Looks aren’t everything and price isn’t either, but on both, the new 2015 Hyundai Sonata falls short of its predecessor.
The previous Sonata, the South Korean car maker’s mid-size sedan, featured chiseled good looks with a side accent line that gave it a fresh, energetic look that borrowed more than a bit from several recent Mercedes-Benz models. But as with all mainstream car firms, once they experience a little success, they blah-down the styling to make their cars look more generic. So it is with Sonata. While pleasant looking, it reminds of a Ford Fusion from the rear and nearly every other mid-size sedan in profile.
Too bad, looks HAD been Sonata’s secret weapon until now.
Its price also has been a major selling point, as have the prices of most Hyundai and Kia models. While the tested Sport 2.0T with 245-horse turbocharged I4, is reasonably priced, starting at $28,575. It’s loaded with a monster $4,950 “Ultimate” package that pushed the Venetian Red (metallic red) test car to $34,460, including its $810 delivery fee. By way of reference, last week’s similarly equipped Subaru Legacy with a boxer 6-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, was about a grand less.
For the record, a base Sonata SE with a 2.4-liter I4 that creates 185 horses starts at $21,960. As with most mid-level sedans today, there’s also a hybrid starting at $26,810 and a Limited 2.0T, much as this was equipped, starting at $34,335. So you could get into a Sonata at a lower cost than the test car. A 1.6-liter I4 turbo model is coming soon too, as an Eco model.
While I was a bit disappointed, I don’t mean to scare you off. Sonata is a pleasant driving car with a well-appointed interior and well laid out dash. Passengers praised its interior and I put it way up on my preferred list.
Consider that the Sport 2.0T comes with leather seats, the test car’s being medium gray with darker gray piping and dark gray dash with carbon-fiber look trim that extends to the doors. Other trim on Sonata’s center stack buttons and the door release are matte metal-look and overall the car’s dash reflects entry-level luxury.
Seats are well contoured and power up front and the car is large enough to seat five, plus carry a load of luggage in its cavernous 16.3 cubic foot trunk.
There’s a tilt/telescope steering wheel with multiple buttons and toggles on the hub, for phone, radio, cruise control, trip computer control. All dash buttons glow blue at night making them easy to see and easy on the eyes. All gauges are well located and logical too, with a touchscreen radio that functions well, plus small volume and tuning knobs. Below the screen is a row of buttons for climate controls and two knobs for setting the dual climate system. Easy! This simplicity alone should earn Sonata a look when you’re car shopping.
Naturally that Ultimate package loads the car up with goodies we’d all enjoy, but probably could live without, starting with a panoramic sunroof, a lane departure warning system and smart/adaptive cruise control. It also includes forward collision warning, automatic high beam (touchy), bright electroluminescent gauges, two-memory driver’s seat, ventilated front seats, a navigation system, rear side window manual sun screens and a fancy Infinity sound system with 400 watts of power. That’s a lot, hence the nearly $5,000 price tag.
Note that the front seats are heated already in this model and it comes with a D-shaped, or flat-bottomed steering wheel, plus blind-spot warning system and cross-traffic alert, including rear-view camera. That’s before any packages. Other pluses include sliding visors and multiple accessory hookups, including two 12-volt connectors, USB and an auxiliary hookup also are included in the big cubby where the center stack melds into the console. Bluetooth, Blue Link telematics and HomeLink also are standard.
Moving up to the Sport 2.0T model also brings chrome-tipped quad exhausts and dual-pinion rack for more precise steering. That’s one of the performance surprises with Sonata. It handles better than past models with more precision in the wheel’s feel. Steering is still moderately weighted, but feels better connected than in previous models. I like how it handles.
Engine power is good too with 245 horses and a torque rating of 260. There is some oomph here, especially when you press the console button that controls engine mode and sets it to Sport. The car defaults to Standard and that provides reasonable getaway power and the most comfortable ride and steering input. Sport mode firms up the wheel unnecessarily and gives Sonata more torque. However, the already slightly buzzy 4-cylinder engine seems even buzzier in Sport mode.
There also is an Eco mode to save fuel, a good thing in city driving where you can easy away from stop signs at your own pace and don’t have cars on your rear bumper.
The 6-speed automatic is fine in Standard mode and shifts are smooth. They are less smooth, more aggressive in Sport mode and in Eco mode shift early as the car trundles up to driving speed, but trying not to use as much engine power.
Ride is reasonable most of the time, but stiffer than I’d expected in a car with a 110.4-inch wheelbase. This model has the steering upgrade as mentioned earlier, but also adds a sport suspension, which while it keeps the car fairly flat in turns, creates that stiffer ride. R-rated 18-inch tires are standard too. Your call on the sport suspension, but we have a LOT of pot holes in Southeast Wisconsin!
Braking is fine and both stability control and traction control are standard.
While I mentioned that the Sonata is pricier than the slightly more powerful, quieter and AWD-equipped Subaru Legacy driven recently, Sonata wins the gas mileage war. That may seem less important at the moment as gas prices have dipped below $3 a gallon, yet it may be important down the road. Sonata is rated 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 24.3 mpg in about 60% city driving. Last week’s Legacy managed just 19.6 mpg.
Make no mistake, Sonata is a fine mid-size sedan, but there are many of those out there that once loaded with options hit this low- to mid-$30,000 range. Sadly, through the 2014 model year the Sonata also added exterior styling to its list of benefits, now it’s just another car that blends in.
FAST Stats: 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T
Hits: Handsome interior, well laid out dash, comfortable heated/cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats, blind-spot warning system, big trunk, blue dash buttons. Good power and handling.
Misses: Buzzy engine, especially in Sport mode. Ride is firmer than most cars with at least a 110-inch wheelbase. Looks are not as exciting as previous model.
Made in: Montgomery, Ala.
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo, 245 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
Length: 191.0 in.
Cargo: 16.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 23/32 (EPA)
MPG: 24.3 (tested)
Base Price: $28,575
Ultimate Package (panoramic sunroof, smart cruise control w/stop/start, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, electronic parking brake, auto high-beam assist, rear parking assistance, electroluminescent gauges w/4.2-inch color LCD display, memory driver’s seat, 6-way power passenger’s seat, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, rear side window sun shades, navigation system w/8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Infinity speakers w/subwoofer & 400-watt amplifier), $4,950
Carpeted floor mats, $125
Test vehicle: $34,460
Sources: Hyundai, http://www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage