Monday, February 13, 2006

'06 Sonata offers more space, comfort and power

The first clue Hyundai is making big strides comes when you shut down the engine and catch yourself smiling. Then you get out, and catch yourself looking over your shoulder for that final glimpse. But this is one of those Korean cars, isn't it? Emphasis on economy, a little less car but a little less money, longer warranties. Well, let's first be accurate. Korean? The new, fully redesigned 2006 Sonata is the first Hyundai built in the United States, in Montgomery, Ala. Second, there's nothing ''less'' about the Sonata. It is ready to be added to your look-see list when shopping the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Keep in mind the Sonata already has impressed the quality-study guys at J.D. Power and Associates for the last couple of years. Now the redesigned Sonata is bigger, better equipped and has a smarter feel on the road. The Sonata has a more aggressive look than its predecessor, enhanced with four-barrel projector lens headlights. It's two inches longer, two inches taller and a one-inch longer wheelbase. And it's slightly wider than the Camry, Accord and Nissan Altima. And those extra inches translate to more room inside -- more legroom, headroom and shoulder room than last year's Sonata. In fact, the interior dimensions prompted the EPA to categorize the Sonata as a large car, not the midsize it intends to be. It is extremely comfortable. The instrument panel is clean and simple, and controls are easy to reach and operate. Seats were comfortable enough but felt somewhat short on thigh support for a six-foot-plus guy. We stuffed bags and boxes of stuff for Goodwill into the 16.3-cubic-foot trunk, one of the biggest in the midsize segment. Plenty of room back there (five more trunkloads and I might actually find my garage workbench!) Besides its extra roominess, Sonata is bigger on performance, too. Steering and handling are more precise, and the Sonata has learned to grip the road better on corners. Hyundai credits the new four-wheel independent suspension for that and its smoother ride. Gas-filled hydraulic shocks up front and a multilink system in the rear improve handling and cut down on the racket inside, too. Front-wheel-drive power comes from two new engines. A 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder puts out 162 hp and is said to return around 24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway. The tester, the top trim (LX), comes with a 3.3-liter V-6 that produces 235 horses. That's 65 more hp than last year's V-6. Mileage for the V-6 was around 24 combined; it's EPA-rated at 20 around town, 30 on the highway. The Sonata is quick enough, with zero to 60 at between seven and eight seconds. Hyundai says its variable intake system broadens Sonata's power curve, and what that means is a boost in off-line acceleration plus passing performance. A new five-speed automatic tranny is smooth climbing into gears and has the Shiftronic feature that lets you shift without a clutch. All V-6's get the new transmission. Sonatas come well equipped. Standard are 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seats with eight-way power on the driver's side. The top-line test car is priced at $22,895 but with power sunroof and six-disc CD changer it came in at $24,295. Those two options, by the way, are the only ones available. The middle GLS ($19,395) gets you the automatic transmission and lumbar support and redundant audio controls on the steering wheel. The base GL, at $17,895, gets the inline four-cylinder engine. Anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control all are standard, and the Sonata is the only midsize that can make that claim. Sonata also has six air bags, including dual front, side-impact and front and rear side-curtain air bags. Beyond all these improvements, you still get Hyundai's five-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain protection. With a firmer, crisper ride and more space for all body parts, the Sonata is poised to be a serious contender with the Accord and Camry. Always remember to visit for latest deals available Gary Rome Hyundai , Hyundai Accessory Store and Hyundai Performance Auto Parts.

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