With the debut of the redesigned 2002 Sonata, it's likely that some of those remaining snide sneers will be transformed into smug smiles of satisfaction. The Sonata takes aim right at the heart of the mid-size family car segment. This means that Sonata is shouldering in among the Camrys, Accords, Malibus, Saturns and Jettas that have for years contested this automotive category like Afghan warlords.
Whereas a previous rendition of Sonata depended on offbeat, even goofy styling to draw attention to itself, the car's reprise in '02 is conspicuous for its courtly elegance. From side and rear, Sonata's lines are tastefully rounded and flowing. Up front, new modular headlights surmount standard cat's-eye fog lamps, evoking a decidedly sporty look. If anything, only the blacked-out grille, with its vertical strakes and prominent Hyundai badge, is a little too big for its britches.
The Sonata reviewed here is Hyundai's mid-level GLS version. That means it's powered by a 181-horsepower, 2.7-liter twin-cam V-6. Equipped with a four-speed automatic that incorporates Shiftronic manual gearchanging, this GLS cost $17,499, base. More significant yet, the only option was $86 worth of carpeted floor mats, so that after a destination charge, the as-tested price was $18,080. Pricing, in other words, is Hyundai's not-so-secret weapon, because for just that little, you can get V-6 power in a five-passenger sedan and bask in standard air-conditioned comfort with your AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system and power windows, mirrors and keyless-remote door locks. (The question remains, then: Why couldn't Hyundai just throw in the floor mats for good measure?)