Little has changed for 2004 on Hyundai’s midsize front-wheel-drive Sonata sedan. The Sonata was last redesigned for the 1999 model year and then reworked for 2002. The current model is related to the Kia Optima, which reached the U.S. market for 2001. Available with four-cylinder or V-6 power, the Sonata comes in base, GLS and LX trim levels.
Hyundai also produces an upscale XG350 midsize sedan. Ranked as South Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai also owns Kia. Even though Kia sells the Sonata-based Optima, it has different front and rear styling.
In recent years, the quality of Hyundai’s products has been steadily improving, and the Sonata has edged closer to the class-leading Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Even though the Sonata’s resale value lags behind these two vehicles, Hyundai’s long warranty and modest sticker prices make it a car worth considering. Hyundai covers the entire car for five years/60,000 miles, major powertrain components for 10 years/100,000 miles and corrosion for five years/100,000 miles. Free roadside assistance is provided for the first five years.
Measuring 186.9 inches long overall, the Sonata is nearly 5 inches shorter than the XG350 and a couple inches shorter than the Accord and Camry. Styling touches include a waterfall-style grille and dual-oval headlights. Riding a 106.3-inch wheelbase, the Sonata stands 56 inches tall. Top models have 10-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels, and a glass moonroof is available.
Slightly wider than the Camry at 71.7 inches, the Sonata allows backseat passengers more room to spread out. Three people can fit in the rear seat, but it will be a tight squeeze. Headroom and legroom are sufficient for taller occupants. The split, rear seatback folds down for additional cargo room. Trunk space totals 14.1 cubic feet.
Competing against Honda and Toyota, Hyundai provides a sizable helping of features at a lower price. Standard equipment on the base model includes air conditioning, a CD player, cruise control, a tachometer, remote keyless entry with an alarm, and power windows, locks and mirrors. A cassette/CD stereo goes into the GLS sedan. The LX adds leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat and automatic climate control.
Under the Hood
Hyundai’s 170-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 engine is standard in the GLS and LX sedans and optional in the base model. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 138 hp. Both engines may team with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The automatic transmission incorporates a Shiftronic provision for manually selected gear changes.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard, which gives Hyundai an edge over some competitors that either offer them as an option or don’t make them available at all. Hyundai’s Passenger Presence Detection system ensures that the airbags will not deploy if a seat is empty or occupied by a small person. Bosch antilock brakes and traction control are optional.
In its current form, the Sonata has closed in quickly on the league-leading Accord and Camry. Considering its substantially lower price and enhanced warranty, Hyundai’s sedan could be the better value.
Even though the ride is pleasantly smooth, it’s not quite on par with the Honda and Toyota models because the Sonata’s suspension tends to take an extra bounce at times on rougher pavement. The Sonata is an easy car to drive. It doesn’t deliver an athletic driving experience, but it handles perfectly for everyday driving. Though ordinarily quiet, a touch of engine noise is present during acceleration.
Performance is more than adequate, and the automatic transmission shifts capably with only an occasional abrupt gear change. Otherwise, downshifts are prompt and easy, and the manual-shift provision isn’t often needed.
The Sonata is spacious up front but short on headroom in the rear. The seats are on the hard side and feature minimal side bolstering and support. The gauges are ordinary but easy to read. Visibility is good in all directions due to the car’s ample glass area.