Monday, July 21, 2008
Tweaked Sonata hits nearly all the right notes
Hyundai has it's work cut out for it.
I has to get people to notice its midsize Sonata sedan when its rivals are established favorites: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion.
And all have had new versions since the 2006 model year, including some hybrids.
With much formidable competition, you can easily get lost in the crowd. That's why Hyundai has performed cosmetic surgery on the 2009 Sonata that's in showrooms now. It gets a new front end and a cabin makeover. And the next generation is due for the 2011 model year.
The midsize Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Ala., along with the Santa Fe SUV.
No complaints about mileage. Hyundai had the third best fleet mileage rating last year (22.7 m.p.g.) behind only Honda (22.9) and Toyota (22.8).
No gripes about price, either. Hyundai always loads its cars with standard equipment, such as stability control with traction control.
For 2009 Sonata goes upscale. It's offered in SE, GLS and Limited versions with a choice of V-6 for performance or 4-cylinder for mileage. We tested a 4-cylinder Limited.
Sonata owners had asked for is a little more punch when leaving the light or pulling out to pass. In other words, a little more fun. So Hyundai tweaked the 2.4-liter 4 and 3.3-liter V-6, to develop 175 and 249 horsepower, respectively.
Both also are quieter than the engines they replace. The 4 groans a bit when pushed hard, but it doesn't sound as if gasping for breath. Changes in transmission shift points make Sonata feel that much zippier leaving the light or taking the passing lane.
Michael Deitz, manager of product planning for Hyundai, said one of the goals was to have the car get the mileage listed on the window sticker, not just come close. Of course, the EPA changing its testing procedures to achieve the same thing hasn't hurt.
Mileage rises to 22 m.p.g. city and 32 m.p.g. highway on the 4 from 21/30 for 2008, and 19 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway in the V-6, 1 m.p.g. more on the highway.
The suspension is softly sprung to minimize bumps filtering into the cabin. It helps that seats are not only well cushioned, but also longer and wider and lean back 2 more degrees to relieve pressure on back and thighs. Side bolsters aren't real large, but Sonata isn't designed for darting into and out of corners. It is more a pamperer with its smoothness and quietness. The suspension is firmer on the sporty SE for a focus on handling.
Stability control with traction control is standard on all models to keep you in contact with the road and prevent unplanned detours from a straight line.
In addition to packing more punch, Sonata pays more attention to the cabin. Good fits and finishes without glaring gaps. Textured dash and door coverings as well as nicely textured leather seats provide a fashionable and luxury look.
The cabin is roomy and comfortable. Very nice head, leg and arm room in the back seat, where a pull-down armrest offers two cupholders. The trunk is very large. A small plastic tray in the corner can keep a can of pop from sliding around, but would be nice if it were big enough to hold a gallon of milk or two like the Toyota Corolla does.
Rear seat backs fold so you can slip packages from the trunk into the cabin, but the small opening limits what you can slip through.
Nice touches include covered cubbyholes in the dash to hold CDs or cell phones, rich-looking and eye-friendly blue backlighting on gauges at night, dark carpeting to conceal ugly shoe marks and a USB port and power plug under the center armrest and another power plug in the console.
Sonata Limited starts at $23,970 and much of the charm comes from the fact it's loaded: side-curtain air bags; anti-lock brakes; 17-inch, all-season, radials; alloy wheels; fog lights; power tilt and slide sunroof; AM/FM XM radio with CD player; keyless entry; leather (heated front) seats; power driver's seat; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; dual automatic temperature control; and power windows/locks/mirrors. Only option on the test car was carpeted mats at $90.
Excellent looks, room, comfort, mileage and price along with very good performance.
A gas/electric version would help it keep up with the pack. Hyundai is mum but you have to suspect with the new model coming for 2011, a hybrid may be too.
Jim Mateja - Chicago Tribune
June 22, 2008