Monday, February 23, 2015

Hyundai Sonata Goes From Dreaded Date to Future Love Interest

The intended subject of the review for this week had been Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV, and that was the car on which I had done my research. But as the proverb goes, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, and I got a taste of that last weekend

Two days before I was scheduled to pick up the Santa Fe, I receive a phone call from Hyundai informing me that, as it turns out, the Santa Fe is out of stock for the time being, and asking if I would mind reviewing the 2015 Sonata instead.

Now as it happens, the lady on the phone is one of the nicest people I’ve met, and always makes me feel like part of the family whenever I visit the showroom. On top of that she just had an adorable baby boy, so what could I do? Complain? I don’t think so. The words that came out of my mouth were, “Sure Martine, it’s no problem, the Sonata will be fine.” However, the words running through my head were, “What the hell do I know about the Sonata? I’m not even sure I know what it looks like!”

So Saturday morning I catch a ride down to the Hyundai showroom with my younger sister to pick up the dreaded Sonata, and once I arrive a helpful young man hands me a pair of key fobs and shows me to the parking lot where the car is parked. “There it is,” he says.

Now keep in mind that at this point I still haven’t bothered to check what the Sonata looks like, so I’m looking around trying to find a car that resembles a bland design I vaguely remember from 20 years ago. Except there are no bland cars in the lot; everything looks shiny and slick. And just as I’m about to give up and use the remote to find the car, the mirrors on this gleaming and really smart-looking sedan I am standing right next to swing out all on their own, and all my concerns about the Sonata evaporate.

I take a step back to observe the car, and immediately my eyes are drawn to the panoramic sunroof. Nice! As I look more carefully, I realize the Sonata takes many of its design cues from the fabulous Genesis I’ve already reviewed. It features the same tight shoulder lines, the same graceful fastback roofline, a similar grille design and even a contemporary nose treatment that resembles that of the larger luxury sedan.

And then you have the headlamps. In my opinion, there are two elements that are critical in showing off a beautiful car design, and the first of those is the lighting. The Luxury Sonata boasts a pair of compound headlights with distinctly striking LED accents that really make the car stand out, and combination LED taillights that are just as arresting and distinctly Hyundai.

The other element I mentioned is the wheel design, and the set of 18-inch rims fitted on the Luxury Sonata, boasting a flower pattern that looks both elegant and aggressive at the same time, is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Finally, my eyes fall on the pair of sporty quadrilateral exhaust tips emerging from beneath the rear bumper, and I start having doubts about whether this is, in fact, the car I am supposed to test drive. The Sonata’s base price starts at $28,000 and goes up to $42,000 for the Luxury model. How can this much careful detail be injected into what is supposed to be a relatively inexpensive automobile? I guess they skimped on other features to keep costs down.

To confirm my suspicions, I open the door, which conveniently features keyless entry and immediately also pokes a hole in my theory. I sit behind the wheel and take a look around. Oh boy, more holes in my theory – there’s no skimping on this car.

The power-adjusted leather seats, heated and ventilated, are remarkably comfortable, with plenty of space for even tall adults. Wood grain trim nicely adorns the dash and door panels, lending the interior a warm feel. A fully retracting power sunshield lines the panoramic sunroof, while an electric curtain serves the same function for the rear window. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels sublime, and features back-lit buttons for most essential features, including audio and cruise control.

The car comes with parking sensors, an electric parking brake, a blind-spot detection system, self-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, navigation, USB and auxiliary input ports and a superb sound system, most of which can be controlled via a massive 8-inch touchscreen interface housed in the center stack. Put the car in reverse, and that screen also doubles as a display for the backup camera. In addition, you get a smaller helper screen placed between the speedometer and odometer gauges which displays all essential driver data.

Once I start the car with the Start/Stop button, the quietness makes me even more intrigued; there’s no engine sound. So I put on my seatbelt and hit the road. The Sonata offers three different driving modes – Normal, Sport and Eco – and the six-speed automatic transmission comes with a tiptronic manual-shifting feature. Two minutes into the drive I’m already impressed because the gear changes are remarkably fluid and I don’t feel the shifts. Since I don’t really hear the engine, I wouldn’t know it’s shifting unless I look at the revs. How can they do so much on this car for that price?

While the entry level front-wheel-drive Sonata is powered by a 2.0 liter engine good for 157 horsepower, the GL, GLS Special and GLS Luxury models all get a 2.4 liter in-line four that produces 178 horsepower. Although performance is respectable, what really stands out is the car’s rigid chassis and superb handling, thanks to development by Lotus for the Genesis that found its way down to this car.

The Sonata damps out virtually all road ruckus, wandering is almost nonexistent, steering feels light, well-weighted and precise, and the car takes bends with no drama. Meanwhile, acceleration is smooth and consistent, and the car hauls its 1,450 kilograms of curb weight around like a much lighter automobile.

Once you take into the consideration that this car features stability control and front, dual and side curtain air bags to keep you safe, along with fuel consumption of 25 miles per gallon in the city, 37 on the highway and 29 combined to spare your wallet, the Sonata becomes something of a conundrum.

I have always been good at arithmetic, but clearly the folks at Hyundai are using a very different system to calculate their prices, because no matter how I look at it, I can’t figure out how they can cram so much style, technology, equipment, luxury and development into this car for that price.

Personally, this is a car I would seriously consider, especially once the more powerful 2.0 turbocharged version arrives later this year. Fortunately, they have a beautiful aquamarine color that would look amazing with that sunroof.

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