Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0

Hyundai's midsize sedan made a big splash with its redesign for the 2010 model year. Its aggressive, daring exterior and high-tech, attractive interior made for a compelling package that put the Korean automaker in a competitive position in the segment for the first time. And while the design itself may have been polarizing to a degree, it's impossible to ignore the Sonata's impact on Hyundai's presence in the market. Years of growth in both sales and market share back that up.

But for 2015, Hyundai took the Sonata in a different direction. The new Sonata's exterior is handsome and conservative--in many ways a throwback to the 2009. Is this Hyundai's way of visually repositioning the Sonata as an established competitor rather than an ambitious newcomer? If so, the execution seems spot-on, but Hyundai seems displeased with the results.

While Sonata sales volume has been consistently up since the introduction of the 2015, recent reports have indicated that Hyundai isn't thrilled with the conquest rate on the updated car. But is that a sign of failure? Hyundai has been offering cash to move them, but that by itself isn't a strong indicator. Incentive spending industry-wide has been up lately in this segment due to low gas prices and the run on SUV and truck inventory. In short, family sedans aren't hot right now.

But Hyundai remains unimpressed, and it appears that a return to the 2010 model's more outlandish styling is coming. It's impossible to fault Hyundai for wanting to recapture the magic of the 2010. Who wouldn't? But that may not be attainable in the current industry climate.

What is it?
The Sonata Sport 2.0T lives up to its name. It's the most powerful, most buttoned-down variant in the lineup, boasting a turbocharged, 245-horsepower engine and a sport-tuned suspension (a Sport model sans turbocharger is also available). And if specced with the Ultimate Package, as our tester is, it's also among the most feature-rich of the Sonata clan. The only trim with more bells and whistles standard is the Limited, which essentially bakes the Sport 2.0T's goodies and the Ultimate Package add-ons into one.

What sort of goodies? Highlights of our Sonata's feature list include a tilt & slide panoramic sunroof, rear window shades, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and heated/ventilated front seats.

What works?
The new Sonata is the 2014's better in driving dynamics, for sure. The previous model's steering was acceptable at best, lacking weight and precision and requiring far too much attention even in straight-line cruising. No more. While it still can't match the benchmarks in this class for steering accuracy and feedback (look to the Mazda 6 and Honda Accord Sport), the Sonata has come a long way in a short period of time. If anything, the steering may be inappropriately heavy for a car whose mission is more A-to-B than back-road-runner, but the formula is better than before by miles.

What doesn't?
There are two salient head-scratchers hiding in the Sonata's spec sheet, so let's address those up front. First off, there's the power rating. 245 horsepower isn't a painfully deficient power figure, especially from a turbocharged four-cylinder, but it's not segment-leading by any stretch. In a class where 260-290 horsepower is par for the course for top-trim engines, 245 does seem a bit anemic.

In a lightweight car, that wouldn't matter, and therein lies our second gripe: curb weight. The Sonata Sport 2.0T tips the scales at just a hair under 3,600lbs. A Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited, with its bulky boxer-six and all-wheel drive, is only ~60lbs heavier. There's a mileage penalty, too. At 23 mpg city, 32 highway and 26 combined, the Sonata's EPA figures aren't much better than, say, a Chrysler 200 V6's, and our real-world mileage backs that up.

Leftlane's bottom line
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Sport is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It may be slightly underpowered and slightly overweight, but it is comfortable, feature-rich and affordable. If you can look beyond its spec-sheet deficiencies, you'll be more than happy with driving experience.

2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T base price, $28,575. As tested, $34,460.
Ultimate package, $4,950; carpeted floor mats, $125; Destination, $810

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