Who says you can’t buy a roomy, comfortable, elegant and mechanically reliable midsize sedan for under $20,000?
Anyone who does hasn’t looked at the 1999 Hyundai Sonata. Prices start at $15,000, even with air-conditioning and power windows and door locks.
Sure, Hyundai’s reputation in the U.S. market is somewhat tarnished, and you can’t make a second first impression, as the old saying goes.
If American consumers could take a second look at Hyundai and forget their first impression based on the Mitsubishi-designed subcompact that Hyundai wishes it could forget, perhaps this South Korean automaker could regain a measure of sales success in the United States.
The redesigned 1999 Sonata is perhaps the best-kept secret in the midsize class.
This is an excellent car, with quality evident throughout. Its comfort, performance and styling are on par with those of the sector leaders: the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus.
The ride is as comfortable as you’ll find in this class. The vehicle isn’t as quiet as a Camry, because the engine is a bit noisy at high revolutions. But this really isn’t a problem; the noise isn’t loud enough to be a nuisance.
Road handling is typical for an Asian sedan, and it corners well. There is plenty of power with either the four- or six-cylinder engine.
The front bucket seats are very comfortable, and three adults can sit side by side in the rear bench seat, with adequate knee room. The trunk holds 13.2 cubic feet of cargo, which is about a cubic foot less than the Camry and Accord, yet still adequate for most needs.
Styling is among the Sonata’s strong points. It’s not a cookie-cutter copy of any of its competitors, yet it has a pleasant, modern look that compares well with cars in its class.
The Sonata even comes with side air bags for the front seat occupants — one of the first in its class to include this safety feature. Sonata has advanced air bag technology: The passenger front air bag will not activate unless more than 66 pounds of weight is detected in the seat, and the side air bag won’t deploy unless at least 33 pounds is detected — both great protective features for small children riding up front. (Of course, the safest place for children is in the back seat.)
The best part is the price: The Sonata is thousands of dollars less than most comparable midsize sedans.
A base Sonata GL, with a 16-valve, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine, lists for an unbelievably low $15,799, complete with four-speed automatic transmission, air-conditioning, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/cassette stereo, tilt steering wheel, rear defroster, wheel covers and dual remote-control outside mirrors. The engine, rated at 149 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque, is among the most powerful four-cylinders in this class.
A base Camry is $17,838 — $2,037 more — but then you have to add $1,005 for the air-conditioning and $780 for the power windows and door locks.
That puts the Camry’s base price, with a 133-horsepower four-cylinder engine, higher than the base price of the uplevel Sonata GLS ($17,799), which comes with a 2.5-liter V-6 engine and lots of extras not found on the four-cylinder Sonata or the Camry.
A four-cylinder Accord, equipped comparably to the $15,799 Sonata, lists for $19,190. Even the cheapest Taurus, the best-selling American car, lists for $17,445, but then you have to add a few dollars’ worth of accessories, such as the AM/FM/cassette stereo, to match the content of the $15,799 Sonata. (Granted, the Taurus comes with a V-6 engine, but it has 145 horsepower — four less than the power of the Hyundai four-cylinder engine.)
It could be argued that the Camry or Accord would hold its value better, so that in the long run, the consumer would make up the difference between the two prices when the vehicle is resold.
But there are many consumers — an I’m among them — who prefer to pay less upfront and then to keep a car for a long time to get their money’s worth out of the vehicle. This strategy makes the Sonata an outstanding buy — in fact, the best buy in the midsize sedan segment.
If you want to spend $20,000 on a midsize sedan, then our test car — a fully equipped Sonata GLS V-6 (including leather seats and wood interior trim!) — would give you a lot more for your money than any vehicle in this class.
At a total sticker of $19,077, our Sonata GLS was $5,000 less than a comparably equipped Accord and nearly $6,000 less than a Camry. That means that for the same monthly payment you would make for an entry-level Camry or Accord, you could enjoy a top-of-the-line Sonata, riding genuine style and comfort.
Sure, there isn’t much prestige. So if image is what you’re looking for, spend the extra bucks and go with a Honda or Camry, or, hey, even a baby Lexus or Acura.
But I believe that anyone who sees your new Hyundai GLS, takes a ride in it with you, and then looks at the sticker price will understand: You’re a practical person who makes sound financial decisions and still has a really nice car to show for it. The Sonata, then, does make a positive statement on your behalf.
Here are some of the particulars on our test model GLS:
–The double-overhead-cam, 24-valve V-6 engine is rated at 170 horsepower and 166 foot-pounds of torque.
–Included in the base price of $17,799 (plus $435 transportation) are power windows and door locks, four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with adaptive logic, power rack and pinion steering, four-wheel power disc brakes (most of the competitors have rear drums), cruise control, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, tilt steering, power remote-control heated outside mirrors, air-conditioning, rear defroster, 100-watt AM/FM/compact disc stereo, front bucket seats, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
–The leather package ($1,200) also brings a six-way power adjustable driver’s seat.
Fuel economy is about midrange for the class: EPA estimates are 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The tank holds 17.2 gallons of gasoline, and unleaded regular is recommended.
THE PACKAGE: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, V-6 powered, front-drive sedan, completely redesigned for 1999.
HIGHLIGHTS: With its 170-horsepower V-6 engine, fresh styling, roomy interior and loads of standard equipment, this is the best buy in the midsize sedan class and perhaps the best-kept secret. Sure, it’s a Hyundai, but it’s a nice one and it deserves a closer look.
NEGATIVES: Anti-lock brakes are optional even on the top-of-the-line model; engine is a bit noisy at high revolutions.
MAJOR COMPETITORS: Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda 626, Dodge Stratus, Buick Regal, Chevrolet Lumina, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac Grand Prix.
EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 20 miles per gallon city, 28 highway.
BASE PRICE: $17,799 plus $435 transportation.
PRICE AS TESTED: $19,077, including transportation (with leather interior).
ON THE ROAD RATING: A.