Exterior Design *****
The Sonata s schnoz is the fifth grill treatment across Hyundai s current model range. While it does nothing for the Korean manufacturer s branding, it s a segment winner: completely unobjectionable and instantly forgettable. From the side, the Sonata is an Audi doppelganger (especially where the rear pillars join the beltline). We d like to see Hyundai establish a unique design language based on Korea s artistic heritage. They want to sell cheap cars to risk-aversive, value-driven customers. Point taken.
The Sonata LX s new 3.3-liter six is a peppy, smooth-running motor that never runs short of puff. Whether by design or default, the 235hp powerplant serves up as much oomph as the front driver can handle without surrendering to the Gods of Torque Steer. The final star is withheld for Hyundai s inability to tune — or silence — the vapid engine note.
The Sonata s four-wheel discs afford exemplary stopping distances, even without triggering the brake force distribution Nanny. As you might expect from a four-door sedan aimed straight at middle America s elderly, law-abiding heart, brake feel is plasmon light, and the stoppers fade if used repeatedly in anger (as if).
Although the new Hyundai gets all the latest kit — double wishbones up front, a multi-link at the back and coil springs over gas shocks all round — it s still too harsh-riding for this market segment. On the positive side, the Sonata feels reassuringly solid underfoot — right until the moment it traverses a series of lumps and bumps.
The other side of the harshness equation is superb body control: flat, level, benign and predictable. Only an Impala driver would mistake the Sonata for a sports sedan, but the Korean s road manners are faultless at reasonable speeds. At inexcusably energetic velocities, with the handling Nanny in attendance, a cornered Sonata will execute a perfectly executed understeer slide. And sheeeeee s SAFE! Switch off the ESC, and the Sonata lets go at both ends, though not necessarily how, when and where you want.
Our tester s five-speed autobox suited the engine s feisty character, slurring its changes when ignored, stumping-up grunt when prodded. A sixth cog would have provided even smoother slow-speed progress, more efficient highway cruising and class bragging rights.
As you d hope (given the name), the Sonata s sound system is wonderfully sonorous. Its power mirrors the torque steer situation: there s just enough oomph to take you to the limit of distortion. The head unit s MP3 compatibility is much appreciated, and the buttonology is a model of clarity- in a rental car kinda way.
Feature creep has crept-up on the value-priced Sonata LX. It s got all the luxury car basics: climate control, one-touch windows, remote locking, power driver s seat, etc. We re denying Hyundai s sedan the last star because its clean-sheet design didn t include even a single gee-whiz feature.
Drivers who despair at their partner s inability to travel light will curse the day they bought a Sonata. It ll fit enough luggage to violate airline weight restrictions by several hundred pounds.
[by Robert Farago]