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Driven: 2009 Hyundai Sonata

May 13, 2009

It's been just three years since the latest version went live, but the 2009 Hyundai Sonata smartly updates itself with a new interior and a new four-cylinder engine that makes it the performance equal of many other mid-size classics. And where Camry, Altima and Malibu may win on styling or steering, the Sonata trumps all but the Honda Accord in big interior space.

I drove the 2009 Sonata around southern California for a quick refresher--I hesitate to use the words "crash course"--and the first impressions were great ones. The new interior in the Sonata looks like it's been lifted straight from a Lexus, or at least, the 2009 Hyundai Genesis. There's soft-touch paint and plastic everywhere, and the less-rich hard plastics are located in places you'll never touch. The Sonata's always had a cavernous cabin, but the updated shapes make it look even more spacious and upscale.

A boost in power and refinement comes with the latest version of Hyundai’s four-cylinder Sonata. The new powerplant has 175 horsepower and a smooth, whirring note that's muted at most highway speeds. Teamed with a five-speed automatic, it's a commuter champ at 21/32 mpg. The V-6 isn't much more powerful and fuel economy with that engine falls to 19/29 mpg, so frugal consumers need no more urging.

On the road, the 2008 Hyundai Sonata rides well and is agile enough. It compares well to the base Honda Accord and Toyota Camry models, but steering isn’t as nicely weighted as in a Mazda6 or a Ford Fusion. The Sonata’s firm shocks and softer bushings give even the SE versions an absorbent ride, but you'll still need to look to the Nissan Altima or Honda Accord for a crisper driving experience.

2009 Hyundai Sonata

2009 Hyundai Sonata

Inside, the Sonata also picks up new hardware for 2009. My test car had a USB connection for iPods as well as an auxiliary jack, but you'll need a special cable to hook up the iPhone and control it with steering-wheel-mounted buttons. Bluetooth's made an appearance, but it's mounted to the headliner, not conveniently reached from the wheel.

In all, the Sonata's been a solid choice to the often pricey Accord. With its newly sculpted dash and smoother base engine, it's high on any checklist that includes vast interior room and quality look and feel.

Want more hands-on road test and a full scan of Sonata reviews from other respected sources? Click over to the 2009 Hyundai Sonata page for pricing information, specs and more photos.

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