Hyundai Sonata History
Side Exterior View - 2013 Hyundai Sonata 4-door Sedan 2.4L Auto LimitedEnlarge Photo
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The Hyundai Sonata is the South Korean automaker's mid-size family sedan. A part of the intense battle for sales in that segment for more than 20 years, the Sonata has made big inroads among shoppers in the past few years, as it's capitalized on a strong reliability and safety record and a dramatic new look. Today, it competes with the likes of the Kia Optima, which shares its platform, as well as the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, VW Passat, and Chevy Malibu.
See our 2013 Hyundai Sonata review for car prices with options, specifications, and gas mileage information
The Sonata has been sold in five different generations in the U.S. (out of six total), and with each it's grown larger and more refined. Initially a compact Korean-only car, the latest Sonata qualifies as a large car under U.S. EPA guidelines.
The first Korean-market Sonata came with only four-cylinder engines. The sedan came to the U.S. market in 1989 as a four-cylinder sedan. 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 end of these models, sold through 2004, had sometimes garish front-end 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 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, aimed more squarely at the Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse.
The Sonata was last completely redesigned for 2011, and won The Car Connection's inaugural Best Car To Buy award for that year. With a bigger cabin, the Sonata now qualifies as a large car; in its class, only the Honda Accord meets the same standard. Dramatic new styling inside and out carries a "fluidic sculpture" theme, with the curvaceous, nicely trimmed interior especially of note compared to sometimes-plain rivals. The suspension has been tuned for more of an enthusiast feel, and a 274-hp Sonata Turbo model joined the line. The Sonata's dull steering feel remained one of the few issues we found.
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 achieves up to 40 mpg. The Sonata has also earned the IIHS Top Safety pick accolade in recent model years and achieves a five-star overall rating from the federal government.
The Sonata got no significant changes going from 2011 to 2012, 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.
The 2014 Hyundai Sonata is expected to offer a significant set of improvements such as adjustable steering firmness, refined styling, and other revisions, and improved versions of the Sonata Hybrid are already anticipated for 2014--as many of the Sonata's rivals like the Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion have had recent redesigns.
A new Hyundai Sonata is expected for the 2015 model year.
The 2011-2012 Sonata Hybrid is 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. Owners can register with Hyundai to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at HyundaiMPGInfo.com.