The Sonata is the Korean marque’s midsize sedan contender. Now seven generations into the model, it has proven to be a solid part of Hyundai’s local ensemble, slotting above the Elantra and i40 as the more larger and more spacious of the bunch.
Having returned to the Australian market in 2015 during a period where similar cars in its price range have stepped up their assault on value and style, the Sonata enters the fray with a more modern, more European design and some new tricks of its own to sway the customer to their fold. Still, it’s a contentious marketplace.
There’s plenty of space and decent comfort at all trim levels for family and cargo. Speaking of which, they comprise of the entry-level Active, mid-spec Elite, and the most generously equipped Premium, powered by a choice of two petrol engines.
Just to name a few of its rivals, the Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Mondeo, and Volkswagen Passat pose a formidably complete package to buyers - to say nothing of the competition from sister company Kia’s Optima, to which it is very strongly related, mechanically.
On the face of it, the Hyundai option plays it quite safe, a tactic that’s been known to work in the past, for both Hyundai and their contemporaries. Will it keep working for the South Korean?
“The Sonata has a typically “sedan” profile, although with a slightly frumpy rear in comparison to the Mondeo. Fluid lines down the body give it a thoroughly modern look that shouldn't date too much over the years to come.” - CarAdvice
Sharing roughly the same dimensions as the 6th generation version that was introduced in 2009, 2015’s LF Sonata brought a more subdued, even dignified aesthetic - dubbed Fluidic Sculpture - to what in some markets is the largest mass market sedan class available, adopting cues from the earlier HCD-14 concept from 2013 that eventually resulted in the larger Genesis luxury sedan.
This helped the newer Sonata to gain a stronger foothold in the North American market, looking more expensive than its predecessor did. It’s nose is quite vertical and the large bold grille helps give it a more commanding presence both on the road and at a standstill.
A pair of large headlamps rest at the side and it’s angle informs the belt line crease that runs to the also-large tail lamps. Compared to the more angular YF Sonata, the LF shares it’s predecessors coupe-like profile and lift back rear end, but was clearly styled with European luxury cars in mind as a benchmark. A clever use of contrast as the mechanically identical Kia Optima is clearly meant to be the sportier looking sibling.
Engine and Drivetrain
“The Sonata 2.0T feels more capable on the open road, where the turbo’s surge of boost around 2500 rpm makes for easy passing manoeuvres whenever the driver stabs the throttle.” - Car and Driver
Two engines are available for the Sonata, both being petrol four-cylinders and mated to a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission that drive the front wheels. In other markets, the Sonata is also offered as a plug-in hybrid, though that isn’t available in this region.
The least expensive Sonata Active, expectedly, receives the less powerful but proven naturally aspirated 2.4-litre Theta-II GDI. It manages a decent 138kW and 241Nm delivered rather linearly, though it can be hesitant to inject urgency to the proceedings, even when standing on the accelerator. The Sonata weighs roughly 1,600kg, dry, after all.
A mightier motor comes with the Elite and Premium grades, but what this 2.0-litre loses in displacement it makes up for (and then some) with grunt, pumping out a much more agreeable 180kW and 350Nm at peak. That power bump does come at the expense of fuel economy, though, as the 2.4-litre Theta is claimed to consume 8.3-litres/100km in a combined cycle compared to 9.2-litres/100km for the turbo. If your budget can stretch that far, the Elite or Premium is worth the extra outlay just for the engine.
The six-speed automatic - dubbed ‘Shiftronic’ - is a decent partner to either motor, and its penchant to deliver comfort and smoothness over fast shifts does suit the Sonata quite well. Hyundai also provides standard paddle shifters on all variants, too.
“The front seats are well padded, supportive, and perfect for long-distance cruising. There's slightly less rear passenger room than some competitors, but only larger than average adults will notice.” - Edmunds
The Sonata is a big car on the inside, let that be in no doubt, with a very airy cabin that can be described as ‘mostly plush’ and ‘straightforward in a likeable way’. There’s an unfussy theme that runs through the entire car.
Sure, the dashboard isn’t exactly minimal, but the clutter has been reduced where it can be and the controls that do work better as buttons and knobs have been left that way. The materials feel high quality, though if you dig around, it won’t take long to find harder and scratchier surfaces.
This is forgivable as Hyundai has balance the quality and price nicely here. It must be said, though, that the faux carbon fibre inlays aren’t to all tastes and doesn’t feel congruent with the car.
Even with the optional panoramic electric sunroof, headroom isn’t compromised for rear passengers and the bench design means it can accommodate three adults seated abreast in decent comfort. Legroom is another area where the Sonata excels.
The boot reveals 510-litres of cargo space that’s accessed after hurdling a tolerable load lip. The seats do fold relatively flat in a 60:40 split. Euro competitors such as the Mondeo, Passat, and Mazda6 (exception) can be had as an wagon for those who need the extra practicality, but there’s no such option for the Sonata - same goes for other Asian rivals such Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, or Toyota Camry.
Behind The Wheel
“While this isn't a hard-riding sportster, an excellent balance has been struck between comfort, grip and control.” - CarsGuide
It’s obviously not going to be a revelatory thing to drive, the Sonata, as it was developed for comfort and a refined ride. Having said that, Hyundai has injected a commendable amount of fun into this outwardly sedate package for the Australian market.
The car is much livelier when paired with the gutsy 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, too, and quells any doubts to whether it would be able to come with the extra speed and sharper cornering this is usually followed by.
Steering can be a little aloof just off centre but is fairly direct otherwise. However, the Sonata’s sheer size isn’t able to be masked under a nimble chassis in the same way the BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF is, but the accuracy to which the Hyundai can keep to a challenging twisty road is impressive while still being able to maintain the a hushed an unfettered ride throughout.
If you thought that having an engaging mid-size sedan only meant reducing your options to the Volkswagen Passat and Mazda6, the value-packed Sonata will shake up your shortlist. The 2.4-litre naturally aspirated Active also impresses on the twisty stuff thanks to a uniformly available tuned chassis calibrated for our local market.
Safety and Technology
“…it’s very important to consider that at this stage Sonata lacks the safety systems that are becoming regular fare in many medium models.” - Motoring.com.au
When it was introduced, ANCAP tested the Sonata where it nabbed a 5-star overall rating, scoring a full 16 out of 16 in the side impact test but a less than stellar 12.84 out of 16 in the frontal offset test.
Standard safety kit includes dual front, side chest, and curtain airbags for 1st and 2nd row occupants. Naturally, electronic stability control is also equipped, but Hyundai also offers a well rounded suite of safety features such as all-round parking sensors, hill start assist, automatic headlamps and reversing camera.
All variants come with a touchscreen media and infotainment system - the base Active’s measures a limiting 5-inches whereas the rest are a more expansive 8-inch units. The range-topping Premium, though, is the one to go for if you want it decked out in all the bells and whistles.
There’s HID bi-xenons up front, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert. Shame there’s no autonomous emergency braking, though.
Through a multi-generational process of evolution and some bursts of rapid innovation, the Hyundai Sonata presents itself as a compelling alternative to the more expensive European saloons.
There’s just about everything you’d expect from a car of this sort, with the level of luxury nearing a full level ahead of where the brand is positioned itself in the market. Ignore the badge, and there’s quite a lot for car for the money, and not a half-baked one at that.
Edmunds - “It has a spacious interior with road-trip-worthy seats, a long list of standard features, well-laid out controls and a smooth ride. If you're looking for a well-rounded and affordable sedan, the Sonata should be on your list.”
CarAdvice - 8/10 - “The Hyundai Sonata does come recommended for those seeking a good sized sedan. The other alternative would be a Ford Mondeo, but the Sonata definitely makes its own compelling case for your attention.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “Minor niggles aside, it's been a great start with our new car. The neighbours, while used to the parade of metal on the driveway have taken a keen interest, asking which Audi it is. Imagine their surprise when they're told it's a Hyundai.”
Car and Driver - 4/5 - “The Sonata features Genesis-inspired styling with a bit less flourish; it’s contemporary, with powertrains to match.”
Motoring.com.au - 74/100 - “…the mid-size Hyundai is a worthy mid-size contender. It has the packaging, performance and on-road dynamics to challenge anything thrown at it by its competitors and is well put together besides.”