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Car reviews - Hyundai - Sonata - range

Our Opinion

We like
Lively 2.0-litre turbo engine, excellent handling and ride package, spacious cabin and boot, ownership costs
Room for improvement
Conservative body and cabin styling, foot-operated park brake

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Hyundai logo10 Feb 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

CONSIDER that this is an entrant in what may be a dying market segment and you question why Hyundai has put in all the effort.

That’s even more pertinent given the new Sonata will compete with the company’s existing i40 in the same segment.

And if you’re now wondering why the Sonata is here, consider also that the segment is dominated by the fleet-friendly Toyota Camry that in 2014 held a massive 44.5 per cent share.

The Mazda6 put in a brave performance for second place at 11.6 per cent but Hyundai’s i40 recorded 5.4 per cent. Hyundai now reckons the Sonata can do as well, potentially giving the Korean car-maker a shirt-front battle with Mazda for second place.

So it won’t be easy. As Australian families continue to migrate from the traditional three-box sedan to SUVs, it will take a lot of muscle to wrest them back.

Can the Sonata do it? Possibly. In its favour is price – it starts at $29,990, plus on-road costs – and spaciousness, a cost-effective service program and long warranty.

Against it, at least initially, will be its less-than-inspiring appearance.

There are overtones of the blandness often associated with the Camry and in saying that, remember that the Camry has almost half of the sector sales. So does anyone care?A lot of the proof will be from within the car, both as a driver behind the wheel and as a passenger stretched out in the limousine-class rear seat space.

Once inside the car, it’s of little consequence what it looks like from the outside.

The driver’s seat is well cushioned and wrapped with side bolsters so there’s a sense of being secured without the firm, park bench feel of some European cars.

Perhaps a bit disappointing, the dashboard is – like the exterior – a bit bland.

Yes, it’s well sorted with clean and simple dials and switches, a big central monitor and good personal storage but the fascia ahead of the passenger is an almost vertical flat panel.

The driver gets an easy-to-operate cockpit, moulded on a minimalistic style that is welcome when things ahead get busy.

The 2.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine is fitted only to the entry level Active. It’s been used before in Hyundai products (and in a trio of car-makers’ products under the Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Chrysler brands) but appears now with more refinement and more responsiveness.

Though it’s the base engine, most owners will be happy with its easy manners, fuss-free operation, linear power delivery and reasonable fuel consumption of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle.

The second engine is Hyundai-Kia’s 2-litre turbocharged unit that obviously has more power and torque but is thirstier at 9.2L/100km.

That’s not brilliant for a turbo-petrol engine of this size when put up against the 118kW/250Nm 1.8-litre Passat with 7.5L/100km, the 138kW/250Nm Mazda6 2.5-litre at 6.6L/100km and the Skoda Octavia’s 2-litre with 162kW/350Nm and 6.6L/100km.

But the Sonata’s version rewards with strong performance from idle right through to past 6000rpm.

It always feels on tap and it cleaned up portions of Tasmania’s tight, winding bitumen ribbons with ease.

There’s no steering wheel paddles with this car and that’s a pity because the extra driver command of the cogs would make it more of a delight.

The reason for the fun factor – yes, those words in a Hyundai article – is the fine work and superb result of the suspension tweaking.

Done by France-based suspension expert David Potter and put into real-world practice by Hyundai’s Australian engineers, the Sonata is a really, really great drive.

No, we’re not dreaming. The steering has been sharpened, the dampers fine-tuned, the suspension bushes and control arms tested and retested and countless variables applied to cover every conceivable road and driver demand.

Even Australia’s corrugated outback roads were used as test beds because almost 30 per cent of Hyundai buyers are in regional areas.

While the chassis was coping with the erraticisms of Tasmanian roads, the ride comfort was just like a quality sedan.

Very little pitching, good suspension (and seat) compliance and low noise from the road, wind and tyres.

The Active gets 18-inch wheels and the other two have 18-inch sets.

There is a slight difference in handling – the 17s have a less precise feel through fast corners, but it doesn’t detract from the car’s fun handling character.

Despite being a tad conservative in style, this may be the best handling Hyundai ever.

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