The Sonata is one of the lighter cars in the segment, and its 2015 redesign gave it a stiffer structure that helps it do a better job of damping bumps and taking direction. Hyundai enlisted Lotus Engineering to iron out the 2015 Genesis' handling, and those lessons have been applied to the Sonata. In our test drives, the Sonata has responded with a gentle, able feel. It's settled at any speed. Roll over a train track at 60 mph and it reacts with compliance, and little drama, even with the 18-inch tires on 2.0T trims.
We haven't driven the 2016 model yet, but Hyundai has put in more work this year to improve the dynamics even more. The steering knuckle, front lower control arm, rear upper control arm, and rear assist arms are now aluminum. Reducing the unsprung weight should make the car even more compliant and quicker to react to driver inputs.
Sport 2.0T sedans have slightly different tuning, with a 1-mm bump in anti-roll bars, and moderately beefier P235/45R18 tires. It's a small difference, though the ride is a bit firmer but the handling a bit more crisp. Turbo sedans also get an electric parking brake (as do the Limited sedans), while other versions have a foot-operated brake.
Steering is driven by electric motors on all Sonatas. All but the 2.0Ts have column-mounted setups, while the turbo sedan has a dual-pinion rack that's supposed to deliver better steering feel and finer responses. The slight uptick in the turbo's attentiveness probably comes as much from the bigger tires as from the more costly steering rack. In either setup, most of the wandering has been filtered off, leaving behind the sense that even if it's not talking back to you, at least the steering is listening.
The base 2.4-liter inline-4 makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. It winds happily and smoothly through its powerband, though it isn't particularly quick.
The Sport 2.0T Sonata produces 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It's smooth for a turbocharged inline-4 and is almost free of vibration. It's certainly stronger than the base engine, but isn't as quick as other turbo-4 and V-6s from the competition.
In either case, you get a 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual controls. Sport 2.0T models feature paddle shifters, and all Sonatas get a three-mode driving selector that fiddles with power steering assist, shift timing, and throttle delivery through Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. In Eco mode, the Sonata really dithers over downshifts, but the milder differences in Normal and Sport modes probably mean owners will play with the feature once before leaving it in default mode.
Our brief exposure to the Sonata Eco was mostly a good one. The Eco combines a small turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 with a 7-speed, dry dual-clutch transmission for higher fuel economy than the non-hybrid models. It has an output of 177 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The turbo is a twin-scroll for quicker boost, the DCT has electronic clutch and gear actuation, and generally, the powertrain here has more exhaust noise and peakier behavior than the other choices.
The Eco's engine is comparable to the turbo 1.5-liter inline-4 in the Ford Fusion, as much for the perky acceleration feel as the booming exhaust note. It's a hard worker, hauling around a little more than 3,200 pounds, but not an unhappy one. Some pre-production dual-clutch chatter aside, it was hard to perceive the transmission's shifts at anything but very low speeds. Minus a couple hundred pounds or so from the Sonata Limited, the steering feels considerably lighter, too.