EXPERT REVIEW

KansasCity.com's view


Settle inside the 2009 Sonata Limited and it’s clear that Hyundai has lofty aspirations for its family sedan.

The all-new interior has a level of sophistication and refinement on par with some entry-level luxury cars. It is, once again, a serious challenger to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The Sonata also gains new features ranging from a standard MP3 player input to an optional navigation system and a sport-tuned suspension.

The Sonata was designed specifically for the American market, and it is the product of Hyundai’s global research and development operations in Michigan and California. It is built at Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery, Ala.

Hyundai claims the Sonata is the only midsize sedan under $20,000 with standard electronic vehicle stability control and a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

It is available in three models: the GLS, the SE and the Limited. Each comes with a standard 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine or an optional 3.3-liter V-6. The GLS with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder begins at $18,795 while a four-cylinder SE starts at $21,195. I drove a Sonata Limited with the 3.3-liter V-6 and its base price was $26,345.

The Limited has leather seating surfaces, an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a power sunroof and an Infinity audio system with six speakers, subwoofer and component amplifier. Other upgrades include a dual-zone automatic temperature control, 17-inch wheels and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink.

The understated styling has a Teutonic flair. The panel gaps are tight, and the seams of the bumper covers are cleverly shaped to integrate into the outline of the taillights. This attention to detail is similar to many luxury cars, and it is a good example of Hyundai’s styling progress.

The base engine is an aluminum 2.4-liter, four-cylinder with continuously variable valve timing and a counter-rotating balance shaft. It produces 175 horsepower. A lower-emission version has 168 horsepower. Fuel economy estimates are 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway.

The test car’s 3.3-liter V-6 has 249 horsepower. The engine has very little vibration because it is mounted on a subframe that uses hydraulic mounts to isolate the engine from the car. The aluminum powerplant has continuously variable valve timing. It is exceptionally smooth over the road. The V-6 pulls away from stops with authority, makes clean passes on the highway and has the torque to power up hills without flattening the throttle.

Fuel economy for the V-6 is rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway.

The five-speed automatic transmission works in concert with the engine to reduce the intrusion of gearshifts. The gear lever moves through a notched gate on the console, and it can be shifted manually for sporty driving or more control in bad weather.

Four-wheel independent suspension yields a ride that is soft enough to be plush yet firm enough for decent handling. The Limited’s 17-inch wheels sometimes amplify small bumps.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies the Sonata as a large car. Its trunk is larger than the Toyota Camry’s or Honda Accord’s.

The Sonata’s cabin is comfortable and spacious. Hyundai designers have thoroughly revamped the cockpit to create the ambience of an upscale, premium sedan. The sophisticated look is achieved thanks to a completely new center console and instrument panel, which borrow design cues and rich materials from the premium Hyundai Veracruz. The top of the dash is covered in dark material while the lower section is light to give a sense of space. The Limited has a small strip of woodgrain trim.

Gauges are white-on-black with silver trim rings. The tachometer is small and tucked away on the left side. Controls for HVAC are large and work as smoothly as those of a more expensive car.

The leather-covered tilt steering wheel has audio and cruise-control buttons.

Headroom and legroom in the front are quite generous. The front seat seemed lacking in lateral support. The back seat is comfortable and has good legroom.

Price

The base price of the test vehicle was $26,345. Options included a navigation system with voice recognition and floor mats. The sticker price was $27,685.

Warranty

Five years or 60,000 miles with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

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