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It’s true in cars as it’s true in politics—to rise above the clutter, you need to make a dramatic statement. While Hyundai won’t be telling anyone it can “see Russia from its house!” anytime soon, it’s given its mainstream, mid-size Sonata a refreshing new look and a new mission.
The goal: to dislodge some Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion buyers (along with shoppers considering the Camry, Malibu and Accord) and bring them into the Hyundai fold.
So, how’s the hopey-changey thing working out for the big Hyundai four-door? Very well, thanks. Sales are the best ever, and it’s largely a matter of the right look, matching up with the right features and the right fuel-economy number on the sticker. The Sonata’s ditched formality for fab new lines, inside and out. It’s skipping the V-6 route and instead fitting the car with a four-cylinder that rates up to 35 mpg—a little lower if it’s fitted with a turbocharger, considerably more if it’s teamed with Hyundai’s new hybrid technology. In any version it meets our performance expectations; both the Hybrid and 2.0T versions thrill us beyond the norms, for their own distinct reasons.
Inside, there’s more usable room than ever, and it’s finished in an agreeable way, though we’d love to see softer seats and a little less gloss black plastic. The steering could use some more refinement in feel, too. It works great in sweeping turns, but wanders a touch on some highway surfaces. While they’re at it, Hyundai needs to buckle down on interior noise. On asphalt roads, the Sonata’s low rolling resistance tires generate lots of noise, overpowering even the good mid-level speakers.
You’ll probably overlook those minor flaws given the Sonata’s extremely smart pricing. All this space, frugality and good looks can be had for less than $20,000—and comes with USB, Bluetooth, and satellite radio. The turbo version adds more than 80 horsepower, but only raises the price to about $25,000 base. The Hybrid will earn around 39-40 mpg in highway driving—with a base price of about $26,000, not much more than the much smaller Honda Civic Hybrid.
- Zoomy new styling
- Fuel-conscious in all forms
- Well-damped ride
- Big standard features list
- Huge value for the dollar
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- Inconsistent steering feel
- Seats feel rather firm
- Cabin gets noisy at higher speeds
- If you have to have a V-6, you’re out of luck