The Car Connection Hyundai Sonata Overview
The Hyundai Sonata is a mid-size sedan that has been completely redesigned for 2020.
With the Sonata, Hyundai has a rival for vehicles such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Kia K5.
MORE: Read our 2021 Hyundai Sonata review
Compared to the outgoing version, the latest Sonata has a much more curvaceous design, more tech features, and a higher-mileage Sonata Hybrid version. The Sonata at last has the combination of an upscale, luxurious cabin—something the Sonata got right in its outgoing version—and a dramatic, expressive exterior, which went missing in recent model years.
The new Hyundai Sonata
The biggest news for the Hyundai Sonata—outside of its dramatic new design—comes in the form of some standout tech features.
The Smart Park (“Smaht Pahk”) feature that’s been given a star-studded ad push—a system that allows you to stand back while the car parks and un-parks itself—is the domain of top Sonata Limited models.
Also noteworthy is the Solar Roof System, which comes only on top Sonata Hybrid Limited models and can store enough energy away to supplement 700 more all-electric miles annually (and boost mileage, of course). And a smartphone-based Digital Key system is new to Hyundai in the Sonata lineup.
The Sonata lineup, otherwise, offers three powertrains, all front-wheel drive. A base 2.5-liter inline-4 makes 191 hp, while a 1.6-liter turbo-4 makes 180 hp; both come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The third option, the Hybrid, has a single electric motor integrated within its six-speed automatic transmission and makes 192 hp altogether.
The current Sonata is by no means the top performer among mid-size sedans, and this time around Hyundai’s left out the top 2.0-liter turbo-4 from the lineup. But steering is accurate, handling is confident, and the interior is smooth, quiet, and verging on lavish in the level of attention that Hyundai has paid to the fine details.
Hyundai has dropped the previous Sonata Plug-In Hybrid, leaving only the Hybrid. But the Hybrid now achieves EPA ratings of up to 50 mpg city, 54 highway (52 combined) in its most efficient (base) Blue version.
The current Sonata has achieved great safety ratings already, with five stars from NHTSA and IIHS Top Safety Pick status. Automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and a driver-attention monitor are included.
Top models in the Sonata lineup now include a larger 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, plus wireless smartphone charging—among standout features like cooled front seats and a head-up display on the Limited.
A few minor changes were made to the 2021 Sonata, including a 19-inch wheel option.
Hyundai Sonata History
The first Sonata introduced in the U.S. was actually the model's second generation, which arrived in 1989 and came with only 4-cylinder engines. 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 4- or 6-cylinder engines. The front ends of these models, sold through 2004, had sometimes garish 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 4-cylinder and V-6 engines 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, which is aimed more squarely at the Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse.
The Sonata was completely redesigned for 2011, and won The Car Connection's inaugural Best Car To Buy award. Dramatic new styling inside and out carried a "Fluidic Sculpture" theme, with the curvaceous, nicely trimmed interior especially of note compared to sometimes-plain rivals. The suspension was been tuned for more of an enthusiast feel, and a 274-hp Sonata Turbo model joined the lineup.
This Sonata earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick accolade in this generation and achieved a five-star overall rating from the federal government.
The 2011-2012 Sonata Hybrid was one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Hyundai initially submitted figures of 35/40/37 mpg 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 34/39/36 mpg.
The Sonata got no significant changes for the 2012 model year, 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, likely due to lack of interest.
An Eco model debuted for 2015, with the previous generation’s debut. It pairs a smaller turbocharged 4-cylinder, displacing 1.6 liters, with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. Output is 177 hp and the setup is good for 28 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined.
The Sonata earned five-star scores from federal testers, as well as "Good" ratings from the IIHS in all categories including the tough small-overlap test, earning it the agency's Top Safety Pick+ status. There are plenty of safety features, too, including blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, a driver knee airbag, and forward collision warning.
The Sonata also featured Google's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone interfaces as standard on all models. Models equipped with navigation get an 8.0-inch center touchscreen, integration with smartphone apps like Pandora and SoundHound, and HD radio functionality. Apple's Siri Eyes Free integration is also included.
Changes for 2016 included the use of several aluminum suspension components, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, a new 7.0-inch touchscreen audio system with the Android Auto smartphone interface, and some equipment shuffling. The Limited trim also gets the Sport trim's more aggressive front bumper.
For the 2017 model year, the addition of dynamic headlights was one of few changes.
For 2019, the Sonata got a light refresh to its styling, plus updated infotainment systems are joined by a handful of new features. The biggest difference was that the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 now mates to an 8-speed automatic.