2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited, test drive, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014Enlarge Photo
Most serious contenders in the mid-size sedan class of vehicle are here to get daily family business done — not start hearts racing. Two of the strongest entries are the current Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.
In design and styling, it’s almost as if these two sedan mainstays have swapped roles for 2015. The Toyota Camry has traded in some especially bland sheetmetal for a more interesting look, with edgier, swept-back detailing, more sculpted sheetmetal, and more of a rakish appearance overall. Meanwhile, the new Sonata becomes more conservative than before, especially on the outside, with more ‘traditional-looking’ side styling and its curves cleaned up in favor of horizontal lines. Inside the Sonata has had its controls compartmentalized in a way we see as rather German, while the Camry’s controls have been made a somewhat larger and a little more straightforward in a way that riffs off Toyota’s trucks and crossovers.
The Sonata gets more power under the hood if you stick with the base engine. The Sonata’s 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine ends up feeling quite a bit stronger than the Camry’s 178-hp, 2.5-liter. While both of these models get six-speed automatic transmissions and weigh about the same, we’ll point to the Sonata’s inclusion of direct-injection technology, which the Camry omits. The Camry’s available V-6 cranks out 20 more horsepower than the Sonata 2.0T’s 246-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but that turbo four actually competes well against the Camry’s V-6—with less of the smoothness of that larger engine. Both models are offered in full-fledged Hybrid variants, with the Camry Hybrid having the mileage advantage (up to 43 mpg city). But the Sonata is now offered in a unique Eco model that packs a special 1.6-liter turbo four and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Neither of these models are handling champs. If performance and sporty road manners are important, you’re probably best off looking at a rival like the Mazda 6 or Ford Fusion. But both of these models ride extraordinarily well and offer enough confidence to satisfy almost anyone short of a serious driving enthusiast. Steering feel and precision remains a sore point for the Sonata, however, and we’re happier with the Camry’s more settled ride-and-handling tune. The Camry SE does include a stiffer suspension and other upgrades that make it more fun-to-drive—and, overall, we’d choose the Camry for its better steering and more buttoned-down driving feel.
Both of these mid-size sedans have really upped their game inside, just this model year—and that’s where it counts for a lot of comfort- and space-minded family shoppers who consider these vehicles. Toyota has dramatically upgraded the look and feel of materials and trims in the Camry lineup for 2015, and it no longer lags all the rival models. The Camry SE model gets upgraded seats that we think almost everyone will be happier with. With the Sonata’s full redesign for 2015 it’s inherited much of the upscale look of the more expensive Genesis, and interior space is good for the class. The Camry’s back seat is still a little friendlier for taller adults than the Sonata’s, which can be more confining for its lack of headroom.
The Camry has come a long way in improving its safety scores in just a couple of model years. With a new frontal structure introduced for last year’s model, and then some continued improvement for 2015, with more welds and a stiffer structure overall, it’s improved its performance to ‘good’ in all respects from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with a ‘Superior’ front crash prevention rating; although in federal tests it still has a mix of four- and five-star results, all factoring into a five-star overall rating. The Sonata is a half-step behind according to the IIHS, with ‘acceptable’ small overlap and ‘basic’ crash prevention ratings for the redesigned 2015 model; however in all the dynamic federal tests (even the side pole test) the Sonata got nothing but top five-star scores. Overall, we have to call this a draw.
In features, Toyota has jazzed up the Camry’s feature set this year to match its perkier appearance. There’s a new XSE model that brings the top-of-the-line equipment of the XLE, pairing it with the SE’s sportier look, and some real infotainment updates keep it in pace with the rival set. The Sonata’s feature set is no longer a screaming deal, with many more features or a much lower price than the Camry, but it matches the Toyota in nearly every respect and ends up beating it, narrowly, because of its full-featured, easy-to-use infotainment systems, which, at the top of the lineup, have forward-minded support for Apple Eyes Free Siri, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay.
In all, you can’t go wrong with either of these excellent sedans. The Hyundai Sonata definitely has a lead when you add it all up with an eye toward value. But the Camry’s no longer drifting out of focus; it’s now, again, a very strong pick that may win out by some family priorities.
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