty looking air vents in front of the front wheels. The grille is wider and the scallops are cut deeper. But the lights, the daytime running lights that go from LED white to chrome up the hood and around the windows, are what’s either going to sell or not sell this car. Automakers always talk about having a distinctive face. The Sonata’s just became the most distinctive on the market.
Whether you like it or not, the Sonata needed it. This class, comprised of the leading Camry, which offers a V6, the fantastic Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, among others, is a 1,500,000-unit market, every year. To get in that upper echelon, especially in a standard/non-enthusiast class, you need to stand out.
Underneath that protruding nose is either a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle I4, or the one we tested, a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4. That more powerful engine debuts in SEL Plus and Limited trims this December. Both are marketed under the new Smartstream name. The 2.5 direct-injection four delivers 191 hp at 6,100 rpm and 181 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. The 1.6 turbo is a strangely similar 180 hp and 195 lb-ft, though that twist comes lower, starting at 1,500 rpm. There is a hybrid coming, but Hyundai says the 2.5 will be a standalone engine. All are connected to an eight-speed automatic and only the front wheels.
Inside the cabin is where things get clever. The whole space is redesigned with new, soft armrests that feature a long cargo slot/grab handle for easy door closing and storage, a new digital display on upper trim models that shows blind spot cameras on either side (in addition to your usual blind spot warning lights in the mirrors), a new steering wheel design that looks a little like an airplane yoke, and a central screen that bends inward, giving the illusion of one continuous piece connecting with the gauge cluster.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included with the 10.25-inch screen and Hyundai has a new partnership with Bose for its top audio system. The rest of the instrument panel consists of narrow air vents, which Hyundai spent time on eliminating air noise, a large central storage compartment and a push-button transmission. Kia got the dial transmission, Hyundai got the buttons. The drive mode switch (smart, comfort, normal, sport) sits behind the gear selector panel.
There’s a ton of space in the back. I moved the seat to where I would sit (at 5’ 10”) and had at least 5 extra inches of kneeroom. The trunk, too, looks like it could swallow a ton of gear. The Honda has about one cubic foot more cargo space, the Camry about one less.
On the highway the Hyundai is extremely quiet, even with the AC going at full blast, fighting a near-100-degree fall Alabama heat wave. The 18-inch wheels on our Limited trim tester only makes noise when pushed around corners and with the windows up the cabin is serene. The leather seats are comfortable for at least four hours, which is about how long we drive the car.
The 1.6-liter turbo four is the only engine we tested and would best be described as completely adequate for this class of car. For any driving enjoyment, you have to pedal it hard. It won’t outpace the quicker versions of the Accord (252 hp) or Camry (301 hp) but would sit right on par with the four-cylinder models. We expect a quicker Sonata in the future, hopefully wearing the new N badge. Shifts up and down are smooth and the automatic didn’t get caught up once in my few-hour drive. Hyundai built the new eight-speed, and it’s a good one. The brakes are a little oversensitive, but the pedal stroke is short.
On the handling side, the 2020 Sonata is a little soft, but again that’s par for this sort of vehicle. The Accord is probably best in class here, or the Mazda 6. The Sonata has a MacPherson strut setup in front and a multilink rear. Pushed hard into corners it gets a little sloppy, with a good amount of lean. The roads were almost perfectly smooth near Bama’s capital of Montgomery, which kept the suspension mostly quiet. I’ll have to drive it here in Detroit for a better sense of how it soaks up busted pavement.
The steering is easy but gets a little heavier and feels a little tighter in sport mode, which also amps up the throttle sensitivity and shift points. On the fun-to-drive scale, the Accord is probably first, or the slow-selling Mazda 6; the newly redesigned and sportier Camry is next. This Sonata and the Ford Fusion would probably be after that for me. The Fusion has a certain amount of heft to it, though. The Sonata feels light all around.
The adaptive cruise control is good, and the lane centering is better. Most cars ping-pong in the lane and you can feel the micro-adjustments in your hand. Hyundai’s system feels much smoother, and I could take my hands off the wheel (not recommended) for a full 20 seconds before it scolded me.
A few other notes on the clever tech: The Sonata comes with a Near-Field Communications (NFC) card that acts as a key if you were, say, surfing or swimming and didn’t want to bring your fob. It also can be opened and started using a digital key on your Android cell phone. That digital key can be passed around to friends and families for certain amounts of time, up to a year, actually.
The second killer app is its summon/parking feature. This requires the actual key fob and with a button push will straighten the car’s wheels, pull forward or backward to either ease the Sonata into your garage or pull out of a tight parking space, as long as you’re close enough with the fob. At maximum it will go about 30 feet even if you’re walking next to it, so no ghost riding the whip, yet. It’ll also gently steer around objects and stop for pedestrians when necessary. If you have a tight garage space, this feature is for you.
Hyundai doesn’t have official pricing yet but a base around $23,000 and a top of around $33,000 would seem reasonable when the Sonata goes on sale in December. It seems to stick about $1,000 less than its main competitors.
The similar prices, the similar power, the general interior upgrades all the main players have done—it’s hard to imagine exterior looks not being a main selling point in this competitive set of vehicles (Camry, Accord, Altima, Sonata, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion). And that’s where Hyundai is taking a swing (that, and the gimmicky-but-cool-summon feature). I don’t mind the face. The silhouette is great, and I don’t even hate the Earnhardt-edition non-optional spoiler.
Those lights though…they might take some time to get used to.
On Sale: December 2019
Base Price: $23,500 (est.)
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter I4 or 1.6-liter turbocharged I4, eight-speed automatic, FWD
Output: 191 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 181 lb-ft @ 4,000 (2.5); 180 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm (1.6)
Pros: Sweet tech, beautiful interior, sleek shell
Cons: Polarizing flourishes, just a little sluggish
Source: Read Full Article