The Hyundai Sonata used to have an easy job for three generations it was the top-of-the-line car for Hyundai. All it had to do was be a little bigger and better than the model under it to fit in the line up. But that changed mid-way through the thierd generation with the introduction of the XG in 2001. Suddenly the Sonata not only had to be the next level up from the Elantra, but it had to be a transition car for the XG. Now in its fourth generation (debuted in 2006), the Sonata is the exact middle sedan for Hyundai. It is the transition car that takes people from the budget-minded Accent and Elantra, and get them ready for the more luxury-minded Azura and Genesis.
Hyundais are getting more respect in our fleet. They are not performance cars or luxury cars, but they are beginning to show that they are decent cars for the money. The Sonata-based Santa Fe SUV we had in our fleet was a solid performer that made its most friends when it came down to the price point. The exact same feelings came back in our Sonata.
The Sonata has its bodylines dictated to it by other family members. It carries the same wide door lines of the previous generation Elantra and the current Azura (the cars the Sonata is sandwiched between in the Hyundai lineup.) The rear end shares the same proportions as the old Elantra. The rest of the car is a scaled-down Azura with a little Honda Accord flair thrown into the mix.
Almost every option box was ticked on our Sonata tester, so we found plenty to like in our $27,685 car. Leather seats, touch screen sat-nav/command center system, automatic climate control and sunroof, all made this car feel good for the money.
The hand is always the best gauge for quality. Something can look like nice but if it feels cheap, then value is always compromised. Hyundai is really beginning to figure this out. Like many cars we’ve been in recently, the interior looks good. But unlike some more expensive cars we’ve been in lately, Hyundai didn’t cut corners, literally. Everything is finished well, and there are no sharp corners or other telltale signs that the show engineers didn’t fully do their job.
We were impressed with the touch screen command center which featured satellite navigation, AM/FM, CD, XM, etc. What makes this particularly good is that the most-used commands are set as permanent buttons along the edging of the screen. This is not only convenient, but it also frees up more space for a larger map view in sat-nav mode.
As with the interior, the drive of our Sonata was geared for luxury. The 3.3-liter V6 makes a strong 249 hp, but this isn’t a sports sedan. Instead the car drives like a large luxury sedan.
Acceleration is brisk and, the transmission shifts are deliberate and seamless. The ride glides over bumps like a larger sedan. It’s not overly cushy, but it looses some grip. The tires begin to howl in 30 mph tight turns. The overall feel is that the car offers for a good/soft experience, but it also disconnects the driver from some of the feeling of the road.
This isn’t the only other Sonata out there. Knock about $6,000 off the Limited trim’s base price of $24,550, and the standard car comes with less features and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 175 hp. This car is more eager because the 74 hp loss means the engine works a little harder, and the transmission is geared a little differently. The ride is still a little soft, but the engine characteristics make this into a different car. It almost seems like Hyundai makes two completely separate Sonatas.
The main component of this car is value. A similarly priced Toyota Camry would not come with the leather seating, sat-nav/command system, heated seats, and many of the other goodies we got on our loaded Sonata.
This generation of Sonata has a lot of ground to cover. The Elantra’s top end is $16,600 and the Azura starts at about $25,000. From a pricing standpoint the $18,700 to $27,685 Sonata line has the spread well covered. We can easily see ourselves graduating from a well-optioned Elantra to a base Sonata, and also upgrading from a loaded Sonata to a base Azure. The real question remains is how many cars will it take for us to graduate thorough the Sonata line?