Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sunday Driver: Hyundai Sonata offers good value in a large sedan

Model tested: 2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited V6

Basics: Four-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan

Price: $27,685, including options and destination charges

What's new: Hyundai made some major changes to its popular Sonata model for 2009. The car arrived at dealers earlier this year.

Changes include improved power and fuel economy for its 3.3-liter V-6 engine, a firmer ride for Limited models, standard iPod auxiliary ports, seven new colors, and increased steering response and feedback for all models.

Interior improvements include refinements to the center console, new heating/air conditioning controls and a new instrument panel with blue illumination.

Exterior changes include new headlights, taillights, foglights, bumpers, grille, body side moldings and alloy wheels.

Pricing starts at $18,795, including destination charges, for the Sonata with a 4-cylinder engine.

Hyundai's excellent warranty remains a key selling point, with five years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and powertrain coverage for 10 years or 100,000 miles. Powertrain: For 2009, the Sonata's V-6 engine added 15 horsepower -- for a total of 249 -- and 3 ft-lbs. of torque for a total of 229. The engine features all-aluminum construction, four valves per cylinder, dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing.

The engine, linked to a 5-speed automatic with a manual shift mode, provides smooth operation and quick acceleration.

The EPA rates the car's mileage at 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. In a week of mixed city and highway driving that covered 340 miles and included jaunts through the Oregon Coast Range, the Sonata averaged 26 mpg. Interior: While the Sonata competes against midsized cars such as the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, its interior is so big that it is classified as a large car by the EPA. The interior is roomy in both the front and back seats and in all dimensions. Even headroom is not affected by the standard moonroof. The front seats are quite comfortable, even after a day behind the wheel.

The test car, a top-of-the-line Limited model, had seats covered in soft leather upholstery.

The trunk is also good-sized, at 16.3 cubic feet.

Hyundai designers revamped the cockpit to simplify the controls and to create a more upscale look. They succeeded admirably. The two-tone dashboard and center console are covered in plush materials, and the controls are large, well-marked and easy to operate.

The test car came with the optional ($1,250) GPS navigation system, a new offering for the Sonata. Safety: Hyundai says the Sonata is the only car with pricing that starts under $20,000 that offers a standard stability control system. Other standard safety equipment includes ABS, tire-pressure monitoring and six airbags, including side curtains. Ride and handling: The ride was smooth and comfortable, while steering response has become more precise compared to previous Sonata models. Hyundai said the rear spring rates have been increased by 5 percent, shocks revalved and the rear sway bar thickened. All this combines to provide better control of ride motions. Most liked features: The comfortable, roomy interior with its upscale styling Needs improvement: The car's exterior styling needs more pizzazz. Rating (1 to 10): 9.5

The Oregonian

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