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Future models - Hyundai - Sonata

First drive: Hyundai Sonata faces delays

It's back: Hyundai is bringing the Sonata nameplate back to Australia after dropping the badge back in 2010.

The return of the US-focussed Hyundai Sonata on target for local launch in Q2, 2015

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Hyundai logo30 Jun 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in SOUTH KOREA

HYUNDAI has delayed the launch of its Camry-baiting Sonata mid-sizer in Australia by up to six months, following high demand in left-hand drive markets.

Originally slated for a local release in October, the seventh-generation Sonata is now due “sometime early next year”, according to Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) chief operating officer, John Elsworth.

However, that may easily extend into the second quarter of 2015, as left-hand drive production for the LF series’ key South Korean and North American markets ramps up.

Though potentially one of the largest right-hand drive destinations in the world for the next Sonata, the result means Australian buyers must wait in line.

The last time the nameplate was sold in this country was in mid-2010, when the sixth-generation model that was rebadged as the YF series i45 sedan replaced the fifth-generation NF series.

But slow sales and lukewarm reviews prompted HMCA to phase out the i45 after just two and a half years, relying instead on the smaller, European-developed i40 range introduced in 2011 offering wagon and optional turbo-diesel variants alongside a sedan body-style.

The i40 range will continue as the new Sonata will keep with tradition by being a sedan and petrol only proposition, though for how long remains a mystery. It is due for a facelift in the coming months.

Mr Elsworth told GoAuto at the DH Genesis first drive program in South Korea last week that there was no debate within HMCA about not resurrecting the i45 badge.

“Sonata is a global nameplate and we’re sticking with the global plan for the car,” he said.

As revealed at the global debut at the New York international auto show in April, Australian-bound Sonatas are likely to offer two petrol-powered engine choices.

A 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine will power the mainstream models – equating to Active, Elite and Premium variants using the existing i40 nomenclature – producing around 145kW of power and 240Nm of torque, and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Two brief laps around Hyundai’s proving ground in a Sonata tuned for the Korean market revealed an engine with reasonable acceleration, smooth gear shifts and impressive isolation properties a boomy engine and road noise intrusion were both YF bugbears. Improved aerodynamics (0.27Cd) contributes to a quieter car.

Unfortunately we drove the conservative looking fastback-style sedan in a straight line, so remain in the dark as to whether the previous model’s vague and remote steering characteristics have translated to the newcomer.

But the weighting seemed consistent so we’re holding out hope for some Australian-fettled suspension work for the LF. That the body is now 41 per cent torsionally more rigid and 35 per cent stiffer in bending rigidity (thanks to more high-strength steel application than before) also bodes well.

Furthermore, Hyundai states that it made significant modifications to the carryover MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension set-up, with the structure and geometry altered “to enhance responsiveness, handling and stability”.

Similarly the electric rack and pinion steering system has been seen to, with improvements garnered through a larger data processing unit, increased logic control cycle and motor control speed, and greater steering column rigidity.

We’re also likely to see the circa-180kW/330Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo Sport version sometime after the Sonata’s launch.

None were available for us to sample, sadly, nor was there any sign of the 132kW/265Nm 1.6-litre four-pot turbo with Hyundai’s new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the Sonata Eco variant that has just been announced in the United States.

The company says the interior has undergone a complete overhaul designed to greatly increase its premium and quality appeal.

Here we can be much more certain of the Sonata’s progress the dash imparts an almost Germanic stateliness and solidity, backed up by an appealingly rubberised fascia capping and visually impressive trim detailing.

It’s also as unadventurously styled as the exterior – this is a Camry fighter, remember, so nothing too radical here please – but the target audience is likely to respond well to the easy familiarity of the now-driver-orientated controls, large instrument dials, effective air-conditioning system, quieter ride and ample space.

The latter point reveals a bigger vehicle than the YF that, in the metal, actually looks smaller than before. For the record, the LF is 35mm longer at 4855mm and 30mm wider at 1865mm. Height and wheelbase dimensions grow 5mm and 10mm, to 1475mm and 2805mm respectively.

A reclassification to large-car status is the upshot of the Sonata’s growth in the US. We wonder whether the same will happen in Australia.

Hyundai has also raised the safety bar in the 27-year old nameplate – the oldest in the brand’s history – with a driver’s knee airbag pushing the airbag count to seven, as well as LED lighting now part of the package.

New to the Sonata are optional driver aid technologies including active cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane-departure warning systems.

Unsurprisingly, our overly supervised straight-line drive failed to excite any of these items.

Other advance likely to make their way in the Korean-built sedan include an electric parking brake, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats with rear-window sunblinds, a sunroof, USB and Bluetooth connections, and a bootlid that swings open at the sweep of a foot under the rear bumper.

More details will follow closer to the LF’s Australian launch next year.

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