Hyundai has launched its newest-generation mid-size sedan with an old name that will remind thousands of Australian drivers what to expect, Sonata.
Replacing the discontinued Hyundai i45, which anyway was a Sonata by another name, the seventh-generation sedan becomes a new alternative the Mazda6, Subaru Liberty, Toyota Camry and others in the $30,000-$40,000 range.
It’s an all-new car with appealing features, notably an optional 2.0 litre turbo engine with impressive power, Australian-developed suspension and a very spacious interior and boot.
But, ironically, it’s also a car for a part of the market that’s been declining: buyers are turning increasingly to small cars and SUVS. That doesn’t blunt the Sonata’s appeal as an attractive and effective, if conservative, mid-size sedan. It could catch a lot of Commodore and Falcon buyers as those cars disappear from showrooms.
And Hyundai has put much work into making the Sonata a credible alternative for the Aussie stalwarts. Over 100,000kms of local testing, its engineers perfected a combination of springs, shock absorbers and other components to achieve a standard of ride comfort and cornering behavior we demand on our famously mixed roads.
It’s an area where past Sonatas failed woefully.
Promising we would like the new Sonata’s roadholding although it was not a sports car, Hyundai took the media to the west coast of Tasmania to test its new model over roads that were indeed sports car territory, including part of the Targa Tasmania competition course.
They were spot-on. This mightn’t be a BMW, but it’s totally competent and more than satisfying for what it’s meant to be. The Sonata feels safe and easy to handle even when pushed hard across hilly country. It sits solidly on the road and is well balanced in the bends with a small, reassuring bias toward the front.
The latest Sonata – the first debuted in 1989 and served thousands of Australian reliably – is available in Active, Elite and Premium equipment grades. Buyers have a choice of a 2.4-litre (Active model only, $29,990) and turbocharged 2.0-litre GDi Theta II petrol engines (Elite $36,990 and Premium $41,990). Both engines are standard with Hyundai’s own six-speed automatic transmission, which has a sequential manual shift mode.
The Sonata has an extremely spacious cabin front and back and a big boot – proving that buyers don’t need to fall for the SUV story just to get more room. Hyundai says some dimensions are bigger than the Camry or Commodore. The spacious feel is helped by a clean and efficient dash design, plus excellent reach adjustment in the steering wheel, which allows tall drivers to sit well back. Any driver can get comfortable with the Sonata’s range of seat adjustments (electric in the Elite and Premium).
Standard equipment across all models includes a reversing camera and six airbags, but a city-collision avoidance system – fast becoming the norm on cheaper cars – won’t be available until the third quarter of this year. While the Active’s 2.4 engine brings a typical power output of 138 kiloWatts, the 2.0 litre Turbo comes with a thumping 180 kW and 350 Newtonmetres of torque, lifting this formerly modest sedan into a new performance class.
The 2.4 isn’t fast, but not slow, either. It’s particularly quiet and smooth in its power delivery and the more economical of the two engines, using 8.3 litres per 100 kms in city/highway driving.
While the $7000 step up to the mid-range Elite buys extras such as leather upholstery and navigation, the 2.0 litre Turbo is the star here. Sonatas used to be the antithesis of exciting, but this car, following on from the i30SR and Veloster coupe, shows Hyundai is starting to think differently.
Interestingly, the engine outputs are exactly the same as those of a 2.0 litre BMW 328i costing almost twice as much. But the favourable comparison ends there as the German sedan is faster and more economical thanks to costly technologies this Hyundai doesn’t have, including lighter weight, an eight-speed transmission and an engine idle-stop system.
The 2.0T’s average petrol consumption rises to 9.2 litres per 100 kms, the price of faster performance. The torquey turbo delivers good accelerator response for overtaking. With its comfort, good roadholding and powerful engine, the Elite demolishes long trips.
The Elite is such a good all-rounder, it’s difficult to see an argument to spend $6000 more on the Premium.
Yes, it has more equipment, like a panoramic sunroof, rear-door blinds, heated and ventilated seats and cornering lamps, but it doesn’t have the thing I’d want in a car with a performance engine and sporty suspension, transmission paddle-shifters.
But that’s quibbling. Hyundai has re-invented a Sonata that really sings.