What’s the difference between a one-hit wonder and a classic tune? Answer: the latter ages well.
If after constant repetition you still want to crank up the volume, rather than rip your stereo from the dash and hurl it into the hedgerows, then that there’s a classic. Additional helpful tip: if Justin Bieber is somehow involved then, just, no.
Anyway, here’s the Hyundai Sonata, which is rapidly approaching the classic rock era of its model cycle. It used to be with it, man, but then they changed what “it” is. Now what’s “it” seems scary and weird. I mean, just look at the front of the Sport version of the Camry.
Happily, despite its age, the Sonata still seems to be capable of carrying a tune. Further, this one is the turbocharged model, which means that some actual rock ’n’ roll might not be totally out of the question. So, is it worth buying a ticket to see it on tour, or does this particular Spinal Tap reunion have a bit of osteoporosis? Let’s crank the Sonata up to 11 and see.
I am beginning to run out of useful ways to describe the modern trend of enormous do-nothing front grilles. Suffice to say that at least this Sonata is a step back in the right direction compared to the pre-facelift versions. The old hybrid model, for instance, looked like it was designed to run on plankton.
Not quite as pretty as the smaller Accent – I’d expect that’ll change with a model update in the not-too-distant future – the Sonata nonetheless manages to look right from most angles. The chrome accent running along the hood is a curious choice, but the rear three-quarter view is pretty handsome, and the use of LED daytime running lights looks fresh.
Eighteen-inch wheels are the Sonata’s largest offering, which is more sensible than elsewhere. The Honda Accord, for instance, gets 19-inch wheels that look like they’re designed to be scraped against a curb within the first five minutes of ownership.
Overall, the Sonata is greying in places, but in a distinguished manner. No need for the supportive girdle beneath the leather jumpsuit yet.
As modern design language begins to mirror the touchscreen technology we rely on for so much of our lives, car manufacturers seem to go back and forth on how many buttons to use. Some use too few, and you get stuff like Honda’s lack of a proper volume knob.
Hyundai is firmly planted in Camp Button, and the Sonata features rows of them. On the plus side, there’s little need to flick through endless menus to find what you want. The more familiar you become with where things are in the Sonata’s cockpit, the more you’ll be able to adjust without taking your eyes off the road.
However, it does take a bit of time to train your brain, and the script on those shiny silver rows is pretty small. Easiest to use when at a stop, a bit of a pain when on the move.
Otherwise, the Sonata is still the equal of rivals like the Accord and Camry in the comfort department. Back seat legroom and headroom is voluminous, the trunk space is a huge 462 litres, and the front seats are very comfortable.
I’m not sure the Turbo script embossed into those front seats is a particularly grown-up aspiration, but Hyundai hasn’t fitted excessive side-bolstering. It’s easy to get in and out of the Sonata, the comfort on the highway is good, and the driving position has few visibility flaws.
Equipping a family sedan with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine is becoming quite commonplace these days, and indeed the Accord only has two turbo-four options. The Sonata was early to the party with the tech, and it’s still mostly good news.
On the downside, the direct-injection Hyundai 2.0-litre powerplant is pretty loud, especially when cold. Further, those direct-injection engines are a little more efficient than the older port-injection technology, but they do tend to emit a few more particulates. One of the Sonata’s tailpipes picked up a bit of soot through the week.
However, there’s not much argument to be made against 245 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 260 foot-pounds of torque from just 1,350 r.p.m. The Sonata’s well-programmed six-speed automatic has a surfeit of grunt to work with, so acceleration in nearly any application is very rapid.
Handling is good too, better than expected. While the Sonata’s steering lacks feedback, a problem with most modern cars, the chassis itself isn’t compromised despite comfort-first tuning. In fact, it’s very nearly as good as the Accord manages to be, despite that car’s much fresher underpinnings.
Add in some fatigue-reducing driver aids like adaptive cruise control, and the Sonata makes a great long distance tourer. It’s comfortable enough not to sap the driver’s stamina, yet has plenty of power for getting past semi-trailers in the mountains, and the handling and brakes to give you confidence if you’re taking a slightly less-direct route. In short, the Sonata hasn’t lost its chops yet.
At a little less than $37,000, the Sonata just slightly undercuts the most expensive versions of the Accord and Camry. However, it’s very well-equipped for the price, and you won’t have to pay extra for niceties like an upgraded audio system or heated and cooled front seats.
Official economy figures are old-fashioned SUV not-great at 10.4 (litres/100 kilometres) in the city and 7.4 on the highway. The cold weather skewed real world results towards the city mileage, but despite the turbocharged engine, you can run the Sonata on regular fuel.
Aging well; handles nicely; comfortable interior.
Lots of buttons; due for an update; engine is a bit noisy.
Still a good place to enjoy some good driving tunes.
A quick note about that price tag: the Sport version of the Accord gets you the more powerful 2.0-litre engine, but you’d have to step up to the $38,790 Touring trim to get the same equipment as the Sonata Sport. Thus, the Accord’s a little more expensive, apples to apples.
However, Honda generally does well on resale, and it is the better-handling car from a driver’s perspective. Considering that these are family sedans, that dynamic advantage might not count for much in the real world.