Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos, Brent Co | August 16, 2010 11:47
Magnum OpusThere's a new player in the executive segment, and it's not from Japan, Germany or the United States... it's the latest Korean: the Hyundai Sonata.
The brand is not a newcomer to the segment, as the Sonata and Azera have already been in the market for the past few years, serving mostly as more affordable executive car options. That's all about to change, as the Sonata has arrived to provide a true challenge to the established order, a class of car dominated by the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
To say that this new Sonata is the next generation of the nameplate is a complete understatement. It feels like the Korean carmaker leapfrogged 2 generations from the previous one to get this all-new 6th gen model. You just have to look at it to get your confirmation.
In terms of design, this new Sonata is leaps and bounds beyond the old one. The exterior of the car simply has it going on, boasting Hyundai's new fluidic sculpture design philosophy. Whereas the Sonata's contemporaries like the Accord and Camry opted for boxier profiles and harder shapes, Hyundai went for smoother lines and sleeker curves. There's an almost coupe-like profile generated by the roofline, similar to the Merc CLS-Class, and lends a great sense of class about the way the Sonata's design was executed, and that's always a good thing in a very discerning market. Some say that this new Sonata looks way too futuristic for its time, but isn't it a good thing if your car looks as fresh as the cars 5 years from now?
Stepping inside the Sonata for the first time is quite an experience. There's absolutely nothing boring about the way it was conceived. It's interior is nothing like that of the old guard, feeling more like a concept car than a full on production model. I love the piano finish on the dashboard's trimmings and the fact that the steering wheel seems to belong more to a modern fighter jet than an executive car has me floored. The switchgear and touch surfaces feel great on your fingertips, and there are no niggles or undue gaps to indicate quality issues. The only issue I can find is the feel of the paddle shifters, but it's really a minor one.
The powertrain features Hyundai's latest 2.4 liter engine with the same Theta-II architecture that we loved in the Tucson. The engine, with twin cams and continuously variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust cams is capable of 178 metric horsepower and 229 newton meters of torque. Match that with a superb 6-speed auto and you'll get some pretty good acceleration figures and decent fuel economy numbers: 8.1 kilometers per liter around town and 11.4 kilometers per liter on the highway. I do wish they brought in the 2.4 liter engine with gasoline direct injection, as that's capable of 200 horsepower already. Nevertheless, the current multi-point injection 2.4L is more than enough.
If you thought the Sonata was going to be some lumbering executive car that has a pair of left feet upon entering a corner, then prepare to be thoroughly surprised. The Sonata has an entirely new architecture underneath, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi link arrangement in back. The suspension settings are firmer than the others, and lend the Sonata a surefootedness that few in its class can offer. On a winding road, the Sonata has some pretty quick reflexes and manners. Of course, having a firmer ride offsets against the comfort, and the Sonata can get a little bouncy in pockmarked and rutted city streets. On smoother highways, however, its very composed and confident.
As the premium version, this particular Sonata is kitted through the roof; literally, in fact, as above you is a twin panoramic glass roof. The key fob is a transponder, as the Sonata features a push-start system,while electric amenities like powered seats, automatic HID headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and an auto dimming rear view mirror come as standard kit. Climate control, cruise control, stability control, and 6 airbags are also standard on the Sonata. Head, leg and hiproom is good, and the boot space is huge, even when compared to its competition.
I do wish they paid more attention to the back, as the likes of the Camry (in top trim) has power reclining rear seats and other controls (climate and audio) on the center armrest, but priced at the one and a half million mark, it's a steal.
This new Sonata is more than just another model now in the Hyundai line up... it' making a statement. It's so evident that the guys over in Hyundai's design bureau and R&D put so much effort and thought in the Sonata that it's become more than just a car, it's their magnum opus.