There are very few products that actually offer you more for your money than you'd expect. In the short list we compiled, a brand new car certainly was not included, which makes the discovery of the Hyundai Sonata all the more sweet.
If you are not familiar with the Sonata and you've been shopping the market for a comfortable family sedan, get ready for the shock of a lifetime. Upon first glance, you might think you are spying some new Jaguar sedanthat is until you draw closer and spy the big Hyundai emblem boldly affixed to the grille. While you're there, take a look at how lustrous the paint is, how well the body panels align and notice the little exterior details such as the chrome bumper inserts and door moldings. Now glance at the window sticker, but be sure you have both feet planted firmly on the ground. Even if the car you are eyeing is a fully loaded, top-of-the-line Sonata, the MSRP will still be well under $23K. Base four-cylinder models start at just $16,539 and you can choose from a number of trims and option packages.
We tested the Sonata LX, which is the premium trim level. For the record, the base car is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and comes standard with a five-speed manualthe only Sonata to do so. The next level up is the base car with the optional V6, followed by the mid-level GLS V6. If you don't need power seats or a leather interior, the GLS probably makes the most sense for you.
The LX is loaded for sure, with the only options available being a power glass moonroof, anti-lock brakes, traction control and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Usually with a bargain priced car, you can find where the savings were reaped the minute you get inside. This is not the case with the Sonata. The fit and finish are superb, with nicely textured plastics and tasteful leather trim throughout the cabin. The simulated wood trim on the doors and center stack looks as convincing as any we've seen and the instrumentation is logically placed, clearly visible and easy to operate. We particularly like the audio unit that sounds clear and strong and features large buttons and a rotary volume control. Just below the radio are the controls for the automatic air conditioning; again, the controls are simple and straightforward and we found the cooling system to work quickly and quietly. From the chrome door release handles to the rear seat armrest with its built-in storage box and cup holders, the Sonata's interior gives no impression of cost cutting.
It's easy to get comfortable in the Sonata, with its firm seating, driver's side lumbar support and eight-way power seats. There is ample head and legroom up front and a roomy rear seat that can comfortably fit two good-sized adults. Passenger safety is at the forefront of the Sonata's strong points and includes as standard equipment front side-impact airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners to remove belt slack and the LATCH child safety seat anchoring system.
Powering the Sonata is Hyundai's 2.7-liter V6, a wonderfully smooth engine with lots of pulling power. The Sonata's V6 is not as quiet or refined as that from Honda, a fact most noticeable under hard acceleration, but it is in no way harsh to the point of being intrusive. Another pleasant discovery comes from the four-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission that provides crisp, timely shifts and exhibits a remarkable ability to avoid hunting for gears when climbing hills. We also have to say that the Shiftronic's manual shift mode is one of the best we've tested, responding almost instantly with little more than a tap of the shift lever.
Cruising along, you'll notice how smoothly the Sonata glides over pavement. Its soft suspension soaks up road imperfections and bumps with little effort and the 16-inch tires transmit surprisingly little road noise. The down side to the Sonata's smooth ride is a somewhat bouncy rebound. The soft springs allow the Sonata to dive and squat more than we'd like, most noticeably under hard braking. The Sonata's double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension do a good job of controlling side-to-side motion and though somewhat over-assisted, the power steering is precise and easy to gauge when performing high-speed maneuvers. If you really like aggressive driving, an aftermarket shock/spring upgrade and more aggressive tires would probably turn the Sonata into a first rate touring machine.
The icing on the Sonata cake has got to be the warranty: 10-years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain and 5-years or 60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper. For the money, it's just hard to beat.