- Toned down in key ways
- Gas-mileage gains
- New Eco edition is no mild hybrid
- Android or Apple, your interface is okay
- Ride, handling, body all make major gains
- Beginning to blend in
- Acceleration is down, a little
- Manuals are gone for good
- Woodgrain trim is unconvincing
- Hybrid is carryover this year
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata blends in better than ever in the top tier of family sedans.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata, now fully redesigned and in its seventh generation (the third built in Alabama), is a completely different vehicle than last year's model. The Sonata competes against a squadron of well-qualified family four-doors—Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu—as well as the VW Passat, Kia Optima, Chrysler 200, Subaru Legacy and Mazda 6.
The previous Hyundai Sonata was an especially bold move—one that's paid off, drawing attention to Hyundai with its daring yet practical design, strong yet efficient engines, and good overall value.
Hyundai's answer, this time, is to calm the daring looks, and to raise refinement levels—because now, selling about 200,000 Sonatas a year, it has something to lose. The flamboyant styling inside and out is gone, replaced by a more even-tempered look; the powertrains have been massaged for smoothness and silence; the body's been stamped and stuck together far more effectively; and in safety and features, where the Sonata always performed well, there's simply more of everything.
It's game on starting with the design. The Sonata's extravagantly drawn curves are mostly gone; we think it's a better reworking in the cabin than in the sheetmetal. it may end up aging better, and the few awkward passages are definitely gone, but most of the Sonata's exuberance has been washed off, pressed and folded, neatly put away. The reorg works better in the cockpit, where the trapezoidal cues run along tracks laid by German sedans four decades ago. It's more formal, for sure, and a bit more like the design used in the closely related Kia Optima. Skip the woodgrain: the carbon fiber and aluminum-like trims do a fine job of dressing up what's become a sober den, toned down from its buzzy hangout days.
The Sonata has traded some strength for better refinement, and it's a swap well worth making. One of the lighter cars in its class, the Sonata was also one of the first to move to an all-four-cylinder lineup, and it doesn't want for more. This year, power ratings actually go down for both the base 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter four and the twin-scroll turbo'ed, 245-hp 2.0-liter four. They're both less freewheeling, but more free-revving, much quieter and almost free of vibration, two bugbears of the last-generation edition.
In either case, you get a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual controls. In this front-wheel-drive sedan, the transmission has been fully reworked for quicker, more muted shifts. Sport 2.0T models get paddle shift controls, and all Sonatas get a three-mode driving selector that fiddles lightly 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 letting it go in default mode.
Hyundai enlisted Lotus Engineering to iron out the new Genesis' handling, and those lessons have been applied also to the Sonata. The body's much stiffer now, and that makes for an easier job damping bumps and taking direction. It's more settled at any speed: the skittishness has been replaced by more compliance, and a lot less drama. Sport 2.0T tuning isn't much different, with just a 1-mm change in stabilizer-bar thickness and moderately beefier P235/45R-18 tires. Electric power steering tracks better and maintains its sense of true, without much wandering or excessive weight. Even if it's not talking back to you, at least the steering is listening.
As for the Sonata Eco, our brief exposure to it was mostly a good one. The new Eco is no mild hybrid--it's a small-displacement turbo four mated to a dual-clutch transmission. With 177 horsepower and a booming exhaust note, it reminds us of Ford's mid-line Fusion in its eagerness--and gas mileage is pegged at 32 mpg, putting it on the non-hybrid leaderboard. (The Sonata Hybrid carries over in the older body style for the 2015 model year; a new hybrid and a plug-in hybrid model are expected to replace it within a year or two.)
Quality and safety
With a gain in overall length and in wheelbase, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata does a better job of accommodating passengers than it did last year, especially back-seaters. It's still technically defined by the EPA as a large car, but the Sonata is marketed as a mid-size car, so it can be compared favorably to a Fusion or Altima, but shy of a Chevy Impala.
There's very good space for six-footers in the front seats, and the seats are better than in the past Sonata--there's more bottom cushion length and better bolstering on the Limited and Sport 2.0T models we drove. In back, I found plenty of knee room in the Sonata, enough to cross over a knee into a freestyle yoga pose/desk. The back-seat leg room isn't quite as expansive as in a Passat, but headroom is like most of the cars in this segment--a little snug when the sunroof is ordered, fine for anyone smaller.
The Sonata's positively awash in storage bins, perfect for hiding stuff from drivers and passengers. Trunk space is generous at 16.3 cubic feet, and it has handy seat-fold levers inside the trunk. And all the body work has paid off: For the first time in at least few years, the Sonata is so quiet at a good driving pace, I could hear front-seat conversations without straining.
The Sonata has earned five-star federal scores, as well as 'good' ratings from the IIHS in all categories except for small overlap. And it now offers blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, a driver knee airbag, and lane-change assists.
Every mid-size sedan worth its salt fields some entry-level model for about $22,000. With the Hyundai Sonata, the base price of $21,960 is one of the lowest in the segment--but the cheapest version we endorse checks in at just over $23,000, an SE with a Popular package that also includes a power driver seat. All models have an AM/FM/XM/CD player; a USB port; and Bluetooth with audio streaming. The $24,085 Sonata Eco comes well-equipped, in essentially SE Popular trim, with options for pushbutton start, leather, heated front seats, and navigation.
A $23,985 Sonata Sport adds a color touchscreen audio system, 17-inch wheels, and heated front seats, while the $27,335 Limited adds woodgrain trim, a power passenger seat, and heated rear seats. Options include a panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, and ventilated front seats. At the top of the base-price range, the $29,385 Sonata Sport 2.0T gets paddle shifters, a sport suspension, quad exhaust tips, and 18-inch wheels, among other features.
Infotainment systems have been upgraded in the 2015 Sonata. The navigation system gets a larger 8.0-inch screen, and smartphone-app compatibility for Pandora and SoundHound, and HD radio. Navigation-equipped cars get Apple Eyes Free Siri integration, and down the road, will offer a choice of Google’s Android Auto smartphone system or Apple CarPlay.
2015 Hyundai Sonata
The extravagantly drawn curves are mostly gone; it's a better reworking inside the Sonata than outside.
The 2015 Sonata features a classier and more sophisticated (while also more conservative) take on that current design—one that might very well age more gracefully than the innovative 2011-2014 Sonata. It's less busy overall, with fewer surfaces crashing up against each other, and no more awkward cutlines.
It achieves a more nuanced, mature look by taking on cues from Hyundai's latest design theme, which was first seen on the 2015 Genesis. It's as formally executed here as on the Genesis, and though it's more expertly drawn than before, almost all the exuberance has been washed off--which isn't the case with the bigger luxury sedan. The "sabre" line still gives the Sonata wide shoulders--but it doesn't dive for the front wheels anymore, it's a straight shot down the bodysides. Horizontal lines everywhere calm down the shape, in fact, from the new rear lip spoiler and its chrome surround, to the dual exhaust and its bright tips, to the bend at the bottom of the decklid that takes some heft out of the rear end. It's closer to the invisible ideal of the modern family sedan--and more invisible, too.
The Sonata Sport is the visual standout of the lineup, with its distinctive front-end appearance, side rocker extensions and added chrome body-side molding. Sport 2.0T models get an additional rear bumper fascia and quad exhaust tips, with showy 18-inch alloy wheels.
The new Sonata cleans up its curves inside, too, straightening out the center stack, redefining it into a new hierarchy, regrouping controls in distinct zones. It's all about relating its shapes to those in the Genesis, now that there's some gravitas there.
It's more formal, for sure, and a bit more like the design used in the closely related Kia Optima. The steering wheel now has a sportier design, and the column itself has been redesigned. The center screen's framed off inside a trapezoid that looks utterly German, and the stack is rich with knobs and buttons.
For the most part, it's trimmed in a good grade of plastic and leather. The printed woodgrain peices aren't convincing at all, but the textured looks meant to mimic carbon fiber and aluminum do a fine job of dressing up what's become a sober den, toned down from its buzzy hangout days.
2015 Hyundai Sonata
The Sonata has traded some strength for better refinement, and it's a swap well worth making.
Now that it's responsible for a couple hundred thousand sales a year, the Hyundai Sonata has something to lose. Not weight--it's been one of the lighter cars in the segment since it was redone in 2011, and gains only about 7 pounds in this renovation.
What it has to lose are some of the brash and downright unrefined edges it brought along with its radically different look in the just-past generation. It was always fascinating to see roll by, but it wasn't always the smoothest, quietest sedan to drive when carting around disapproving in-laws.
The stylistic flourishes and gutsy horsepower and fuel-economy numbers were so brazen, it was easier to overlook the Sonata's fairly stiff, noisy ride and wandery steering. No need for that anymore: Hyundai's put in good work, cleaning up the Sonata's rougher edges, stiffening up the body, using lessons learned with Lotus Engineering in the tuning of the latest Genesis to substantially improve the Sonata's performance profile.
First, power. Power ratings actually go down a bit for both of Hyundai’s engines in the 2015 Sonata, versus last year’s model, but the automaker says that the different tuning gives the new car better responsiveness at low and mid revs. The base 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine now makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, off 5 hp from its recent peak (and 15 from when it was launched), but it winds happily and smoothly through its powerband. It seems marginally slower but perfectly content.
The Sport 2.0T Sonata has a smaller-turbine, twin-scroll turbocharger and makes 245 hp and 260 lb-ft. It's decidedly less freewheeling (as well as quieter) than last year's unit, at 274 hp, but it's much quieter and almost free of vibration, two bugbears of the last-generation edition.
In either case, you get a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual controls, in this front-wheel-drive sedan, fully reworked this time for quicker, more muted shifts. Sport 2.0T models get paddle shift controls, and all Sonatas get a three-mode driving selector that fiddles lightly 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 letting it go in default mode.
No all-wheel drive is offered in this Sonata, although it's becoming more common in the class (200, Fusion, Legacy). Hyundai admits only to looking at the possibility.
While we're pleased by the powertrains' stint in finishing school, we're more impressed by the suspension and steering changes. The body's much stiffer, and that makes for an easier job damping bumps and taking direction. Hyundai heavily reworked and reinforced the Sonata's subframes, and upgraded the rear suspension to dual lower control arms--so now, it responds with the gentler, abler feel that the calmer styling promises. It's more settled at any speed: roll over a train track at 60 mph and the skittishness present last year is replaced by more compliance, and a lot less drama, even on the 17-inch tires on Sport and Limited trims.
Sport 2.0T sedans have slightly different tuning, with a 1-mm bump in anti-roll bars, and moderately beefier P235/45R-18 tires. It's an almost imperceptible difference, especially on Alabama's broadly winding backroads. 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 turbocharged cars 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 attentivenes probably comes as much from the bigger tires as from the more costly steering rack. In either setup, tracking and directional stability are a magnitude better on the Limited and Sport 2.0Ts I drove. 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.
Eco is new, Hybrid lives on
As for the Sonata Eco, our brief exposure to it was mostly a good one.
The new Eco is no mild hybrid. It combines a small turbocharged 1.6-liter four with a seven-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. 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 in either of the other choices.
I drove it around downtown Montgomery and immediately compared it with the 1.5-liter 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 I drove, the steering lightened up considerably, too.
We'll get some more seat time in this one, for sure--it's likely Hyundai will make this the future base Sonata, since its fuel-economy numbers are so strong.
By the way, if you're wondering, the Sonata Hybrid carries over in the older body style for the 2015 model year; a new hybrid and a plug-in hybrid model are expected to replace it within a year or two.
2015 Hyundai Sonata
Comfort & Quality
Hyundai's seats and rear-seat leg room have improved; it's up there in Passat territory.
With a gain in overall length and in wheelbase, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata does a better job of accommodating passengers than it did last year, especially back-seaters.
It's still technically defined by the EPA as a large car, but the Sonata is marketed as a mid-size car, against vehicles like the VW Passat, Honda Accord, Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion. All but the Passat give up some interior space to the Hyundai--but if we're being more accurate, the Sonata is a bit smaller than its large-car competition like the Chevrolet Impala.
Bottom line, the Sonata is much more spacious than cars like the Chevy Malibu and Chrysler 200, especially if rear-seat space is what you're studying most closely.
By the numbers, the Sonata is now 191.1 inches long, up 1.3 inches from the last-generation car. It's also 1.2 inches wider than before. It does more with its assigned dimensions than the Honda and Nissan, which are longer but less spacious. The Sonata now has the same wheelbase as the VW Passat, at 110.4 inches, but packages in more people and cargo space than the Volkswagen--barely. Inside, there's a total of 122.4 cubic feet of space, split 106.1 cubic feet to the humans, 16.3 cubic feet to the Samsonite--a cube or two down from the Impala.
Off the spec sheet and in the Sonata's seats, there's very good space for six-footers in the front seats, and the seats are better than in the past Sonata--there's more bottom cushion length and better bolstering on the Limited and Sport 2.0T models we drove. A power passenger seat can now be had, though it's only offered on upper trim levels, where you'll also find heated and ventilated seats and a serviceable grade of leather upholstery. (Sonata SE, Sport, and Eco models come with cloth standard; Sport editions have an option for leather-trimmed seats).
The Sonata's positively awash in storage bins, perfect for hiding stuff from drivers and passengers. The covered bin ahead of the shifter tucks away USB and power points, and there's a handy rubber-lined bin to the right of the lever that's made for smartphones. The console and glove box are deep enough for hiding tablets. Cupholders, door pockets, a trunk with pulldowns for the rear seat inside the trunk itself--it's all where you need it.
In back, sitting behind my own six-footer driving position, I found plenty of knee room in the Sonata, enough to cross over a knee into a freestyle yoga pose/desk. The back-seat leg room isn't quite as expansive as in a Passat, but headroom is like most of the cars in this segment--a little snug when the sunroof is ordered, but fine for anyone smaller.
The comparisons to the Passat go a little deeper, as Hyundai benchmarked the VW when it came to tightening up their sedan's body. The new Sonata is composed of a lot of high-strength steel and a lot more structural glue--it's 41 percent more resistant to twisting and 35 percent more resistant to body bending, according to Hyundai. That does a few things for ride and handling, but it also helps to quiet down the cabin--that, and the additional sound deadening that's been fitted. For the first time in at least few years, the Sonata is quiet at a good driving pace, so quiet I could hear front-seat conversations without straining.
2015 Hyundai Sonata
The Sonata now earns top crash ratings from both safety agencies.
The redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata has managed some quite impressive safety ratings from both the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
It recently released has earned an excellent five stars both overall and in frontal and side-impact categories. That includes five stars in both subcategories of the frontal test (for a male-size driver and female-size passenger), as well as a perfect five stars in all subcategories of the side barrier test and the side pole test.
That's in addition to the new Sonata's almost perfect set of scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which rank it 'good' in all tests except the tough small overlap frontal test, where it achieves 'acceptable.' The 2015 Sonata also earns the IIHS 'Basic' nod for front crash prevention, when equipped with the optional Forward Collision Warning system, as part of the Ultimate Package; as the IIHS notes, it's strictly a warning system, not one that will automatically brake as the systems in some rival models. All that together merits the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award.
The Sonata otherwise includes seven airbags, now including a driver’s knee bag. Other new technologies lifted from the 2015 Genesis include blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and active cruise control. There’s also a new Lane Change Assist system that places warning lamps in the side mirrors to warn of approaching vehicles.
Not every member of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata family is such a high achiever. Keep in mind that the Sonata Hybrid continues into this model year in the old body style—and continues with the former Sonata's four-star frontal impact score (although it does also achieve five stars overall).
2015 Hyundai Sonata
Android Auto or Apple CarPlay? You won't have to choose in the Sonata--but you will have to pay for a rearview camera on some models.
Every mid-size sedan worth its salt fields some entry-level model for about $22,000. With the Hyundai Sonata, the base price of $21,960 is one of the lowest in the segment--but the cheapest version we endorse checks in at just over $23,000.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata lineup is split into five trim levels: SE, Sport, and Limited come with the 2.4-liter four and a six-speed automatic, while the Sport 2.0T comes with the turbocharged four and automatic. The Eco has its unique 1.6-liter turbo four and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. (There's also the carryover Sonata Hybrid, in the older body style).
Base equipment on the SE includes cloth upholstery; 16-inch wheels; an AM/FM/XM/CD player; a USB port; and Bluetooth with audio streaming. To get a rearview camera, which we consider an essential piece of safety equipment, you'll have to spend $23,160 on the Sonata SE with the Popular package. It adds the camera, and a power driver seat.
That SE Popular trim is essentially how the $24,085 Sonata Eco comes equipped. The sole option on the Eco is a Technology package that includes a handsfree trunk opener; blind-spot monitors; pushbutton start; leather upholstery; heated front seats; automatic climate control; navigation; and premium audio with HD radio.
The $23,985 Sonata Sport starts from the SE's list of standard gear and adds a rearview camera; a 5-inch color touchscreen audio system; a power driver seat; Hyundai BlueLink telematics hardware; 17-inch wheels; and heated front seats. Options include blind-spot monitors; sport seats; pushbutton start; and automatic climate control, all bundled in a Premium package. The Technology package adds those Premium features, as well as navigation, HD radio, upgraded gauges, and Dimension premium audio.
To that equipment, the $27,335 Limited adds blind-spot monitors; LED taillights; pushbutton start; woodgrain trim; leather upholstery; a power passenger seat; heated rear seats; and automatic climate control. Options include a Technology package with a panoramic sunroof; navigation; Infinity audio; and ventilated front seats. The Ultimate package adds to that adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and a forward-collision warning system.
Finally, the $29,385 Sonata Sport 2.0T gets paddle shifters; a sport suspension; blind-spot monitors; LED taillights; quad exhaust tips; 18-inch wheels; the smart trunk opener; pushbutton start; and automatic climate control. The only option is the Ultimate package, which includes the panoramic sunroof; adaptive cruise control; lane departure warnings; forward collision warnings; rear parking sensors; a power passenger seat; ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; navigation; HD radio and Infinity premium audio. That nets a Sonata priced at $34,335.
Infotainment systems have been upgraded in the 2015 Sonata. The navigation system gets a larger 8.0-inch screen, and smartphone-app compatibility for Pandora and SoundHound, and HD radio. The system also includes improved touch sensitivity, a split-screen view, Sirius XM Travel Link services, and the ability to record up to 22 minutes of satellite radio.
Those models with navigation also have Apple Eyes Free Siri integration—allowing an enhanced level of tasks. Next-generation Blue Link services also arrive in the 2015 Sonata and include such things as Remote Start, Destination Search (powered by Google), and a car-care in-vehicle app. Google’s new in-car Android Auto smartphone system will be included at some point with nav-equipped cars, as will Apple CarPlay.
2015 Hyundai Sonata
A new Eco model is a better bet than the carryover Hybrid models.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata has bettered itself in a lot of ways. Count gas mileage among them: fuel economy is up across the board on all non-hybrid models.
Last year, the EPA rated the Sonata with the 2.4-liter four at 24 miles per gallon city, 35 mpg highway. The turbocharged version was rated at 22/33 mpg.
This year's models step up accordingly. The 2.4-liter four now earns 25/37 mpg, or 29 mpg combined, while the turbocharged Sport 2.0T is rated at 23/32/26 mpg. Neither meets the best-in-class Mazda 6, at 32 mpg combined in four-cylinder form, equipped with Mazda's i-ELOOP energy-storage system.
The new Sonata Eco does. The Eco, equipped with a 1.6-liter turbo four, is expected to clock in at 28/38 mpg, or 32 mpg combined, for a 10-percent improvement over the base Sonata.
The carryover Hybrid models (in last year's body style, too), are still rated at 36/40/38 mpg.