Car reviews - Hyundai - Sonata - V6 sedan
Smooth and silent V6 is punchier than impressive 2.4, interior space, general cabin quietness, safety credentials, standard equipment, engineering and build quality, overall practicality, huge boot, inoffensive styling, fuel consumption, value for money
Room for improvement
Overly-light steering lacks precision, seats too flat, manual seats less adjustable than power seats, lacks real driver involvement
14 Oct 2005
By TIM BRITTEN
WITHIN a few days of Mitsubishi's unveiling of its Magna-replacing 380, Hyundai's Australian PR e-mailed the motoring press with a telling comparison between its recently launched Sonata and the new, locally made large-car entrant.
The press, generally, had already expressed surprise at how commodious the new Hyundai was, and the 380's arrival only underscored it.
The figures showed just how close dimensionally its new Sonata is to the Mitsubishi, particularly inside, where if there are any differences they tend to favour the Hyundai.
Testing a Sonata 2.4 Elite recently, GoAuto compared dimensions with current Commodore and Camry models and made similar findings.
The Sonata approaches Commodore overall body dimensions in all directions and is wider, with a slightly longer wheelbase than the Toyota.
The bottom line is that the new Sonata is a generously proportioned car.
This is immediately evident on first climbing aboard, where the feeling of space, back and front, is quite exceptional. Not only is there legitimate adult legroom, but also a decent supply of shoulder room.
Perhaps what is most telling is that the Hyundai provides a proper, split-fold rear seat that is not even optionally available in Commodore or 380. Ford does supply such an arrangement, albeit a slightly poky one, in the Falcon.
The packaging story is driven home when you walk around to the boot itself and find a large, well-shaped 462-litre space properly served by hinges tucked out of harm's way in the rain gutters.
The claim is that it will easily hold three full-size golf bags with room to spare. And there's a full-size spare.
The thing is, the Hyundai's appeal doesn't begin and end with efficient packaging.
It is also styled not to offend with its clean, almost-Euro lines and bright, neatly executed interior.
In an age fixated in detail quality - things like plastics, panel gaps and general fit and finish - the Sonata also manages quite well, with enough apparent quality to please most customers.
If there's any criticism it's that the seats are a little too flat to provide comfortable lateral support, although in terms of seating comfort they're not too bad.
In the base V6 tested here, the manual adjustment provided less leeway for a nicely-tailored driving position than the leather trimmed, power-adjusted four-cylinder and V6 Elite models.
Safety in the new Hyundai rates highly too, with more airbags than any of the local manufacturers offer (dual front and side, with full-length curtain bags), active front head restraints as well as, on V6 versions, standard Bosch electronic stability control and traction control.
Then, there's two new Euro-4 compliant all-alloy engines - the DOHC, 16-valve 2.4-litre four-cylinder with variable valve timing, and the DOHC, multi-valve 3.3-litre V6, also with variable valve timing.
It produces 173kW at 6000rpm and a maximum torque of 304Nm at 3500rpm, well above the previous 2.7-litre Sonata V6's 132kW and 245Nm. Hyundai claims a zero to 100km/h acceleration of 7.7 seconds, and a combined average fuel consumption of 10.1L/100km.
It's almost as if Hyundai designers ticked off a wish list they didn't really expect to be fulfilled when planning the new car. The fact they appear to have been fulfilled, in spades, would seem to indicate how intent the company is on fielding a car that will be competitive on world-wide markets.
The Sonata, in real life, doesn't betray the hopes that are so clearly riding on it.
The new engines perform with efficiency and smoothness, and the general suspension-steering behaviour is beyond reproach.
The V6 test car felt smooth and punchy, with impressive step-off and crisp-shifting through the five-speed automatic transmission.
The extra gear (four-cylinder Sonatas are equipped only with a four-speed auto) seems to be used more for economy rather than performance, because the V6 cruises at quite low rpm on the highway. It's a sequential auto too, with the conventional forward-upshift, backward-downshift pattern.
The V6 Sonata rides with a silent aplomb that makes highway cruising a pleasure, although the steering is a little too assisted to encourage the inner driver to sit up and pay attention.
The car handles well enough - and in the V6 is backed up by the traction control and stability control systems - but the base version rides on 16-inch (alloy) wheels wearing workhorse 215/60 tyres which help ride quality but take some of the precision out of the already-light steering. It's got no vices though.
The V6, like the four-cylinder, benefits from standard ABS, expect that the brakes are bigger, front and rear.
Being a base model, the test V6's interior was a little downmarket of the leather-clad Elite, but well-enough fitted out with velour trim, air-conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel buttons, remote central locking with alarm, power mirrors and windows - with one-touch raising and lowering on the driver's side.
The six-speaker CD/FM/AM audio system - it can also be controlled from the steering wheel - is MP3-capable yet retains a cassette player.
The manual seats offer height adjustment, but not cushion tilt, which means it's less possible to find the ideal driving position and there's less under-tight support - although lumbar adjustment is provided on both sides.
And the two-way adjustable steering wheel is still limited by the radical angle changes that come with the US-style up-down movement.
The sort of things Sonata owners will appreciate include the cruise control switch behind the right side of the steering wheel, the height-adjustable, fore-aft centre armrest over the console box, and the remote boot release on the door.
A very well equipped, very complete mid-size car, the Hyundai Sonata.
In V6 form it's smoother, punchier and quieter than the already impressive four-cylinder, and throws in the confidence-inspiring benefits of electronic stability control as part of the package.
Look at the price, look at the alternatives, and you'll certainly come back for at least a second time.
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