Take a look at Hyundai’s sales figures from 2001 – 346,235 vehicles sold, a 42 percent increase over 2000. Hyundai is now the fifth-largest import car company, passing Mitsubishi and Mazda. All accomplished without zero-percent financing or big rebates. Impressive.
Hyundai’s rise is due largely to two things: The Korean company is building better vehicles, and is backing them with a bumper-to-bumper warranty for five years or 60,000 miles, with a powertrain warranty for 10 years or 100,000 miles.
So it should come as no surprise that the 2002 Sonata, Hyundai’s sedan that is targeted at the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, is a very appealing car for the money. Our tester was a top-of-the-line LX model, with a 2.7-liter, 181-horsepower V-6 engine, a four-speed automatic transmission, a good stereo with CD player, a power sunroof and leather-trimmed interior for $19,319, considerably less than an Accord or Camry with the same equipment.
Resale value is not yet up to Japanese levels, but it’s gaining.
The LX model is new for 2002, joining the base Sonata, and the midlevel GLS. There are only a few available options for the LX, including anti-lock brakes, which should be standard on the most deluxe version but aren’t.
This model Sonata was introduced a few years ago, but has been freshened for 2002 with new front and rear sheet metal, new wheels and a mildly restyled interior. This is easily the most handsome Sonata ever, resembling – at least according to quite a few people who commented on the test car – a little Lexus, with a touch of Jaguar.
The base Sonata has a carry-over 2.4-liter, 149-horsepower four-cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual transmission. The V-6, bumped from 2.5 to 2.7 liters, is smooth but still smaller and less powerful that the 3.0-liter V-6s that Honda and Toyota offer.
Hyundai has made some remarkable progress is drivetrain performance and smoothness, with an engine and transmission that were well-matched and eager.
Inside, the LX is very well executed, with comfortable front bucket seats, a roomy rear seat, and very high-quality controls and trim.
Hyundai still has work to do on the suspension, however. In calm driving, the Sonata LX is fine, but when driven aggressively, there is a lot of body roll, as the Sonata leans through corners, 16-inch tires squealing. It isn’t upsetting, but Honda and Toyota have figured out how to offer a smooth ride and crisp handling. Hyundai is not quite there.
Otherwise, there is little to complain about. Sonata sales rose 36 percent in 2001, proof that buyers will find irrestible a good car at the right price.
Base price: $18,824
Price as tested: $19,319
EPA-rated fuel mileage: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Details: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive sedan with 2.7-liter, 181-horsepower V-6 with a four-speed automatic transmission.