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The Sonata always rises for Hyundai

According to Hyundai: Honda's Accord, Toyota's Camry and Mitsubishi's forthcoming Magna replacement are firmly in the new Sonata’s sights.

Hyundai hits the medium family sedan segment running with a fifth-generation Sonata

24 Jun 2005

HYUNDAI is relaunching its oldest brand in Australia with a completely redesigned and re-engineered mid-sized sedan.

The NF series was released last week as the replacement for the four-year old EF-B, itself derived from 1998’s EF. It is the fifth vehicle to wear the Sonata moniker that’s been around since March 1989.

Developed over almost four years in South Korea at a cost of around $A330 million, the latest Sonata seeks to secure family as well as fleet car buyers with an updated design, two new engines and progress in safety, refinement and comfort.

Most visible is an all-new body that’s bigger, stronger and significantly roomier than before.

The European styling features influences from Hyundai Motor Company’s (HMC) German design studio in Russelsheim.

Over the outgoing Sonata, the NF’s wheelbase has been stretched by 30mm while height and overall length rise by 55mm. Front and rear tracks are wider by 35 and 30mm respectively.

Meanwhile, the body is beefed up with better crumple zones and impact load diffusion paths that were optimised at a sacrifice of 300 Sonata prototypes.

The upshot is stronger overall structures that include the front end and dashboard, cross-sections and upper tunnels, A-pillars, roof corners and rear shelf area.

New single-pressing bodyside inner panels, improved joint processes and better-positioned in-door side impact beams also add to the Sonata’s strength.

HMC Australia says the 4.8-metre long Sonata is now widest among the the mid-sizers that include Mitsubishi’s TW Magna and the Toyota Camry while offering more front leg and head room than the larger and more powerful VZ Commodore and BA Falcon.

There’s also improved driver-focussed ergonomics, higher-grade cabin trim materials and new contrasting hues to differentiate old from new.

Integrated audio systems, larger and simpler switches and controls, better insulation levels to help combat noise and vibration intrusion and new front seats described as "generously padded and well contoured" are further NF advances.

Upgraded active safety features include dual front and front-side airbags (with a front-left passenger-sensing device), front and rear curtain airbags with improved function, anti-whiplash front seat head restraints, and seats that stop their occupants sliding forward and down in severe impacts (known as anti-submarining seats).

HMC is expecting a US five-star crash safety score as a result of front and side-impact internal crash testing.

Vehicle security also rises thanks to shielded deadlocks ensconced in a second skin steel panel (that also resist external probing) and doors that automatically lock over 32km/h.

Speaking of speed, there’s now more of it due to a duo of new powerplants.

The base engine is a fresh 2.4-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine dubbed Theta and intended for use by future DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi models as part of the triumvirate’s Global Engine Project nutted out in 2000.

On regular 91 RON unleaded fuel the 2.4 develops 118.5kW of power at 5800rpm and a 219Nm torque top at 4250rpm.

Thus the Sonata eclipses most of its four-cylinder rivals in power outputs (Camry 2.4: 112kW Subaru Liberty 2.0: 101kW Holden Vectra 2.2: 108kW) except for the 122kW Mazda6.

Fuel consumption is 8.3l/100km in five-speed manual mode (which benefits from a new and improved gearbox with smoother shifting properties and a collar-lift reverse selector for increased safety) and 8.8 for the four-speed automatic.

The latter, boasting a Tiptronic-style Selectronic sequential gate, compares to the four-speed auto four-cylinder Camry 2.4’s 9.8 and Mazda6’s 9.5, while the five-speed auto Accord 2.4 and Vectra 2.2 manage 9.3 and 9.1 respectively.

Also new is the auto-only V6, now a 3.3-litre all-alloy Lambda series 60-degree with dual overhead cams per bank, 24 valves and variable valve timing Hyundai dubs CVVT.

Since it pumps out 173kW of power at 6000rpm and 304Nm of torque at 3500rpm (its 2.7 Delta V6 predecessor managed 132kW/245Nm), the latest Sonata out strips the 141kW/279Nm Camry, the 155kW/316Nm Magna for power but not torque and the 177kW/287Nm Accord for torque but not power.

It also trails the 175kW/320Nm Commodore 3.6 V6 and 182kW/380Nm 4.0 Falcon.

Yet, at an average of 10.1L/100km, the NF’s fuel consumption betters the 11.2 and 10.6 respective figures the Toyota and Honda manage.

The V6’S automatic is a new five-speed transmission fitted with the Selectronic sequential mode. All V6s include Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and traction control as standard.

Both 2.4 and 3.3 motors are Euro IV emissions compliant (not necessary locally until 2008) and feature aluminium cylinder block and head designs for improved refinement, cooling and efficiency.

For sharper and more predictable dynamics, underpinning the front-wheel drive Hyundai is European-specification independent front and rear suspension that both feature full upper and lower arm designs.

1 center imageThis means it’s a sportier set-up than the overseas NF’s Korean and North American suspension tune, and includes higher-specification Sachs gas shock absorbers, stiffer coils springs, thicker anti-roll bars and firmer bushes front and rear.

Forged alloy outer extensions for reduced road-noise transmission in the front suspension’s double wishbones, a better anti-roll bar mounting process and an increased front caster angle improves tracking, steering feel and directional stability over the old Sonata.

Meanwhile, the multi-link rear set-up has passive rear steering properties via toe control to help quell understeer.

Plus the springs and shockers are now separated and mounted differently to better disperse load impact and vibration properties, thus improving ride quality, as well as increase boot space.

Bigger wheels and tyres (215/60 R16 on all models except for the new-to-HMCA 17-inch alloys shod with 225/60 rubber on the top-line Elite) improve braking.

The 2.4 models’ discs are 280 and 262mm in diameter compared to the larger V6’s 300 and 284mm package. All include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

For increased quietness and refinement the NF has thicker side window glass, polyurethane sealing pads in the ceiling and floor, firewalls and pillar cavities featuring foam pads and insulation material lining the boot and bonnet lids. To the same end there’s increased body bracing around the dash area, the front floor is multi-ribbed and braced with cross-sectioning, the firewall is spared of excess apertures that are known to transmit noise, vibration and harshness and the engine bay is strong and stiff.

Other quieting measures include a more silent (and now single) fan and power steering mechanism, engine pressure sensors that steady revs under duress and more aerodynamic mirrors and door weather strips.

To accommodate the huge demand and subsequent volume HMC is anticipating for the NF in North America, it has recently opened an assembly plant in Alabama, although our Sonatas are sourced from South Korea.

This is why the Sonata espouses European styling that expertly (if rather anonymously) combines design elements from rivals such as the Accord and Camry as well as Audi’s A6.

More popularity should be the upshot. The old car suffered for its ungainly, US-focussed styling.

Last year EF-B Sonata sales rallied at 1778 units, after an alarming low of 1221 in ’03. That was about a third down on ’02, which was half as much as 2001’s 3153 total.

The sales fall has been steady since the heady days of 1997 when 7390 of the generation-before-last Sonata was riding high on constant drive-away campaigns.

HMCA hopes the NF will bring sales up to at least 2001’s levels.

2005 NF Sonata pricing:

2.4 $25,490
2.4 (a) $26,990
2.4 Elite (a) $31,490
3.3 (a) $26,990
3.3 Elite (a) $34,490
Sonata options: Metallic or Mica paint: $225
Note: Following allegations that inducements were offered to journalists attending the new model launch of the Hyundai Sonata last week, GoAuto coverageof the press conference and drive program has been withdrawn from GoAuto Online.

To keep faith with readers, we will organise fresh coverage as soon as possible.

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