Monday, February 25, 2008

Sonata's Sunrise

Sonata's sunrise

When I got behind the wheel of the 2008 Hyundai Sonata, I was pleasantly surprised. Granted, it was a decked out Limited model with leather seats and XM Radio. But still. During the test week, it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that the beautiful, peppy, well-appointed car I was driving was actually a Hyundai.

I could have sworn I was driving a Honda Accord. Except that the Accord has a base price of $20,360, and the Sonata starts at $17,670. The Limited model bases at $22,470 with the four-cylinder engine, but heated leather seats and an automatic transmission come standard at this price point. To get an Accord with those items, you’ll have to shell out more than $26K.

While the exterior of the Sonata is a dead ringer for the previous generation Accord, squinty taillights and all, the interior is something special. The level of detail was surprising, and I particularly liked the reverse stitching on the comfortable black leather seats.

The placement of the gauges and dials is ideal, and I could easily adjust my side mirrors and the HVAC without having to stretch in either direction. The one suggestion I have is that the controls on the door should light up at night. There were a couple times that I wanted to lock or unlock the doors, and I couldn’t find the switch in the dark. I also wasn't a fan of the glowing green gauges. It seemed a bit bright and a bit of a throwback to Hyundai of yore. I wanted something a bit more elegant to match the overall elegance of the vehicle.

I'm currently in the process of moving, so the one thing I noticed and really, really appreciated was the 16.3 cubic-feet of cargo volume. I could fit four to five boxes (the size of a paper box) in the trunk and still have space for hanging clothes. Perfect, because that's about all I can haul up and down three flights of stairs in one trip.

Another nice thing about the Sonata is the way it handles in snow. And heaven knows I've certainly been able to test that this winter. My alley is never plowed, and from the inches and inches of snow to the current bevy of ice, the Sonata kept its footing and didn't get stuck. Considering this is a front-wheel drive vehicle, I think there's room to be impressed.

On the road, the 2.4-liter, 162-horsepower four-cylinder engine under the hood isn't going to win any races, but it's perfectly peppy and has a nice bit of acceleration. The one area where I could tell this was a Hyundai is with the road and engine noise. A touch of some sound quieting material would go a long way here because I only got hit with the excess noise on hard acceleration and when stumbling over the Chicago potholes.

Fuel estimates for the Sonata with the four-speed automatic ring in at 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. This is good, but if you’re going to stick with the Sonata/Accord comparison, it should be noted that the Accord gets 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with a five-speed manual transmission.

There were times that the engine in the Sonata was a little loud or I could feel a little feedback from the road, but overall, this midsize offering from Hyundai was very solid. And it's only going to get better for 2009.

First, the interior gets a massive upgrade - just enough elegance to let you know Hyundai has arrived. Then, the horsepower in the four-cylinder engine increases by 13, yet the fuel economy increases as well. The new estimates state that the 2009 Sonata will get 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The best part is, you don't have to wait forever to get it. At the Chicago Auto Show, Hyundai announced that the new Sonata will be on sale later this month.

I really liked the 2008 model, and I'm guessing you can probably get a really good deal on a new car right now since they're trying to make room for the new model. But, some of the things that I didn't love about the 2008 model look like they'll be fixed for 2009. So, if you can hold out for a couple more weeks, it might be worthwhile to compare the deal you can get with the upgrades that are coming. Either way, you'll have a winner.

February 20, 2008
BY JILL CIMINILLO Chicago Sun Times - Autos Editor

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