Christopher Little

First Drive: 2015 Hyundai Sonata

A few weeks ago, Hyundai invited us down to New York City for our first chance to get behind the wheel of the new Sonata. New York is also where Hyundai debuted the new Sonata earlier this year. The newest generation Sonata gets a full revamp. Outside, Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language brings the mid-size Sonoata in line with the larger Genesis sedan. Underneath the new sheet metal, a larger and stiffer body provides a platform for a number of dynamic and ergonomic improvements. The third-generation Sonata manages to feel more grown up, more premium. The mid-size sedan market features a handful of attractive and engaging cars. The new Sonata is definitely one of them.

Hyundai Sonata 5

It’s important for Hyundai to get this right. By their own admission, the general public perception is that Sonata & Elantra = Hyundai. So much so that, when you group them together, the two models constitute 60% of Hyundai’s sales. With the average 2015 Genesis selling for more than $40,000, there’s also a clear trend of Hyundai’s offerings moving up-market. Seeing the new Sonata in person, it Hyundai has similar intentions – at least in packaging and design. The entry-level Sonata SE starts at only $21,150 while the range topping Sport 2.0T can be built out to nearly $35,000 with the Ultimate Package.

Hyundai has reworked its 2.4L four-cylinder powerplant for the SE, Limited, and Sport models. Like the Genesis powertrains, the output figures drop slightly, but drivability and efficiency improves. Output dips to 185 hp but the 178 lb. ft torque arrives sooner. The same applies to the Sport 2.0T’s turbocharged mill, less power and better economy. The full 260 lb. ft torque comes on faster thanks to revised tuning and a smaller turbine. Both engines use the same 6-speed automatic transmission. We also had the opportunity to sample the upcoming 1.6T Eco model. With 177hp mated to a 7 speed dual-clutch transmission, the Eco aims to offer the highest MPG rating of any non-hybrid or diesel model in the mid-size sedan market.

Hyundai Sonata 6

Outside, the new Sonata’s looks still hearken back to previous generations. The grille and headlight shape are similar to the second generation, but are set more upright on the front of the car. The traditional “sabre line” runs from the headlight bezel back to the wing mirrors. Traditional luxury touches are also added: LED DRLs and taillights, a rear lip spoiler, and chrome moldings on the window and rocker panels. The Sport model gets a 3-bar front grille, larger air intakes, darker chrome trim, and a rear diffuser. Sport 2.0T models get quad-exhaust, sport seats, a sport gauge cluster, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and aluminum pedal trim. The Ultimate Package adds an 8″ color touchscreen with navigation and a host of driver assistance options that have begun to trickle down from flagship full-size models. Starting in 2015, the new Sonata will support Apple Car Play and Android Auto for an even greater level of integration. Cars sold prior will be upgraded with a simple software patch to add that functionality.

The first thing everyone does on a drive impression in New York City is get out of the city. It’s loud, congested, and generally not driver-friendly. Hyundai knew this and sought, not only to get us out of the city, to get out us out of the state. We were 35 miles away from the peaceful Audubon Greenwich, a wildlife sanctuary far removed from the concrete jungle of our starting point at Lincoln Center. Climb into the new Sonata and shut the door, it’s a very nice place to be. The seating position is excellent and the layout is highly ergonomic. For the first few minutes, the Sonata’s biggest improvement isn’t noticeable. But when you discover it, you’ll wonder how you missed it. The new Sonata is very, very quiet. There’s the typical wind noise and the occasional turbo whine, but the background noise of the city seems shut out the moment you close the door.

Hyundai Sonata 8

Just as Hyundai’s aesthetics have matured, so has the Sonata’s ride. The body makes use of high strength steel to increase stiffness without impacting weight. The new Sonata 1.3″ longer and 1.2″ wider compared to its predecessor, adding stability. It also has the added benefit of providing rear passengers with a welcome inch of extra legroom. The parkways winding out of Manhattan can be challenging but the Sonata handles them with ease. Revised front suspension and a new 4-link rear setup keep the ride compliant without being too soft. The Sport 2.0T model, like the pre-production version we drove, gets the same column-mounted electric steering rack found in the new Genesis. It makes all the difference, offering real feedback in a segment that is so often disconnected. The weight and accuracy through the thickly-bolstered flat-bottom wheel builds confidence. As we broke the city limits, we were already comfortably familiar with the Sonata’s capabilities.

While 35 miles isn’t long enough to say everything about the driving experience, the initial impressions are largely positive. In Sport trim with quad exhaust, the new Sonata stands out from the mid-size crowd that all seem to have adopted the same trapezoidal front grille. Inside, the Sonata can be fitted with all of Hyundai’s technology and safety features. Hyundai continues to differentiate themselves by offering better value for money, and the Sonata is no different. It costs less than a similarly equipped Ford Fusion and feels smaller on the road. That makes it easier to drive. The Sonata is one of two models that are closely tied to Hyundai’s brand perception. With this newest Sonata, Hyundai’s stock is only going to go up.

-Christopher Little

Related: First Drive: 2015 Hyundai Genesis

6 replies »

  1. I read a brief review in auto week and thought are we talking about the same car? They were so negative about it and I knew the previous model was pretty great so could it have gotten worse? Your review suggested has not as I would have guessed.

    • Rob, most of the complaints we’ve read are around how it’s slower and less powerful than the previous car. We’ve never driven the previous-gen, but people were up in arms with that car as well because they discontinued the V6 option. The midsize market has never been about speed, and the Sonata is quick enough in 2.0T trim. We asked about the possibility of the Eco’s DCT being fitted in a Sport 2.0T, but it isn’t designed for that torque load.

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