PROS Comfortable ride, Lots of features for the money, Good fuel economy for a V6
CONS Hesitant transmission, Modest rear-seat room, Squishy seats
Hyundai's been on a roll lately. Since 1998, the South Korean automaker has grown its market share from .5% to nearly 3%, seeing annual sales rise from around 100,000 to nearly 450,000. Part of this phenomenal growth can be attributed to new models like the Santa Fe, Tucson, VeraCruz, and Azera, but the bulk of the sales continue to come from bread-and-butter models like Elantra and Sonata.
The Sonata is Hyundai's entry into the hotly contested midsize car market. Competitors include the Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Sentra, and Toyota Camry. For 2009, Hyundai gives Sonata more power, suspension improvements, and updated exterior and interior styling.
Sonata seats five on front buckets and a three-place split-folding rear bench seat. Three models are offered GLS, SE, and Limited. All come standard with front-wheel drive and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Horsepower is up by 13 for '09 to 175. Optional on all models is a 3.3-liter V6, which gains 15 horsepower compared to last year for a total of 249. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on four-cylinder models. Optional with the four cylinder and standard on V6 is a five-speed automatic.
Standard safety features include antilock four-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, tire-pressure monitor, and dual-front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags. Park assist is not offered.
The GLS starts at $18,120 and includes air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, cloth upholstery, center console, heated power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection, satellite radio, illuminated visor mirrors, rear defogger, theft-deterrent system, 215/60VR16 tires, and wheel covers.
SE starts at $20,520 and adds tilt-telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, cloth/leather upholstery, power driver seat, trip computer, automatic headlights, fog lights, rear spoiler, sport suspension, 215/55VR17 tires, and alloy wheels.
2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited
Base Price: $25,670
As-Tested Price: $27,685
Built in Montgomery, Alabama.
Navigation System with Voice Control
Carpeted Floor Mats
Engine: DOHC 3.3-liter V6
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
Limited lists for $23,970 and adds to the SE automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, sunroof, Infinity AM/FM radio with in-dash six-disc CD/MP3 changer, automatic day/night rearview mirror, compass, and universal garage door opener. Removed from the Limited are rear spoiler and the sport suspension.
Options include navigation system and Bluetooth cell-phone link. All models have a $675 destination charge and are assembled in Hyundai's plant in Montgomery, Alabama.
Get Up and Go The beefed-up V6 is a welcome improvement to the Sonata line. It's not as powerful as the V6s found in Malibu, Accord, Altima, or Camry, but more than up to the task in Sonata. Acceleration is adequate from a stop and passing power is good. The engine is smooth in gentile cruising and unobtrusive in hard acceleration.
The five-speed automatic transmission upshifts smoothly and downshifts promptly when called upon. There are times when the transmissionhunts between gears, like when climbing a shallow hill or in modest acceleration. On those occasions shifts become labored, if not a bit harsh.
The V6 Sonata is EPA rated at 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway on regular-grade gasoline. Those numbers are as good as or better than most other V6 models in the class. Daily commuters are likely to average about 22 mpg overall. In straight highway driving, it's easy to top 26 mpg.
On the Road All models get firmer suspension tuning for 2009. Compared to the '08s the '09 has more road feel and less float. They are comfortable without being bouncy; firm without being harsh. The ride is most similar to the Chevy Malibu in its overall composure and feel.
SE models have a firmer suspension that does an even better job at filtering out unwanted secondary motions with very little penalty in ride quality.
GLS and Limited models have a typical front-drive demeanor. That means competent, but not confident, cornering, braking, and steering. SE models inspire more confidence, but still have too much body lean to be considered sporty.
Sonata's cabin is a restful and quiet place. Wind noise is low and engines are quiet in gentile cruising. Tire noise can intrude--especially on SE models--when the pavement grows coarse. In all, the cabin is quieter than Accord, but noisier than Malibu.
Behind the Wheel Perhaps the biggest change between the '08 and '09 Sonata is on the inside. The new interior layout seems much more sophisticated and modern. Materials are easily appropriate for the class and above the norm for the price.
Gauges are nicely arranged and easy to read, day or night. Audio and climate controls are smartly grouped in the center of the dashboard. The optional navigation system absorbs some of the audio controls, making both systems harder to operate.
Front seats are comfortable but short on overall support. This makes for tiring long-distance drives. Thankfully head and leg room are good and the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes starting with the SE. Outward visibility is great thanks to large outside mirrors and thin roof pillars.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2009 Hyundai Sonata
|Front Impact, Driver ||5 Stars|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||5 Stars|
|Side Impact, Driver ||5 Stars|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||5 Stars|
|Rollover Resistance ||4 Stars|
Rear-seat passengers have adequate head and leg room. Foot space is at a premium though. The seat itself is soft and could use firmer padding.
With more than 16 cubic feet of cargo space, the trunk is large for the class. Loading cargo is easy thanks to a low lift over and a lid that includes non-intrusive hinges. Rear seatbacks fold to increase cargo capacity. Interior storage is highlighted by a large covered bin in the center tack. Otherwise, the glovebox, map pockets, and center console bin are a trifle small for the class.
Bottom Line With the improvements for 2009, Sonata becomes a credible player in the class based on attributes alone. If you take into account the fact that it stickers for several thousand less than most competitors when comparably equipped, it becomes a steal.
Does that mean Sonata is perfect? No. It could use more supportive seats, a more alert transmission, and a trifle more rear-seat room. The midsize market is by far the most competitive of any automotive segment, and the fact that Sonata shines so brightly reflects well on how far Hyundai has come as an automaker.