By Steve & Tami Laser
Hyundai has come a long way. Twenty-five years ago, the first Sonata came to America following a successful run of more than half a million subcompact Excels. The midsize Sonata wasn’t quite ready to compete head-on with the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. Things have changed dramatically since then, with Hyundai now selling about 200,000 Sonatas a year, building them at its plant in Alabama, and offering a full lineup of family cars, luxury sedans, sporty coupes and crossovers.
Hyundai did its homework, making the seventh-generation Sonata its best ever and extremely competitive in its class. Some might say the new styling is more conservative than its predecessor. We think it looks classy and a bit European. The fastback roofline gives it a sporty profile while the grille reminds us of the brand’s recently redesigned Genesis luxury sedan. Hyundai says the new design slips through the wind with a 0.27 drag coefficient that’s lower than any “non-hybrid in the midsize sedan class.”
Midsize sedans remain the top-selling car segment in the U.S. with millions sold each year. Yet checking the specs reveals that while Sonata has a midsize footprint it’s classified as a “large car” by the EPA with 122.4 cu. ft. interior volume. That tops Camry, Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu and VW Passat which are all classified as midsize.
The Sonata lineup has expanded to seven models for 2015 offering something for everyone. The most affordable and destined to become the top-sellers in the line are the SE, Sport and Limited powered by a 2.4-liter normally aspirated 4-cylinder direct-injection engine that puts out 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque.
Those looking for more gusto can opt for the Sport and Limited 2.0T with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four that serves up 245 horses and 260 lb-ft. Then, there’s the new Eco model with a 1.6-liter turbo four borrowed from Hyundai’s Veloster. Finally, the Sonata Hybrid, that retains the previous generation body style for 2015, teams a 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine with an electric motor and lithium-polymer batteries for maximum fuel efficiency.
All Sonatas, except Eco, feature a 6-speed Shiftronic® automatic transmission that lets the driver shift manually when desired using a separate gate. Sport 2.0T models include steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Eco employs a new 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission derived from the Veloster’s 6-speed unit.
We decided to test the Sonata Sport 2.4 that starts with a very attractive base price of $23,175. Compared to the SE, the Sport is dressed with a more aggressive grille and lower front fascia, side rocker panel extensions and chrome-tipped dual exhaust. It also wears attractive 17-inch sport alloy wheels and P215/55R17 tires.
Hyundai endows the new Sonata with high-strength steel for more than 50 percent of its platform composition that results in 41 percent stiffer torsional rigidity and 35 percent greater bending strength. The revised multi-link rear suspension gains dual lower arms while front subframe bushings are now 17 percent stiffer. All these changes contribute to improved ride and handling that can be felt from the driver’s seat.
Sonata’s cabin has been redesigned with a more upscale appearance. We like the fact that special emphasis was placed on ergonomics making the controls easier to see and use. For example, the height of the instrument cluster and the center display screen are on the same plane to minimize eye movement.
Our test car was fitted with the Premium and Tech packages adding many useful features. We liked the electroluminescent gauges with a 4.2-inch color LCD display mounted between them. Using a mode button on the steering wheel, the driver can monitor and adjust functions including the trip computer and user settings.
The Premium Package rewards the driver and front passenger with supportive and comfortable multi-adjustable seats trimmed with leather bolsters and fabric inserts. A leather-wrapped thick-rim steering wheel and leather shift knob contribute to the sporty feeling. The package also includes dual automatic temperature control, proximity key with push-button start and a hands-free smart trunk opener.
We were also impressed with the rear seat that provides plenty of space to stretch out and relax. The seats are a 60/40-split design that makes it easy to carry long objects inside the cabin. And there’s a fold-down center armrest with dual cupholders for added convenience. Those seeking true luxury sedan accommodations can step up to Sonata Limited that offers more available luxury features including ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
For 2015, all Sonatas have iPod®/USB and auxiliary input jacks, SiriusXM® satellite radio and Bluetooth® phone connectivity with phonebook transfer and voice recognition. The Tech Package on our test car added an 8-inch touchscreen display with navigation. Screen brightness is improved by 33 percent while better touch sensitivity makes it simple to “touch and drag.”
The enhanced user interface offers a split-screen display for maps and music, downloadable apps, plus the ability to record SiriusXM® presets. Meanwhile, SiriusXM Travel Link® offers access to traffic information, sports scores, weather, stock prices, fuel prices and local movie times. Our test car’s premium audio system included seven Dimension® speakers with a subwoofer and amplifier for lifelike sound.
All Sonatas for 2015 equipped with navigation also support Pandora® and SoundHound applications plus “Eyes Free” Siri integration that allows the driver to perform functions without taking his or her eyes off the road. Hyundai says that Apple CarPlay will be available later in the model year.
The navigation system offers the ability to turn voice guidance on or off, zoom in or out on the map, touch to scroll, find a Point of Interest (POI), search a destination via the address book, by phone number, street name and more. We really liked the big display that was easy to view in the day or night.
We especially liked the POI restaurant search that displayed lots of choices. What the system can’t do for you is decide which restaurant you want to visit. (We had a brainstorm about piping in the smells of different foods into the car…yet quickly realized that it would cause too much excitement for our dogs riding in the back seat.)
Sonata is the second Hyundai (following Genesis) to offer next-generation Blue Link® telematics. Our test car included Destination Search powered by Google™ that lets users search via the Blue Link button and navigation display or through myhyundai.com and the Blue Link mobile app sending a destination to the car.
Blue Link offers a wealth of safety, car care and infotainment features. The list includes automatic collision notification and assistance, SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, monthly vehicle health report, Service Link, remote door unlock/lock, car finder, stolen vehicle recovery, geo-fence, speed alert and curfew alert. For more information visit HyundaiBlueLink.com
Sonata offers new safety features for 2015. Our test car was equipped with Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. The former alerts the driver of an approaching vehicle in the next lane when the turn signal is activated by warning lights in the mirrors. If the vehicle in the other lane is approaching too quickly, it sounds an alarm to warn the driver. The latter scans the areas to each side of the car when backing out of a parking space and sounds a warning tone to alert the driver.
We spent a week driving the new Sonata on all types of roads, from country lanes to high-speed highways, up and down steep hills, over a bridge and on a gravel surface for our photo session. We were very impressed at the progress that Hyundai has made with the new Sonata. And we now say without any hesitation that Sonata is a world-class car that competes directly with the top-selling Camry and Accord.
With a bottom line of $27,560 for our test car including destination and the option packages, the Sonata Sport 2.4 is a great value. If you’re in the market for an affordable midsize sedan, be sure to put the new Sonata on your shopping list.
For more information, visit Hyundaiusa.com or your local authorized Hyundai dealer.
2015 Hyundai Sonata press fleet vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices is subject to change without notice.)
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