Hyundai had set itself a high bar when it launched the sixth-generation Sonata for the 2010 model year. It stood out from a crowded field of midsize sedans with an exterior shape that resembled a Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. The Sonata also boasted a comfortable interior, loads of technology features, a good selection of engines, and a nice balance between comfort and sport. Replacing this model would be a tough task and one Hyundai wasn’t able to meet. When the seventh-generation model rolled out at 2014 New York Auto Show, you could hear the cry of a sad trombone. The new Sonata had gone conservative in its design. Compared to Chevrolet, Honda, and Toyota that rolled out bold styling on their sedans, the Sonata went backwards with a conservative look.
Hyundai realized they need to make some drastic changes to Sonata to give it a fighting chance not only against other sedans, but from the growing demand for crossovers of all sizes. This brings us to the 2018 Sonata Limited. It was time to find out if Hyundai had found that magic once again.
This being a refresh, Hyundai couldn’t go completely crazy in terms of the design language, however the updates really help the Sonata have more presence. Up front is bolder with a new hexagonal grille surround, chrome grille slats, new sculpting on the hood, and deep cuts in the bumper for LED fog lights. The side profile retains the chrome trim that runs through the headlights and around the windows. Hyundai made some drastic changes for the rear by smoothing out the trunk lid and moving the placement of the license plate to the bumper.
The Sonata’s interior retains the basic shape of the outgoing model, but changes have been made to freshen it up. The center stack boasts a revised control layout and all trims get a three-spoke steering wheel. Previously, only the Sport trim got this wheel design. It would have been nice if Hyundai was a little bit more adventurous with the design, but I’m willing to forgive some of this feeling as the controls fall easily into hand. Interior materials are about average for the class with a mix of hard and soft plastics.
The front seats were designed with long-distance comfort in mind with a fair amount of seat padding and just the right amount of firmness. Power adjustments for both driver and passenger are standard on the Limited and offer a generous range of adjustments. Space in the back is quite roomy and there are some nice touches such as manual window shades. The Sonata has one of the largest trunks in the class with 16.3 cubic feet of space on offer.
All Sonata’s come with a 7-inch touchscreen featuring Hyundai’s BlueLink infotainment system. Our test Sonata Limited had the optional 8-inch screen with navigation. The current BlueLink system has been with us for a few years and its interface is beginning to look somewhat dated, but the system is still one of the best when it comes to overall usability with large touchscreen buttons, bright screen, and a simple interface. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all Sonatas except the base SE.
Sonata offers one of the widest range of powertrains in the segment with three gas engines, a hybrid, and plug-in hybrid. Our Sonata Limited came with the base 2.4L inline-four producing 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic routing power to the front wheels. The engine provides adequate power for around town and rural driving. You will need to step on it when making a pass or merging onto a freeway as torque resides higher in the rev band. The six-speed automatic goes about its business smoothly and always knows what gear it needs to be in. Hyundai does offer an eight-speed automatic, but only if you opt for the turbocharged 2.0L.
EPA fuel economy figures for the 2018 Sonata Limited are 25 City/35 Highway/28 Combined (SE models see a one mpg increase in highway and combined figures). My average for the week landed around 28.5 mpg.
Hyundai did make some tweaks to the 2018 Sonata’s suspension including a revised rear suspension setup with thicker trailing arms and revised steering system. The end result is a Sonata that handles much better than the previous car. Body motion has noticeably decreased and the steering provides decent weight when turning. Thankfully, the tweaks made to the suspension haven’t affected the Sonata’s ride quality. Bumps and other road imperfections are soaked up before reaching passengers. Some of the credit has to go to Hyundai not going crazy on offering large wheels - the Limited seen here rides on 17-inch wheels. Road and wind noise are kept to near silent levels.
My first impression seeing the 2018 Sonata was that Hyundai had improved it, but was still a bit short when compared to the work done by other automakers. Spending a week with the Sonata caused me to change my train of thought; It surprised me how much work Hyundai put into this mid-cycle refresh and brings the Sonata up to the point where I would say it is fighting for best-in-class honors.
While the 2018 Sonata may lack most of the pizzazz found in the sixth-generation model, it does show that Hyundai has learned from its mistake and worked to reclaim some of the magic.
Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Sonata, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 2.4L GDI DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic. Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 185 @ 6,000
Torque @ RPM: 178 @ 4,000
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/35/28
Curb Weight: N/A
Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, AL
Base Price: $27,400
As Tested Price: $31,310 (Includes $885.00 Destination Charge)
Ultimate Package - $2,900.00
Carpeted Floor Mats - $125.00