2018 Hyundai Sonata first drive: Finally looking the part

July 16, 2017

Beauty is no longer merely skin deep when it comes to the 2018 Hyundai Sonata.

Last year's dowdy model has given way to a more evocative, interesting design for 2018. It's a study in restraint—both fiscal and stylistic. The 2018 Sonata's basic design dates back only a few years, to 2015. That means that this is what's known in the car industry as a "mid-cycle update."

Automakers use this as an excuse to allocate a few bucks to address minor concerns and to keep things looking fresh, but there's not enough to justify a full-scale redesign.

MORE: Read our full review of the 2018 Hyundai Sonata

That means it's even more impressive that Hyundai designers have managed to tweak things enough that the 2018 Sonata could have come from an entirely different lineage than the 2018. New front and rear bumpers add visual interest. Hyundai has taken its formerly rigid trapezoidal grille and tapered it inward toward the bottom. It's fresh, clean, and even somewhat dramatic in the way it curves. Higher-specification trim levels even feature attractive LED headlamps with a distinctive light pattern.

At the rear, Hyundai tucked the Sonata's license plate low in the bumper where it's no longer a visual distraction. That freed up some space in the center of the trunk lid to allow the brand to elegantly, and somewhat pretentiously, spread out stylized letters spelling the model's name. Tucked into the top of the brand's italicized "H" logo is a hidden button that serves as the trunk opener. An innovative, thoughtful touch. Models with the most powerful of three available 4-cylinder engines have twin tail pipes, but the wide single pipe found in most models is a little awkward.

Only the forgettable 17-inch alloy wheels fitted to most models let things down.

For most buyers, it's the new look that could lure them into showrooms. But there are some detail changes that add up to an improved overall experience.

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