Tuesday, August 05, 2008
New Sonata gets positive inside-out transformation
Hyundai introduced their new-for-2009 Sonata stable recently at the Chicago Auto Show. This latest iteration Sonata offers an all-new interior, improved suspension systems, along with revised power trains that provide not only better fuel economy, but more horsepower as well.
The Sonata, as Hyundai's sales leader, raises its bar for content value and safety technology. Sonata will be offered in three levels of trim: the well-equipped GLS base model; a more upscale SE model; and the top-of-the-line Limited model. There are two available engine choices across the entire model range. First is Hyundai's second-generation Theta II 2.4-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. The Sonata I4 now features Continuously Variable Valve Timing and is more fuel-efficient than both the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord four-cylinder engines, delivering 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway fuel economy rating with the standard five-speed manual transmission or the newly available five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic. A version of this engine also meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle standards.
Next is Sonata's 3.3-liter V6 engine that has also been improved, now pumping out 15 more horsepower and three more pound-feet of torque (249 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 229 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm). A variable intake system was added for 2009, further broadening the power curve, improving off-the-line acceleration and passing performance. New mileage figures for V6-powered Sonatas are 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway, representing unsurpassed V6 fuel economy in the mid-size sedan segment.
There are also two transmission choices for the Sonata. A five-speed manual gearbox is used in four-cylinder-powered models, while all V6-powered Sonatas utilize Hyundai's five-speed Shifttronic automatic transmission, which features an overdrive lock-up torque converter for improved highway fuel economy. The automatic transmission has a new reducing valve and solenoid valve for smoother shift quality while the manual transmission has been refined for more precise shifts. GLS and Limited models now provide a firmer ride quality and improved handling through increased steering response, while SE models have received sport suspension tuning.
In addition to mechanical improvements, the Sonata's exterior has been freshened too, featuring upgrades to headlamps, taillights and fog lights; available chrome inserts for bumper fascias and bodyside moldings; new alloy wheel designs; and seven new colors. The interior has benefited from refinements to the center console, audio system, HVAC controls and the instrument has a soft blue illumination added. An optional new navigation system with a high-resolution, touch-screen display is available while USB/iPod auxiliary input jacks are standard fare. More contrast was added to the Camel and Gray interiors, and a Cocoa Brown treatment is now available.
The new Sonata continues to be rated by the EPA as a large car, and indeed it provides lots of interior room in the front and back seats. The trunk alone boasts 16.3 cubic feet of space. In terms of its appearance, the new Sonata comes across as being a much more expensive car than it really is. It displays a contemporary design form with clean, but expressive lines.
In the safety arena, Sonata's front collision performance was improved by tweaking the engine's subframe design. All Sonata models come with lifesaving ESC as standard equipment. Sonata also features a state-of-the-art braking technology package that includes four-wheel disc brakes and an antilock braking system with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
There are six air bags - including dual front, front seat-mounted side-impact and front- and rear-side curtain air bags - along with active front-seat head restraints. Additional passive safety features include: shingle-style rear-seat head restraints for improved visibility; three-point seatbelts for all seating positions; front-seat seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters; and a rear-seat Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for child seats.
My test 2009 Hyundai Sonata came in Limited trim and was powered by the 3.3-liter V6 mated to the Five-speed Shiftronic gearbox transferring motive force to the front wheels. The exterior was finished in black, while the interior was executed in contrasting gray and charcoal with faux polished wood trim accents. The base price was set at $25,670. While the final sticker total came to $27,685 after adding the navigation system with high-resolution touch screen display and voice Recognition, carpeted floor mats and the destination charge.
The Hyundai Sonata Limited for 2009 represents a very solid entry into the large four-door sedan class. While not really considered to be in the luxury class, it does provide several standard features and equipment that are normally only found on luxury-level vehicles.
The performance is quite substantial in both the acceleration and handling attribute categories. The ride quality ranked somewhere between soft and firm. In some driving scenarios, it seemed on the loose side, while in others it was perceived to be somewhat stiff.
Both front and rear seats were quite comfortable with plenty of leg room fore and aft, in a cabin that exhibited clean lines and easy-to-use controls that were conveniently positioned. The air conditioner gets an "A+" for rapid and efficient cooling, even in 100-degree-plus temperatures.
The top-of-the-line Hyundai Sonata model was very reasonably priced, especially considering its content level. It is possible to experience even greater value in the base GLS model which starts at $18,120. Add to that the Hyundai Advantage, which Hyundai boasts is America's best warranty, and you've got an even more sound deal. The Hyundai Advantage warranty includes five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection, 10-year/100,000-mile limited power train warranty, five-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance and seven-year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation coverage.
Sonata buyers also receive 24-hour roadside assistance coverage at no extra charge for five years (no mileage limit), which includes emergency towing, lockout service and limited coverage for trip-interruption expenses.
2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited
Base price: $25,670
Price as tested: $27,685
Engine/transmission: 3.3-liter, 249-horsepower V6; five-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Length overall: 188.9 inches
Width: 72.1 inches
Height: 58 inches
Curb weight: 3,494 pounds
Fuel capacity: 17.7 gallons
EPA mileage estimates: 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway
By: Arv Voss