Hyundai plays a better Sonata

By From page B3 | May 17, 2013

Hyundai has been on a roll recently. The old Sonata should have worried Toyota and Honda — the new one should keep them up at night, because it is much better than the old car and possibly better than the Accord and Camry.

To find out, we managed to borrow a Sonata Limited and what we found was very interesting.

Beginning with the 2011 Sonata and 2010 Tucson projects, Hyundai designers set to work on what they call Fluidic Sculpture. Fluidic Sculpture is a consistent, cohesive design language that will ripple through the entire Hyundai showroom. In developing the initial Sonata sketches, Hyundai designers considered the interplay of natural, fluid elements with more rigid surfaces and structures to create the illusion of constant motion. Fluidic Sculpture injects sophistication and dynamic angles into the shape of a vehicle and now serves as the core of Hyundai’s future design identity.

The exterior of the all-new Sonata is long, light and low. The look is aggressive, but smooth; an interesting look that is actually a smart marketing move. It is bold enough to get people excited, but not so much to actually turn people off. The sophisticated look continues inside, where Hyundai has created an upscale ambiance much more expensive and rich than the competition. The feel of the Japanese brands is more economy-car, with some features added. The Sonata feels more European which is a good thing.

The interior is also roomy enough to satisfy the American consumer taste. The Sonata has more passenger volume than most cars in its class. In fact, the Sonata and the Accord are the only two in this class (among the best sellers) that are classified as “large” by the EPA. It also boasts the second-largest trunk of the bunch, only getting beaten by the Ford Fusion. The Sonata trunk is larger than the Accord by a whopping 17 percent.

The new Sonata comes with Hyundai’s new Theta II GDI 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a Gasoline Direct-Injection fuel delivery system, which contributes to improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Hyundai claims that the Sonata is the first midsize sedan to adopt GDI technology as standard equipment in a naturally aspirated powertain. This shorter, more direct path of fuel delivery, allows for greater control of the fuel mixture at the optimum moment, thus improving efficiency.

The fuel is injected by a camshaft-driven, high pressure pump that operates at pressures up to 2,175 psi. Direct injection also utilizes a higher than normal 11.3:1 compression ratio for increased power. Hyundai claims best-in-class fuel economy, best-in-class four-cylinder horsepower and best-in-class torque. The 2.4 liter DOHC engine puts out 198 hp in the Limited trim. This high-tech, all-aluminum, 16-valve engine features Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing and a Variable Induction System for better engine breathing. A version of this engine also meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards. There is also a hybrid version of the Sonata and a turbo version for those that want more power.

The transmission in most Sonatas will be a six-speed automatic that works well, but is not programmed for sporty driving. It does provide smooth shifts but is a little slow to respond. Developed over a four-year period, this new transmission is 26.4 pounds lighter than the five-speed it replaces. It’s also 1.6 inches shorter and considerably simpler, having 62 fewer parts, which is a key to increased durability. The transmission has no dipstick because it is filled with automatic transmission fluid that is good for the life of the vehicle under normal usage conditions, thereby reducing maintenance costs. If you are a driving enthusiast, there used to be a six-speed manual transmission available but no more.

Behind the wheel the Sonata is a marvel. The 198-horsepower engine is powerful enough for everyday driving but if you need more power you should consider the turbo option. The car is smooth and the fully independent suspension offers good handling as long as you do not push very hard. You can tell that the car was not designed to be a sports sedan but neither was the Camry. The overall feeling of the car tells you that the Sonata likes to be driven at a good pace but not at a sports sedan pace. If you push too hard, you will discover that the Sonata is no sports sedan.

The Sonata is also very competitive in the fuel-economy department. The automatic Sonata is rated at 24 mpg city and 35 mpg on the highway. Those numbers match or beat the competition, all of whom give you less power from their four cylinders.

If you like what you read so far, Sonata pricing will really put a smile on your face. The entry level GLS starts out at $21,195. The sporty SE will cost you $23,545 and the top of the line Limited will cost you $25,845. Order the Limited with the turbo engine and you are looking at $27,595. Those numbers are very competitive.

The Sonata is a serious threat to the competition in this hotly contested segment. If you are considering a family sedan, you have to test drive a Sonata before you sign any papers.

Ali Arsham

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