Smart Park Feature in the 2020 Hyundai Sonata: 5 Questions Answered

It seems a little unfair to reduce the redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata to one feature when the car as a whole is so damn good. I regard the new Sonata as a worthy challenger to the Honda Accord/Toyota Camry mid-size-sedan hegemony, with plenty of style, technology and value to appeal to car shoppers; it’s actually the one I’d take home of the three. But after a heroic turn in perhaps the most memorable commercial of this year’s Super Bowl, the Sonata has been distilled to one feature: Remote Smart Parking Assist, or as it’s more commonly known now, “Smaht Pahk” (pronounced in a wicked Boston accent).

Related: 2020 Hyundai Sonata: A Viable Choice for Sedan Shoppers

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After seeing the commercial in the middle of the Big Game, I was inundated with questions from my friends: Have I tested it? Does it really work? Will the car roll away from you? And so on. Here are the answers to some of those questions, as well as a few other things I discovered while testing the system out:

1. How Do You Use It?

Smart Park is only offered on the top Limited trim level and comes standard. It’s controlled in one of two ways: via the car’s key fob or via the digital key. The digital key is still only available on Android phones, so iPhone users will have to use the fob.

There are two ways to activate the system: If the car is off, you simply lock the car, start it remotely, wait a second or two, and then push the button to roll the car forward or backward. If the car is already on, you push the Smart Park button (which has the same icon as that found on the key fob), put the car in park, exit the vehicle and engage the system remotely. It might sound complicated, but in practice it’s a very easy system to engage. Remember also that all of the doors must be closed or it won’t move.

hyundai-sonata-limited-2020-03-key-fob--smart-park.jpg 2020 Hyundai Sonata | photo by Brian Wong

2. How Does It Work?

The system uses the Sonata’s electronic gear selector and steering to put the car in gear and perform course corrections as the vehicle moves. The Sonata’s parking sensors work to detect objects (both stationary and in motion, as I discovered) that might be in the path of the car as it moves. If the wheels are pointed to the side when the system is activated, it will straighten them out for you before proceeding.

It’s important to keep a close eye on the car when using the system. Even if you’re not physically behind the wheel, you’re still in control of the car, and the steering can appear to overcorrect at times. The car does stop very suddenly the instant you let go of the remote, lurching to an immediate halt. If there were passengers in the car, it would jostle them.

3. When Can It Be Used?

Hyundai says the system should only be used when there are cars to the left and right of the space that you want to put the Sonata into, but I found that it works in pretty much every situation I challenged it with — including an empty parking lot, on a driveway with staggered vehicles, parallel parked next to a curb, an apartment parking space with a wall on only one side and, of course, with cars closely parked on either side.

There were two notable exceptions: It got a little bit confused by a diagonal parking space with a large wheel stop (those have a name!) at the end of it, and it would not go up the driveway to get out of my apartment building, so it can detect hills, and the car stops if it goes up or down past a certain angle.

hyundai-sonata-limited-2020-06-exterior--parking--silver--smart-park--wheel.jpg 2020 Hyundai Sonata | photo by Brian Wong

4. How Far Will the Car Move?

On one button press, the Sonata will travel a maximum of 23 feet in either direction. However, if you wait for it to stop, then simply press the button again, it will move another 23 feet and then the car will shut off. That gives you roughly 46 feet to play with in one instance of using Smart Park.

You do have to stand quite close to the Sonata to get the system to work. The owner’s manual specifies a distance of 10-16 feet away from the vehicle, and I can confirm that when you leave that halo, the car will stop. It also won’t move if you stand directly in front of or behind the vehicle when you’re trying to move it in the same direction — so my attempted reenactment of this scene from Austin Powers bore no fruit.

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5. Is It Actually Useful?

Well, this is the real question, isn’t it. As a party trick, it’s definitely fun and I found myself cackling, “It’s a ghost, cah!” to the several friends I showed the system off to. Also fun: pretending to walk the car like a well-behaved dog (it always heels perfectly).

In the real world, I found a few use cases where the system is actually quite helpful. The most obvious instance is if you happen to get boxed in by surrounding vehicles after you’ve parked, you can simply scoot the car out and be on your way. I also found the system to be useful while parallel parked at a parking meter, where the lines were a few feet farther back than I thought. Instead of having to climb back into the car to move it, I simply used Smart Park to back it up 3 feet or so while I fed the meter. And the final case would be to squeeze the Sonata into tight spaces at home, whether it be an overstuffed garage or if you park next to a wall in an apartment complex.

I don’t think the way Smart Park is being demonstrated in the Super Bowl commercial is the best use case for the system for a few reasons. First, I don’t want to park that close to anybody in public, even if you can hop out of the car before jamming it in — what do you do if the occupants of the car next to you come back first? Or if they scratch up your car getting in because it’s a tight squeeze?

hyundai-sonata-limited-2020-04-instrument-panel--interior--smart-park.jpg 2020 Hyundai Sonata | photo by Brian Wong

The system also takes a while to operate, so in any kind of busy parking lot, there’s a lot of pressure involved. The process of lining the car up, activating the system, getting out and then getting the car moving again covers about 30 seconds, then you and the growing peanut gallery both get to stand there as the Sonata slowly crawls into the parking space. Unparking the car can also take awhile, especially going backward, because it only moves in a straight line. It can get out of the space, but you have to make sure it backs up far enough so that it has enough room to turn out — and in tighter parking lots, space can be hard to come by.

The Sonata is not alone. We have to give credit to BMW and Tesla for offering systems of a similar ilk (and for having done it first). Tesla goes a step further by also offering the “Smart Summon” feature, which will actually pull the car out of the parking space and drive it over to you.

Though not as seamless as it seems in the commercial, there are clear situations where Smart Park can help you out of a bind and make life a little bit easier for those who live in cities where the parking spaces are small. In any case, if you see a Sonata creeping by without a driver, don’t be alarmed — it’ll be moving so slowly that it’ll feel like the car is more scared of you than you are of it.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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Former L.A. Bureau Chief Brian Wong is a California native with a soft spot for convertibles and free parking. Email Brian Wong

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