On the Road Review: Hyundai Sonata Limited

Korean automaker Hyundai has surpassed several of the hurdles that confronted its goal to become a mainstream marketer in America.

Where once its products were considered entry-level, low-dollar value cars, Hyundai has rocketed forward in the last 10 years with credible cars across the whole range of its offerings. From compact Accent and Elantra to midsize Sonata to full-size Genesis and premium Equus, Hyundai has surprised the industry and impressed consumers.

High-value content has been one component of this strategy, while the first automaker to offer that infamous 10-year warranty certainly did not hurt the brand’s reputation either. Neither of these virtues would be worth much, however, if the cars did not start featuring finely crafted interiors, smoother powertrains and better driving dynamics. Oh, it didn’t hurt that the car’s styling improved immensely too.

The latest Sonata, seen here in top Limited trim, clearly demonstrates the strides that Hyundai has made as an automaker focusing on this market. When critics focused their ire on any one section of the Hyundai portfolio, the brand reacted — usually quite quickly. Each improvement evidenced maturity and established Hyundai as a successful brand — a force in the market. The number six selling brand in America, ahead of Jeep, Dodge, GMC and Subaru, is the result.

The fifth-generation Sonata wears less distinctive styling than the previous expressive sedan. That is not to say the new model is less attractive, because it is, but the Sonata blends in more than it stands out visually. A sign of confidence?

The new car carries on a Hyundai tradition, however; it is packed with amenities and features that belie its price-point. Where once these components were restricted to premium cars costing thousands of dollars more than the Sonata, the latest Hyundai packs the power of superior economics into a sedan that pushes the envelope. At $32,510, our White Pearl tester often begged the question of whether it was competing against Camry/Accord/Altima or Audi and Lexus.

Car buyers certainly benefit from the proliferation of these advanced components into mainstream family offerings, like the Sonata. Laser-aided Smart Cruise Control, lane departure warning system, blind spot detection, collision avoidance and braking assist are all extensions of the advances that the latest computer systems and electronics bring to our daily driving. To make them available, at this price point, plus the creature comforts evident in the Sonata, is powerful value.

The front-drive Sonata comes with two engines; base power is a 2.4-liter 185-hp four, while optional power is the 2.0-liter turbo four with 245-hp. Both are teamed with a smooth six-speed automatic transmission (no CVT). Pricing for the base SE starts at just over $21,000, with the popular Sport trim just $2,000 more. Our Limited sedan carried $5,000 of ‘essential’ premium features, leaving the base price at $26,525 before freight. Opt for the turbo-engine and you will pay $2,000 more than the Limited, with similar trim and features.

The EPA estimates that the Sonata will return 24/35 mpg, with a combined 28-mpg rating suitable for the majority of drivers. This is in line with other midsize sedans. Our adventures saw a calculated mileage ranging between 32-35 mpg, usually one mpg less than the stated trip computer.

Power delivery is adequate for 99 percent of drivers. Cabin noise levels are hushed, while the serious level of refinement and content in the Sonata Limited skew your perspective about the car’s value — to the high end. Panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled leather seating, heated steering wheel, simple touchscreen controls, rear sunshades, yeah, this cabin is nice.

Perhaps best of all, Hyundai addressed previous concerns about the Sonata’s ride dynamics, or lack thereof. The new sedan offered much better rough road composure and compliance, without sacrificing ride motions or control. The car’s balance is comparable to the rest of the midsize class and no longer a negative.

The only negative in the logbook was the Smart Cruise system’s propensity to offer frequent downshifts on hilly terrain in order to maintain the established highway pace. More annoying than intrusive, this action was not replicated when the driver operated the throttle without electronic assist. Otherwise, the laser-guided cruise system worked flawlessly; slowing and accelerating as necessary, the driver never touching a floor pedal as cars move in and out of your selected range ahead. All you do is steer.

Hyundai’s recent success here has been mostly based on its car lineup. In order to increase growth, Hyundai, and several other automakers, will need to expand their SUV/crossover class in order to keep up with the burgeoning wagon market. Hyundai also does not sell a pickup here, a hole in its lineup that hurts dealers. With Hyundai selling four cars to each crossover — almost the exact opposite of GM, Ford, Chrysler — long-term profits will be affected and sales could stagnate. Look for more ‘trucks’ in Hyundai showrooms soon.

With success, comes more attention, more criticism. The latest Sonata is poised to rebuff any and all critics that have yet to embrace the brand’s myriad positives. Quiet, composed, and comfortable this well-equipped sedan has to be considered a powerful value in this class, or any midsize class.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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