The Hyundai Sonata broke cover a couple of weeks before the New York Auto Show, but I finally got to see it on Thursday. While there are frequent reports that the midsize sedan segment is dying, it still is able to move about 153,000 units just in the month of March. Hyundai sees an opportunity here as some of its competition, namely the Ford Fusion, will be going to the great used-car lot in the sky in the near future. Still, the Sonata has only sold around 21,000 units year to date while Nissan can move that many Altimas in a month and Accord and Camry do even better. So what is Hyundai going for here by introducing a new Sonata? They're going for sexy.
The midsize market is a conservative one, few models are ever called sexy. Hyundai has gone out of their way to give the Sonata a sexy look without looking odd (Accord) or overwrought (Camry). Up front, there is a huge.. HUGE...grille opening. It has the somewhat traditional six-sided shape but is pinched in a little at the bottom. Above that are the lighting accents that most everyone will mention when talking about this car. Along the hood, they are chrome strips that light up when the car is on. Once this thing hits the streets it will be a very distinctive visual feature that will separate this car from the Accords and Camrys. The character line flows from the headlights along the body in a very slight S-curve. Multiple creases on the door panels help keep the car from looking slab-sided. The wheels are an attractive two-tone 10-spoke design. Around back is a full-width U-shape taillamp setup that looks like the Honda Civic setup, but upside down. It integrates into a rather tall (for a family sedan) spoiler on the rear trunk like. The tops of the taillights have small fins that ostensibly direct airflow the way Hyundai intends. The overall exterior is handsome and sensuous and does a good job of distinguishing itself from others in the class.
Inside is a mixed bag. The overall look is handsome and restrained, but areas of cost-cutting were visible. There is cheaper plastic on the door panels, lower dash, and parts of the center console. Still, it is hard to argue with a full TFT screen for the gauge cluster and a large, wide infotainment system in the center. The infotainment system sits high on the dash and looks like a tablet popping up from below. Controls are simple and easy to reach, and Hyundai has joined the ranks of the new decade by removing the shifter and replacing it with push-button controls. I like Hyundai's setup better than Honda's which I have to think about to use. The seats are a bit flat, but there is plenty of head and leg room. I do like Hyundai's use of two-tone interior, but that won't be on all cars.
At release, the Hyundai Sonata will come with two engines, a 2.5 direct injected 4-cylinder with 191 horsepower at 6,100 RPM and 181 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. An optional 1.6T will have 180 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1,5000 - 4,500 rpm. The 2.5 will get 33mpg combined and the 1.6T will get 31mpg combined. Some have balked at the idea that the buy-up engine has less horsepower than the base engine, but in this case, it is the flat torque curve that will really make the 1.6T feel faster. For those who are wanting more power, Hyundai is reportedly working on an N-Line version that will have over 275 horsepower. For the greenies, a hybrid is coming soon as well, with a possibly plug-in version in the works. Driving impressions will have to wait until this fall.
Overall, Hyundai has a very strong contender for the shrinking mid-size market. Not all of the Ford Fusion owners will go to crossovers, so Hyundai looks ready to scoop them up.