Car reviews - Hyundai - Sonata - Premuim 2.0T
Superb engine performance, slick eight-speed automatic, lush ride quality, incisive steering, grippy handling, enormous cabin
Room for improvement
Expensive despite missing standard equipment, plain dashboard lacks premium feel, sub-par infotainment
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16 Feb 2018
THE medium passenger car class is plagued with phantom performances these days.
There is no shortage of willing sedan (and wagon) participants in what once was a sizeable segment, but the facelifted Hyundai Sonata Premium joins a cohort that has become largely invisible on our roads.
Despite this, Hyundai continues to offer both its European-focused but ageing i40 sedan and wagon, and this facelifted US-bred but South Korean-made Sonata – the latter of which is now only available in entry-level four-cylinder 2.4-litre Active or this 2.0-litre turbo Premium specification.
After being on sale for three years, the Sonata does score fresh styling front and rear, plus renewed interior enhancements and an eight-speed automatic transmission (up from a six-speed) in the case of this Premium, which helps lower its combined-cycle fuel consumption figure by a decent clip.
Buyers might flock to the medium SUV segment in increasing numbers, but of course popularity can be mutually exclusive to excellence. The test now is to see whether this sedan should be haunted by the ghosts of its past performances, or if it genuinely deserves to make its presence felt.
Price and equipment
Hyundai has deleted its Sonata Elite middle-model grade, and so the gap is now enormous between the Sonata Active at $30,990 plus on-road costs and this Sonata Premium at $45,490.
Standard across the range are keyless auto-entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, automatic on/off headlights, rear parking sensors and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
The Premium then adds 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), LED headlights and tail-lights, front parking sensors, electric-fold door mirrors, auto on/off wipers, a panoramic glass sunroof, leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, electric park brake, wireless phone charging, plus several active safety features – including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance and a rear cross-traffic alert.
Although that seems like a decent amount of equipment, a duo of near-identically powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged rivals also happen to undercut this Sonata on price while adding more equipment.
A closely related $44,490 Kia Optima GT further adds autonomous emergency braking (AEB), auto up/down high-beam and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system to that list. Meanwhile a $44,790 Ford Mondeo Titanium includes AEB as well as an electric tailgate and steering column, rear seatbelt airbags, auto reverse-park assistance and heated rear seats – although it only gets a fixed glass roof and lacks front-seat ventilation. Even so, it is a rare dip on value for Hyundai.
The exterior of the Sonata has been altered more than its interior, which arguably required greater attention. There are new matte-silver buttons, piano-black rotary dials and a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel, but even quality leather fails to help the Premium feel properly premium.
A sea of grey plastic dominates, with a soft-touch upper dashboard melding imperfectly with a hard and scratchy lower dash, while a different type of coarse grain is used for the doorhandles. The touchscreen also looks cheap, and despite being simple to operate it lacks the slick speed of other units. A digital radio tuner is also missing, although the wireless smartphone charging is handy.
Function comes well ahead of form inside this Hyundai, then, and indeed for five occupants there is a very little to complain about.
The seats front and back are generous in padding and overall support, with rear riders scoring both window blinds and centre air vents to match the enormous amount of legroom provided – including very little tunnel intrusion for the centre passenger. The only downside is headroom that is crimped by a sunroof even for this 178cm-tall tester, which would not be an issue in the car-maker’s Tucson medium SUV equivalent, for example.
Similarly, although the 510-litre boot is likewise huge and features a full-sized spare wheel underneath, luggage-crushing gooseneck hinges are a relic of the past that SUV buyers simply do not have to put up with.
Engine and transmission
Under the bonnet is where the Sonata really gets to surge back past a Tucson from the same Hyundai stable. Powered by an unchanged 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 180kW of power at 6000rpm and 353Nm of torque from 1350rpm to 4000rpm, the Premium is fast.
Thanks partly to a kerb weight of 1560kg, but also a new eight-speed automatic that has a short first gear to help the sedan really lunge off the line. The engine spins smoothly and effortlessly to redline, and is backed by a refined growl. The auto also flicks seamlessly through its ratio set, and the alternative tipshifter or steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters work well in manual mode.
Sure, the lusty engine can overwhelm the front tyres but, thanks to top Michelin Pilot Sport 3s that becomes only the case when full throttle is requested with some steering lock applied or in the wet.
The new auto also helps to cut combined-cycle fuel consumption to 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, a 0.7L drop. Mixed driving conditions saw 10.7L/100km, which was better than expected considering the superb performance available.
For comparison’s sake, an all-wheel drive Tucson gets only a smaller 1.6-litre turbo petrol down 50kW/88Nm on this model. Yet that medium SUV is also 15kg heavier than this medium sedan, and the smaller four-cylinder is tied to a lurchy, slippy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic instead.
Ride and handling
Along with the Tucson, the Sonata arguably has the sweetest Australian-tuned suspension of any Hyundai without sporting pretensions. Indeed with its combination of supple and lush ride quality, teamed with fluent and composed body control, the Premium could take best-in-class honours here.
What this medium sedan also proves is that superbly tight and direct steering, and excellent grip from those Pilot Sport 3 tyres, can deliver driving enjoyment in any situation without having spring and damper settings that are needlessly wound firm for maximum body control.
Instead there is a fluency and grace with which the Sonata moves around its driver, perhaps with a bit of body wobble and movement, but the sort more reminiscent of a well-engineered luxury car than a floaty barge. Traverse a speed hump at pace, and this Hyundai will still settle instantly.
Likewise, snake the Premium through a set of corners and it will feel soft yet balanced, with that brilliant grip taking centre stage.
Ultimately, a Mazda6 or even the aforementioned Mondeo and Optima GT will feel slightly racier. But in the context of a medium sedan it is this model that arguably best blends speed and comfort.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors with rearview camera, blind-spot monitor and lane-departure warning are all standard.
The Hyundai Sonata achieved five stars with 33.84 out of 37 points when tested by ANCAP in 2015.
Hyundai includes annual or 10,000km servicing intervals costing a capped-price $275 for each of the first three, $355 for the fourth and $275 again for the fifth.
Hyundai sold a staggering 24 times more Tucson medium SUVs than it did Sonata medium sedans in 2017. The market might have spoken, then, but this Premium does not deserve to be ignored.
Beyond the traction disadvantages of front-wheel drive, the reduced headroom and narrower boot opening, this Sonata Premium would arguably be the better option for many families, given that it boasts a far superior drivetrain, sweeter dynamics and more generous cabin accommodation overall.
However, it ultimately appears too expensive alongside better-equipped rivals, inside feeling more like a $40,000 model grade rather than a $45,000-plus option. On the flipside, the Hyundai Sonata Premium does feel premium to drive in every way – and that could be worth paying extra for.
Ford Mondeo Titanium from $44,790 plus on-road costs
Liftback practicality with sweet dynamics, but average interior quality.
Kia Optima GT from $44,490 plus on-road costs
Sportier and better-equipped than Sonata, but minus the lush suspension tune.
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