New & Used Hyundai Sonata: In Depth
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When first introduced, the Hyundai Sonata was a compact sold only in Korea, now in its sixth generation it qualifies as a large car under U.S. EPA guidelines. Because the EPA bases those rules on interior space, many of the so-called mid-size sedans on the market were once compacts.
The Sonata has continually grown larger and more refined with each successive generation. The newest version of the Sonata was launched for the 2015 model year bringing improved design and updated features as well as powertrain changes. The Sonata competes among some heavy hitters such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima.
MORE: Read our 2015 Hyundai Sonata review
The first Sonata introduced in the U.S. was actually the model's second generation, which arrived in 1989 and came with only four-cylinder engines. A V-6 option became available for a short time on the second-generation car, before production ended at a Hyundai factory in Quebec, Canada. The third- and fourth-generation Sonata hailed from South Korean factories, and were offered with either four- or six-cylinder engines. The front ends of these models, sold through 2004, had sometimes garish styling that obscured the car's functional simplicity and value, and increasing reputation for reliability.
During these years, the Sonata architecture spawned two related vehicles, the Hyundai Santa Fe crossover utility vehicle and the Kia Optima sedan.
The Sonata broke into the mainstream as production moved to Alabama, beginning in 2005. With a newly styled body clean of any excessive detail, a much larger passenger cabin, and more powerful four-cylinder and V-6 engines on board, the Sonata began to attract more attention in its very competitive class of vehicles. By the end of its run in 2010, this generation of Sonata had knocked the Toyota Camry off Consumer Reports magazine's top-recommendations list, based on its quality, reliability, and value.
In the same time frame, the Sonata architecture added another family member, the large Hyundai Azera, which is aimed more squarely at the Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse.
The Sonata was completely redesigned for 2011, and won The Car Connection's inaugural Best Car To Buy award for that year. Dramatic new styling inside and out carried a "fluidic sculpture" theme, with the curvaceous, nicely trimmed interior especially of note compared to sometimes-plain rivals. The suspension was been tuned for more of an enthusiast feel, and a 274-hp Sonata Turbo model joined the lineup.
This Sonata earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick accolade in this generation and achieved a five-star overall rating from the federal government.
EPA highway ratings rated up to 35 mpg for the base model, while a Sonata Hybrid, with a lithium-polymer pack and even higher ratings, was also introduced and achieved up to 40 mpg. However, the 2011–2012 Sonata Hybrid was one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Hyundai initially submitted figures of 35/40 mpg and 37 mpg combined to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Sonata Hybrid's actual tested fuel economy to be 34/39 mpg or 36 mpg combined.
The Sonata got no significant changes for the 2012 model year, but for 2013 a few more standard features were added, with heated seats offered through more of the lineup and a panoramic sunroof available on the Sonata Limited. The Sonata also lost its base manual transmission for 2013, likely due to lack of interest.
The new Hyundai Sonata
The Sonata was thoroughly redesigned for 2015, with the most obvious changes affecting the styling, which has been toned down from the last generation. The interior is equally conservative, with an almost Germanic, geometric look taking over. Hyundai also put a big focus on powertrain efficiency.
In terms of performance, the carryover engines are rated lower--both the base 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter four and the twin-scroll turbo'ed, 245-hp, 2.0-liter four. But both powertrains are much smoother in their latest forms. Both are teamed to a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual controls. The Sonata's body's much stiffer now, and that makes it feel more settled at any speed, and allows better ride compliance.
A new Eco model pairs a smaller turbocharged four-cylinder, displacing 1.6 liters, with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. Output is 177 horsepower and the setup is good for 32 mpg in the combined cycle—28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Hyundai is offering the last-gen Sonata Hybrid through the 2015 model year; a new hybrid and a plug-in hybrid model based on the latest Sonata will be available for 2016. The Hybrid is pegged to return an EPA combined rating of 42 mpg, while the Plug-In Hybrid will provide a claimed 22 miles of all-electric driving when fully charged, as well as a 93 MPGe figure.
The new Sonata has earned five-star scores from the NHTSA, as well as 'good' ratings from the IIHS in all categories except for small overlap, earning it the agency's 2015 Top Safety Pick status. The latest model now offers blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, a driver knee airbag, and lane-change assist in its safety arsenal.
The 2015 Sonata also receives a complete overhaul in the infotainment department. Models equipped with navigation get an 8.0-inch center screen, integration with smartphone apps like Pandora and SoundHound, and HD radio functionality. Apple's Siri Eyes Free integration is also included, and the system will also eventually support direct smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.