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Driven: Reborn Sonata to boost Hyundai

Second coming: The petrol and sedan-only Sonata will sit alongside the i40 – that is available in diesel and wagon guise – in Australian Hyundai dealerships.

Hyundai fires its second mid-size contender, the Sonata, into a declining market

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Hyundai logo10 Feb 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

HYUNDAI is taking on a declining market segment by splitting its mid-size car assault, taking on established competitors – and even itself – with its new Sonata sedan.

Priced from $29,990, plus on-road costs in base Active guise, the petrol-only sedan now fights in a diminished market segment that, despite a weak outlook, Hyundai says it is determined to grab a better slice of.

Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) senior product planning manager Andrew Tuitahi said at the Sonata launch this week that the mid-size segment “was tough for us to crack’’.

“Camry has more than 45 per cent of the (mid-size passenger-car) segment,” he said.

“But the segment has shrunk by 40 per cent, down from 82,000 units in 2007 to 50,000 last year. Buyers have either downsized (in passenger cars) or moved to SUVs.”

But Hyundai is quietly confident its new Sonata – an American market-inspired, Korean-built sedan – will have the ability to claw back customers.

The Sonata is effectively the successor to the i45 which, in other markets, carried the Sonata badge. The i45 was discontinued in Australia in 2013.

Now, in its bid to arrest sales from rivals including Camry, Mazda6 and Subaru Liberty, Hyundai will fill its showroom with the Sonata and the carry-over i40.

But for price-conscious buyers, the newer Korea-sourced Sonata is about $2000 cheaper than the similarly-sized i40, that offers more powertrain and body-style options.

“This will provide us with strong competition in the petrol, diesel, sedan and wagon mid-size segment,’’ said Mr Tuitahi.

Asked why Hyundai was increasing its presence in a segment that was declining, he said mid-size wagons had recorded a 26 per cent increase in sales since 2008.

“There is no clear trend in diesel but on average there’s a 14 per cent slice.

For us, both variants (i40 and Sonata) are critical.’’HMCA director of marketing Oliver Mann said he expects the sales split for Sonata to be 50 per cent for the entry-level $29,990 Active, that is powered by a normally-aspirated 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine.

The remainder would be 30 per cent to the mid-spec Elite ($36,990 plus costs) that comes only with Hyundai’s new 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine.

The upmarket Premium version, also with the turbocharged engine, will sell for $41,990. The sole transmission is a six-speed automatic.

Buyers of the Sonata are expected to be middle-aged couples who, in Hyundai speak, are “less defined by family’‘ and are “looking to downsize.’’“They are not flashy and are sensible and rational. They would not consider an SUV,” said Mr Tuitahi.

“We think it will succeed. It’s design language is mature and it reflects understated elegance.”

Australia’s outback was used as a tough testing theatre between January to August 2014. The suspension and steering were modified to cope with the additional strains of driving on unsealed roads and the final tuning was done in Australia by Hyundai’s suspension experts, led by David Potter.

The Sonata also boasts a 41 per cent increase in torsional rigidity compared with the i45, achieved by new body design and the higher use of high-tensile steel.

In comparison to the Camry, the Sonata is a bit shorter, a fraction wider and higher. Its boot space - at 510 litres, is only five litres smaller.

Its engines are Hyundai-Kia designs and for the new 2.0-litre turbocharged version, is rated at 180kW/350Nm. Official combined fuel economy for the blown four-pot is rated at 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres.

The Active's 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol delivers 138kW/241Nm. It is a carry over unit shared by other Hyundai and Kia products. Official fuel use for this powertrain is 8.3L/100km.

Standard equipment includes six airbags, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloys and front and rear park sensors with a reversing camera, keyless entry, 4.3-inch touchscreen with six-speaker audio, Bluetooth connectivity with hands free, steering wheel mounted audio and phone controls, cruise control, 60/40 split fold rear seats and cloth interior.

Mid-spec Elite adds electric folding exterior mirrors, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, smart key with push button start, hands-free boot opening, leather appointed seats, LED tail-lights and dual-zone climate control air-con.

Range-topping Premium variants gain 18-inch alloys, front parking sensors, bi-Xenon headlights, auto-dimming mirror, electronic park brake, eight-way adjustable electric front passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, and rear-door sunblinds.

HMCA has also expanded its customer service base, introducing its “myHyundai’’ customer care centre.

The Sonata picks up Hyundai’s lifetime capped-price servicing, the five year unlimited kilometre warranty, the three-year MapCare plan that upgrades the sat-nav software and roadside assistance for the first year. Benefits increase if the car is returned to an authorised Hyundai dealer for servicing.

Hyundai Sonata pricing*
Active (a)$29,990
Elite (a)$36,990
Premium (a)$41,990
*Excludes on-road costs.

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