Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hyundai Sonata Review

The Hyundai Sonata is a comfortable and likable midsize sedan that proves Hyundai can build cars that are not just easy on the pocketbook, but easy to live with as well. Like most vehicles in the midsize sedan class, the Sonata offers front-wheel drive, numerous safety features and a choice of potent four-cylinder or V6 engines. Setting the Sonata apart, however, is Hyundai's outstanding warranty coverage.

While the current Hyundai Sonata takes no styling risks, its generous height and width translate into abundant headroom, a spacious rear seat and a huge trunk. A new-for-2009 interior provides one of the higher-class cabins in the family sedan class, with an attractive design and impressive materials.

When value is a top priority, the Sonata -- particularly in lower trim levels -- shines with enough features to ensure lasting popularity among the bargain-hunter set. It also significantly undercuts many of its competitors when similarly equipped.

Current Hyundai Sonata

The Hyundai Sonata is a midsize family sedan available in GLS, SE and Limited trim levels. Even the base car comes with expected convenience features, while more luxurious features are available in optional packages or in the upper trim levels. Yet even when fully loaded, a Sonata Limited V6 will undercut its competition by thousands.

The standard engine on each Sonata trim level is a 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder engine good for 175 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the GLS and SE trim levels with the four-cylinder, while a five-speed automatic is standard on the Limited and optional on the other trims. Optional on all Sonatas is a 3.3-liter V6 producing 249 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available with this engine.

In reviews we've found that the Sonata prioritizes ride comfort over precise handling. It smothers bumps well and delivers a luscious highway ride, but with its significant body roll and vague steering, those who want more interaction between man and machine will be better served by competitors from Mazda or Nissan. Power from the efficient four-cylinder engine is quite competitive, and although the V6 isn't quite as potent as those in rival sedans, it still gets the job done while returning good fuel economy. Inside, soft, high-quality plastic abounds, switchgear is excellent and the overall design is eye-pleasing.

Used Hyundai Sonata Models

Today's fourth-generation Hyundai Sonata dates back to the 2006 model year and is really the only version worth considering as a used car. Initially, three trim levels were offered: GL, GLS and LX. Today's GLS is equivalent to the original GL, while the Limited replaced the LX. The following year saw a shuffling of the trim levels to the current format. Most notably, the sporty SE version debuted, wearing 17-inch alloy wheels and foglights.

Originally, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder produced 162 hp and was standard on the GL and GLS trims. A five-speed manual was standard (GL only for 2006) and a four-speed automatic was optional with this engine. Optional on the GLS and standard on the LX, SE and Limited was a 235-hp version of the 3.3-liter V6, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. For 2008, the four-cylinder became standard on all trim levels and the V6 became optional. That year also saw a few more standard features added to the SE and Limited trims.

The biggest changes occurred in 2009 when the current engine outputs arrived, along with the high-end interior. Prior to that, the cabin was of decent quality, with nice materials and a precise feel to the controls, but it wasn't nearly as top-notch as the current car. We also took issue with the odd placement of the audio and climate controls -- the former was placed too high and the latter too low. The spacious cabin remained unchanged, and although the exterior had a few nips here and tucks there, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a pre- and post-2009 Sonata. Two notable additions to the features list at this time were a standard auxiliary audio jack and the optional touchscreen navigation system.

Pre-2006 Hyundai Sonatas remain a risky used-car proposition even though depreciation means they can be found at a bargain-basement price. Only in recent years have we seen the kind of build quality and structural integrity that might portend long-term durability.

Nevertheless, the previous (third) generation Hyundai Sonata was originally introduced for 1999 with a vastly improved appearance, far better engines and significant improvements made in noise and ride quality versus its lamentable predecessors. The base car featured a 138-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the GLS had a 159-hp 2.5-liter V6. These numbers may be different from what you'll find elsewhere, since Hyundai misstated its horsepower ratings prior to 2002, giving the Sonata 11 more horses than it actually had. As such, you'd be best to stick with a Sonata from 2002 or later, which were characterized by even nicer styling, a better interior and a legitimately more potent V6.

The second-generation Hyundai Sonata was introduced for 1995 and offered improved fit and finish compared to its predecessor, but that's not saying much. It now had dual airbags, but no more power under the hood. For instance, the V6 only produced 5 more horses compared to the four-cylinder. For 1997, the Sonata was restyled dramatically, but not necessarily for the better. All in all, we'd avoid this car.

The same goes for the original Hyundai Sonata, first launched in 1989 to give Hyundai a player in the midsize family sedan game. Aggressively priced but sloppily built and saddled with weak, unrefined powertrains, the boxy first-generation Sonata did little to change the public's perception of Hyundai cars as cheap in more ways than price.

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