Review update: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited is the best mid-size sedan

January 22, 2020

The redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata is the best mid-size sedan on the road. As someone who avoids superlatives and exaggeration (like the plague), I can hardly believe it myself. The new Sonata sheds the dull skin of its predecessor with a subtle fastback design and loads the interior with the kind of creature comforts and conveniences befitting a luxury car. The powertrain is as punchy as it is efficient, and for about $34,000 fully loaded, it has me believing it is the best around. 

The stylish Honda Accord is both sophisticated and thrifty, the Toyota Camry is no longer the proletariat of the class with an all-wheel-drive variant and performance-leaning TRD models, and the Nissan Altima is the solid value buy. Even the moribund Ford Fusion still outsells most of Ford’s crossovers, with the exception of the Escape and the Explorer. 

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata is the antidote to crossover fatigue, even on an 800-mile round trip trek across the Canadian border weighed down with hockey gear for two. The tester in top Limited trim came in a purplish-blue hue called Stormy Sea, which was perfect for our January sojourn on the southern tip of blustery Lake Huron. 

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

The fastback European roofline of the Sonata looks good enough from a distance, but the sedan doesn’t warrant a second glance until you get up close. The grille isn’t the obnoxious gaping fish face that’s trendy now; instead, the mesh pattern flexes like an Aston Martin and is complemented by lower air intakes. The corners of the grille lead to subtle lines on the hood that have a muscle-car vibe, and chrome strips lead from the lights than loop around the windows. Boomerang LED headlights wrap around the sides into the beltline down to the rear, where a oval rear light signature binds the taillights, kind of like the Dodge Durango but more subtle and sporty. The taillights are ribbed on top where they meet the trunk, adding some textural flair. The studded center caps on the 18-inch alloy wheels look like textured dials, same as the volume and climate controls inside. The new Sonata is all about these subtle but thoughtful details.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

The interior is where Hyundai is changing minds. Tan quilted leather seats and matching soft surfaces complement the dark lower dash, doors, steering wheel, and switchgear. Slim horizontal vents stretch the proportions beneath the large 10.3-inch touchscreen molded into the dash. The center console is slender, with a compact shift-by-wire gear selector on one side and cupholders on the other. It has a feeling of openness, and that feeling is backed by facts: it has the most leg room among mid-size competitors.  

The temperature dials give soft feedback on each tick, and the piano-key climate controls are effortless. The steering wheel features an open upper half to view the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and all the advanced technology systems operating in the car. The cabin has the simple elegance of a premium brand and is more attractive than the interiors of Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti sedans. 

The chunky steering wheel grips in the 10-and-2 position suggest some heft to the steering. It was mostly sleeting while I drove it but in the few dry moments I had, the low-slung sedan handles corners in a way crossover owners can’t conceive. It’s an inch lower than the outgoing model and has a front strut and multi-link rear suspension for a smooth, soft ride. Road imperfections don’t jar the interior. 

Engine choices have been streamlined from three to two for the redesigned Sonata, and the top engine in the Sonata lineup is a smaller yet potent 180-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo-4. With an 8-speed automatic transmission in front-wheel drive, it makes 195 pound-feet of torque at just 1,500 rpm. Paddle shifters give you a modicum of control over the 8-speed, and it’s quick enough from a stop and plenty capable for highway passing. It feels light if not quick, and the engine is primarily designed for efficiency but it gets moving when you need it to. There’s even a chirpy turbo growl when pushed hard. Despite such pushing, it averaged more than 31 mpg combined, at an average speed of 46 mph, according to the trip meter. 

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

It feels planted and safe, even in a week of inclement weather. On extended highway driving, the adaptive cruise control and active lane control provided sustained periods of hands-free driving, for up to a minute in some cases. The 2020 Sonata Limited is smooth and patient when it detects a lead car and doesn’t hammer the throttle when the lane opens up. It manages the space between the lines better than most humans. There’s some wind noise at the highest speed limits, but that’s not uncommon.

The redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata is not all good, of course, but even the bad is more different than bad. There are inversions from what is normal. The redundant steering wheel controls have an up/down arrow to change radio stations. Press the down arrow and the XM/FM/AM radio stations go up. 

Another inversion is the speedometer is on the left side of the cluster, and the tachometer on the right side. That might be the result of global markets, but the oddity is the tach starts at 0 rpm in the 7 o’clock position, then goes counter clockwise; if you’re in the 5,000 rpm range in the 1 o’clock position, and you slam the pedal, it goes to the left, as if the rpm are going down. They’re not. 

Rear seat leg room is sacrificed for front space, but two tweens fit just fine. A larger dad didn’t complain about the head room, though the passenger seat needed to be moved forward. The only way to fold the 60/40 seats is through the trunk, which has about 16 cubic feet. 

These oddities and inconveniences don’t take away from the overall impression that at $34,000, which is less than the average new car price, and less than the loaded competitors, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata is the best in a dwindling but still strong class. 

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2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Base price: $24,530 (including $930 destination)

As tested: $34,365

EPA fuel economy: 27/36/31

Hits: Detailed design, refined interior, great technology, roomy cabin, overall value

Misses: Inverted gauges, smallish rear seats.

2020
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