2021 Hyundai Sonata

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2021
The Car Connection
2021
The Car Connection
Best Car to Buy Nominee

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
August 9, 2020

Buying tip

Hyundai hasn’t brought a plug-in Sonata Hybrid back to the lineup; among gas-powered cars, the SEL and SEL Plus earn our pick for value and standard features.

features & specs

Limited 1.6T
N Line 2.5T
SE 2.5L
MPG
27 city / 37 hwy
MPG
23 city / 33 hwy
MPG
28 city / 38 hwy
MSRP
$33,950
MSRP
$33,300
MSRP
$23,700

The 2021 Hyundai Sonata wears luxury threads in pricey models, but all versions get excellent safety and warranty coverage.

The 2021 Hyundai Sonata banks on fewer rivals competing for buyers of mid-size sedans. The way it’s chosen to surface in the still-congested group: dramatic flair, along with lots of features and value.

With the Sonata, Hyundai’s shaped a silhouette with luxury overtones, crafted a cabin with the same, and stocked it all with some of the best warranty coverage and standard gear of any family four-door. We give it a TCC Rating of 7.3 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Hyundai sells the Sonata in a range of trim levels: SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited in gas-only models, and Blue, SEL, and Limited in Sonata Hybrid flavors. Among the former, the base 2.5-liter inline-4 has more power on the spec sheet than the turbo-4 (191 horsepower versus 180 hp), but the turbo’s percolating performance at low speeds gives it a slight nod, though its automatic transmission tries to damp down on the fun. Fuel economy of 52 mpg combined comes with the most efficient Sonata Hybrid Blue, and it’s a stellar scrimper and saver, especially at its sub-$30,000 price.

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The Sonata may pass on driving thrills—its ride and steering take a leisurely set to match its acceleration—but its style takes all the chances it can. We’re still mixed on the amount of bright trim on the body, and on the frowning grille applied to an otherwise lissome and lanky body, but the Sonata’s interior chalks up its win unanimously, despite some sportswear-knit fabric and black plastics on base models. 

Front-seat passengers can spread out with ample room to spare in the Sonata. The back seat’s trimmed down but still can fit three adults—or can be folded down to boost trunk space from its 16.0 cubic feet. We’re smitten with high-end Sonatas: They have more sound deadening, wider swaths of nicer finishes, even quilted leather. They have the ambiance of luxury cars minus the high-end badge and sticker.

Every Sonata has automatic emergency braking, a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and LED headlights. New for 2021 are 19-inch wheels on middle trim levels, a power front passenger seat on the top trim, and a safe-exit warning based on the car’s blind-spot monitors. Pricey Limiteds can be fitted to use Android smartphones as car keys, can wear leather upholstery and can come with a panoramic roof—while Hybrids offer a solar roof panel that can increase fuel economy by collecting energy passively while they sit parked. The pretty, efficient 2021 Sonata Hybrid even makes sense when it’s not moving.

8

2021 Hyundai Sonata

Styling

The 2021 Hyundai Sonata lineup looks sporty and curvaceous on the outside, soft and luxurious inside.

Four-door sedans have fallen out of favor for some crossover drivers—and in return, sedans have upped their styling game. Few have reached as far for styling drama as the latest Sonata. 

The South Korean style language applied through an Alabama-built filter works spectacularly well on most of the new sedan. Starting from the back, the finned taillights smooth airflow, while the roofline swells and sweeps in concert with undulating body surfaces; it’s a symphonic play on sheet metal, one with a deeply cut torso in a competitive set of family-sedan dad bods.

It is a beautiful car, but it has a major “huh” moment: the nose. Part Aston Martin, part catfish, the frowning grille pulls the car close to the ground but it also appears to vacuum up pavement like a nattily dressed anteater. It’s relieved, a lot, by the boomerang LED lighting that flows effortlessly into the Sonata’s beltline.

With its graceful new interior, the Sonata has banished drab to other brands. Hyundai compiles a certain lightness from very slim air vents and climate controls, and flanks that on Limiteds with twin digital displays with explosive graphics that indicate changes in drive modes. The wing-like dash blends upgraded materials on Limiteds to a luxury-car effect and the car’s piano-key climate switches make perfect sense. Base cars get plainer and more forgettable—the quilted seats in the Limited are just one moment of peripheral beauty in a cabin that bristles with them.

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5

2021 Hyundai Sonata

Performance

The 2021 Sonata believes in moderation, in all things.

Four-cylinder engines propel all Sonatas, though some have hybrid system grafts. It’s all front-wheel drive, all automatic—and it’s all well-tuned for moderation in daily use, like buffered aspirin.

The base 2.5-liter inline-4 churns out 191 hp and 181 pound-feet of torque. It’s similar to the base engine in the outgoing model—we haven’t driven the new one, but one editor owns the outgoing model. We expect it behaves in the new Sonata as it has in prior versions, with reasonable but unhurried acceleration and smooth shifts from an 8-speed automatic with awkward switch-type controls, rather than a lever. We’ll add more here when we drive one.

We’ve spent much of our time in the new 1.6-liter turbo-4 that spins out 180 hp and 195 lb-ft. Even with lower horsepower, it’s more responsive off the line thanks to the tuning of its torque curve. Smooth and generally quiet under hard acceleration, it has a bit of turbo lag that’s amplified with shifts that have been slowed to heighten fuel economy. It’s pleasant and competitive with rivals, but we miss the old Hyundai turbo-4 and its eager scrabble for traction.

In gas-only Sonatas, a drive-mode selector induces some mild behavioral changes in the Sonata’s drivetrain—from Smart (adaptive) through Normal, Sport, and Custom programs, which alter steering feel and shift and throttle response. The Sonata prefers Normal; it settles into long sweeping bends with a light weight to the steering, one that weights up and centers the steering strongly in Sport and stirs up shifts like a jostled beehive.

Sonatas have a strut front and multi-link rear suspension, all set to respond with soft compliance. The sedan comports itself well on almost any road save from hairpins: the old jumpy throttle has been excised, the ride damping has gotten even better as wheel sizes have grown, and the stiffer body offers quiver-free moves over big potholes and railroad tracks. It’s fuss-free, calm, and a lot more grown-up.

We've also driven the latest Sonata Hybrid, which taps a 2.0-liter inline-4 with 150 hp and a 51-hp electric motor teamed to a battery pack and a 6-speed automatic. With 192 hp, the hybrid has a very well-integrated hybrid drive system that generates sky-high fuel economy (read below). We've observed lower fuel economy in city loops in the Sonata Hybrid than with other high-economy sedans, but highway performance has been excellent, and the Sonata's hybrid integration, low-speed braking, and steering feel have made big gains versus the last generation. Ride quality is on the softer side, for added comfort, and the Sonata's quiet cabin amplifies that luxury-car leaning. One thing we miss: There's no plug-in Sonata Hybrid in this generation.

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8

2021 Hyundai Sonata

Comfort & Quality

The Sonata’s cabin comforts and cossets like a luxury car.

The latest Sonata can seat five adults in good comfort, can carry their bags, and proffers the front passengers nicely sculpted seats. It’s an 8 for comfort and utility.

The Sonata’s an anti-crossover, with a sleek roofline and a low seating position. It’s 192.9 inches long, and rides on a 111.8-inch wheelbase, so it overlaps the most popular mid-size family sedans sold today.

It reserves much of its interior space for front passengers, including 46.1 inches of front leg room. That means even tall passengers can find comfort, and manual-adjust seats on most Sonatas have a good range of adjustment, though the front of the seat bottom seems short. Spend more on the SEL Plus and higher, and the Sonata adds in a power driver seat, heating and cooling—but only Limiteds have power four-way adjustment for the front passenger. 

The Sonata’s rear seat has less space. At 34.8 inches of leg room behind the front row, the Sonata’s on the small end of the four-door spectrum. Access to the back seat is good, and 6-foot-tall passengers will fit three across, but the seat itself has thin, low cushions. The rear seats fold down to open up more space for storage; the trunk’s already 16.0 cubic feet, though.

Hyundai carefully selects interior trim for its different Sonata sedans. Base cars have a knit fabric on their seats that looks like sportswear, and other surfaces come mostly in black or gray plastic. It’s fine at the price, but Limited versions get softer materials, leather upholstery, bigger touchscreens, more sound deadening, even quilting on the front seats. The division is distinct: Limiteds are meant to replace the former Azera, while base cars battle it out on price with Altimas and Accords and even cars a size class smaller. If we rated the Sonata on its Limited edition, it might earn another point for interior quality.

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8

2021 Hyundai Sonata

Safety

Two out of two crash-testers agree—the ‘21 Sonata’s a good car.

The latest Hyundai Sonata has scored well with the NHTSA and the IIHS—and given its safety technology, it’s an 8 here.

The NHTSA awards it five stars overall, though frontal impacts garnered a four-star rating. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick.

All Sonatas have automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. The Limited also gets standard blind-spot monitors and a surround-view camera system.

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9

2021 Hyundai Sonata

Features

The Sonata has everything it needs: good infotainment and value, and excellent warranty and service.

Priced from the mid-$20,000s to the mid-$30,000s in gas-only form (Hybrids add about $5,000 to comparable trim levels), the 2021 Sonata gives every owner a lot of standard features to go with a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and free maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.

The Sonata SE has 16-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and LED headlights. 

We’d choose either the Sonata SEL, which sticks with the same base inline-4 and adds a power driver seat, synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, keyless start, satellite radio, and automatic climate control—or spend into the SEL Plus, which gains the turbo-4 as well as a longer options list that includes a panoramic sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, leather upholstery, and a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation. 

The Sonata Limited tops off the range with cooled front seats, a power front passenger seat, parking sensors, a head-up display, and an automatic parking feature that allows the driver to place the car in a spot while standing outside the cockpit.

Other standout features include the ability to use an Android smartphone as a car key, and a solar-roof panel for Hybrids that can charge their batteries to boost gas mileage.

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6

2021 Hyundai Sonata

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Sonata repeats as the highest-EPA-rated sedan without a plug.

Hyundai sells the 2021 Sonata in hybrid and gas-only form; one’s stellar, the other’s competitive.

The base Sonata inline-4 earns EPA ratings of 28 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined. The turbo-4 upgrade checks in at 27/37/30 mpg. 

Hybrids win the gas-mileage derby, with ratings of 45/51/47 mpg for SEL and Limited cars, and a stunning 50/54/52 mpg for the eco-focused Sonata Hybrid Blue. Hybrids even can come with a solar roof that contributes enough energy to power up to 700 miles of additional driving range, Hyundai says.

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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$23,700
MSRP based on SE 2.5L
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7.3
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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2021 Hyundai Sonata Pricing Insights

  • 2021 Sonata is available
  • Lease: From $179 per month
  • Rebate: Up to $2,500 cash
  • Finance: From 0.0% APR for 60 months
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