If you've read our previous reviews on the Hyundai Sonata (see "Family Sedan" cluster), you know that we think a great deal of this sedan. The Sonata is not just a great value; it is a great looking, great riding family vehicle. For 2003, Hyundai has made a few minor changes here and there, but left the design pretty much as it was last year. Stylingusually low on the priority list for the average family sedanis one of the Sonata's strongest assets. From the rear you could easily mistake the Sonata for some new Jaguar and from the front you might be thinking Infiniti; what you won't be thinking is that this car starts at just $16K.
The Sonata model lineup now consists of three trim levels: the Sonata, GLS and LX. Base Sonata's are powered by a proven 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138-horsepower. With this engine, you'll find that the Sonata feels capable, but not always confident. We think you'll agree that the V6 equipped models are much better performers yet don't add significantly to the Sonata's low price. The 2.7-liter V6 is optional on Sonata and standard on the GLS and LX. Hyundai has worked hard to refine this engine and you'll find it to be smooth and powerful; the only time we really noticed its presence under the hood was at full throttle, as the sound emitted was a little loud.
To their credit, Hyundai offers Sonata buyers the choice of a five-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. The Sonta's 5-speed is a good gearbox, though not nearly as precise as the gearbox found in the Honda Accord; the automatic on the other hand, delivers an A+ performance. Hyundai's Shiftronic automatic is again out of place in such an affordable car, but we doubt you'll be complaining. The Shiftronic automatic can handle just about every driving situation you throw at it with aplomb, rarely hunting for the right gear and always at the ready when you punch the accelerator. The Shiftronic also allows you the option of taking over the job of shifting gears for yourself without the need for a clutch pedala very nice feature.
Ride and handling go hand in hand with the Sonata's pleasant, non-threatening image. You'll find that on the open highway, the Sonata practically floats over imperfections such as expansion joints and rough pavement. On rough and bouncy roads, the Sonata's suspension gets a bit unsettled, primarily due to the soft springs and shock dampening, but it's nothing that is going to make you love the car any less. The steering is precise without being over-assisted and we found the brakes to be very good. Again, this is no sports sedan, but a competent and comfortable transport for family and friends.
If you think by now you're almost sold on the Sonata, step up and take a look inside, for here is where the deal sealer resides. The Sonata's standard interior is loaded with features that cost thousands more on comparably equipped sedans. The choice of materials is first rate and the dash, door panel and seat designs are contemporary and dare we say, almost elegant. The seating positions are excellent and the seats fully support every part of your body; GLS and LX models go one step further by providing manually adjustable lumbar support for the driver. Rear seat passengers are treated to fully adjustable headrests and a folding center armrest with built in cupholders. There is more than adequate head and legroom for four full-size adults and flipping down the 60/40-split folding rear seat allows to expand the Sonata's deep, roomy trunk. Every Sonata comes standard with front side-impact airbags in addition to the front airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and LATCH child safety seat system.
The base Sonata comes standard with power windows, power door locks, manual air conditioning, rear defroster, keyless entry, front fog lights, dual power side mirrors, AM/FM stereo with CD, cruise control, tilt wheel, tachometer and full wheel covers on 15-inch wheels. GLS models add the V6 engine, upgraded audio system, heated outside mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels, overhead map lights and the rear folding armrest. The top-of-the-line LX continues to build on the GLS features by adding automatic air conditioning, leather seating with 8-way power driver's seat and dual illuminated vanity visor mirrors. Options include a power sunroof, ABS (anti-lock brakes), traction control, automatic dimming rearview mirror and the Homelink automatic garage door opener system.
We'd be remiss if we didn't also tell you that every Sonata comes standard with a 10-year/100,000 mile limited warranty at no extra cost.