If you say that Hyundai makes a car you might consider buying, people look at you as if you said Martha Stewart had gained 300 pounds and moved to a trailer park in Arkansas.
Well, I don’t know about ol’ Martha, but I do know that the new Hyundai Sonata is a pretty decent little transportation device. Not that you’ll mistake it for best in show, but it’s a solid C+ student, gunning for a B.
You can see Hyundai striving to be taken more seriously everywhere in this car.
The styling is pure social-climber, kicking a bit of Mercedes up front and Jaguar and Oldsmobile in the rear. Yet, despite the divergent influences, the styling works. Even a dull silver paint scheme couldn’t hide this car’s attractive styling.
One thinks even Martha would approve.
The sheetmetal at the front and rear is all new, incorporating fog lamps on all trim levels, including base GLS and LX. It has a new fully-independent suspension, with a sophisticated double wishbone front and multi-link rear. It does a fair job of absorbing the bumps, but the suspension is still typically Korean soft. That means there’s a LOT of body lean in corners. This is no driver’s car, yet it never floats or wallows.
The drivetrain confirms the car’s status as a mid-sized grocery getter. Base cars come with a 2.4-liter double-overhead-cam in-line four, good for 149 horsepower. Standard on the GLS and LX is a 2.7- liter double-overhead-cam all-aluminum V-6. This sophisticated little engine churns out 181 horsepower. It moves the car fairly well.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all trim levels. I suspect most buyers will opt for the four-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission. It works well when left to its own devices, thanks to the “fuzzy logic” programming, which adjusts shift points to match your driving style. The automatic can be shifted manually by using the car’s sequentially-shifting manual mode. But the car shifts on its own anyway, in some cases not when you want it to, which defeats the purpose of the Shiftronic feature.
The ride is quiet and serene around town, but it grows quite noisy on an Interstate. Turning up the radio helps somewhat, because the stereo, with its power antenna, had trouble pulling in some area stations.
The front bucket seats have decent bolstering and medium lower back support. But they lack thigh support and are quite flat. The driver’s seat has plenty of adjustments to make any driver comfortable. The rear seat is average, with leg room that’s perfect for those under six feet tall. Headroom is a bit tight.
Safety gear includes front and side airbags, seat-belt pretensioners (which cinch in the event of a collision) and a system that deactivates the front passenger airbags if the seat is empty.
The interior gets a nip and tuck just as the exterior does. New door panels, dash and instrument c luster improve the look. Everything is easy to understand and operate.
While everything is styled in the typical Japanese mold, Hyundai hasn’t learned how to endow its interior components with the same stout build quality as the Japanese. Indeed, a plastic piece of some sort resided in the center console, having fallen off.
If there’s one thing that can really be faulted, it’s a sense that the car won’t hold together past the payment book. But that’s offset somewhat by Hyundai’s generous warranty. The car is covered by a bumper-to-bumper 5-year/60,000 mile warranty, with the drivetrain covered for a full 10 year/100,000 mile warranty.
There’s a lot of standard gear for the money. No matter which trim level you look at, you’ll get air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, power outside mirrors, quartz clock, a CD player, fog lamps, alarm, cupholders, keyless entry, split-folding rear seats and remote releases for the tr nk and gas filler door.
Options include traction control, anti-lock brakes, a moonroof, as well as an upgraded stereo and power driver’s seat.
So, would Martha approve? Well, she does hock her wares in Kmart, but she never admits to shopping there. Likewise, it will be hard for most folk to admit they bought a Hyundai and like it.
But they might.
After all, everyone likes a blue-light special.
Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC I-4 or 2.7-liter DOHC V-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual or 4-speed Shiftronic automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 186.9 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Weight: 3,254 pounds
Cargo volume: 14.1 cubic ft.
Base price: $18,324
As tested: Not available
EPA rating: 20 city, 27 highway
Test mileage: 22 mpg
Fuel type: Regular
Built in: Korea