The sheet steel comes into the assembly plant in rolls, like paper. Huge hydraulic presses more than four stories high stamp the steel into body panels. As sparks scatter, robots weld together structures from complex shapes of high-strength steel. Some 3000 men and women (and more than a few robots) assemble all the pieces. Finally an American car is driven away from the assembly line, one of about 400,000 that will be built this year.
The difference is, this American car is the 2015 Hyundai Sonata. It’s designed for America, built in America, and, most important, perfectly in tune with what America wants in an automobile. The Hyundai Sonata is the new Camry.
Styling for grown-ups
Let us all praise designer Christopher Chapman and his small studio of forty people in California for the dramatic, last-generation Sonata, which broke the spell of sleep-inducing styling that has cursed mid-size sedans in this country. His introduction of “Fluidic Sculpture” certainly underscored the homeliness of the competition, although the Sonata’s surfacing did seem a little overwrought as time went on.
For the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, the design team has let the shape evolve a little, something Chapman understands from his years at BMW. When you walk up to the new car and put your hands on it, Chapman wants you to sense an inner strength in the taut, muscular surface. At the same time, plenty of visual drama remains, notably the “saber line” of brightwork that runs the length of the car along the lower edge of the glass, plus the coupe-like roof with its sleekly arching C-pillar.
For us, the 2015 Sonata’s interior style is even more impressive, as its sweeping horizontal gesture gives the feeling that you’re in a premium car. The array of controls on the center stack has the kind of logical organization that makes operation intuitive, plus there’s an 8.0-in communication screen in some models. No miracle has been accomplished to make you believe that you’re in a Jaguar, but the all-new Sonata still makes the other cars in its class look dowdy.
Space for grown-ups, too
Personally, we hardly ever care very much about interior space. Let big people drive trucks, and if you let your in-laws ride around in the spacious back seat of your car, they’ll just be encouraged to visit more often. (And who wants that?)
Even so, we found ourselves cruising the roads around the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama, with three people in the car, and everyone stayed happy. The big guy in the back had space for his legs, plus he was surprised that his head didn’t graze the roof. He also really liked the optional, transparent panoramic roof, not just because the additional light makes the interior feel more spacious but also because it let him scan the horizon for thunderstorms. (We encountered no lightning, but fish could have survived very happily in one downpour.)
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata has been stretched in every dimension, and now it measures 191.1 inches long, 73.4 inches wide, and 58.1 inches high on 110.1-inch wheelbase. It’s definitely a large car (EPA certification says so) with 106.1 cubic feet of passenger volume, not to mention a very large trunk of 16.3 cubic feet. This makes the 2015 Sonata fractionally larger than the Accord, Altima, Camry, and Passat.
Country clubs and vegetable stands
As we cruised down the interstate, we found ourselves thinking that this new Sonata is much quieter than before. Then again, the previous car didn’t exactly set any new standards in quietness, as it was tuned for a certain amount of hush at freeway speed yet boomed, thrashed, and thumped whenever you asked anything else from it. With the new Sonata, you could throw a couple sets of golf clubs into the trunk and make your way in perfect comfort to one of the nine Robert Trent Jones-designed golf courses that Alabama has helped build to encourage tourism.
Later, as we spent time on the winding country roads through largely unspoiled woodlands and pastures, it came to us that the new car is not just comfortable but also extremely poised. In fact, we found ourselves with too many knots of speed to make a turnaround to one of the vegetable stands for which the fertile farming country here is famous.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata has made a leap in structural rigidity thanks to meeting the new federal standards for offset crash impacts, but while the car indeed feels more solid than before, there’s more to the Sonata’s newfound goodness than this. The crisper steering and supple suspension action make the car feel securely planted. It’s no sports sedan, but it never seems to put a foot wrong. You simply fly down the road, and then you look down at the speedometer to find yourself going 10 mph faster than you thought.
What kind of barbecue sauce would you like with that?
If you’re a rational person, you’ll choose the 2015 Hyundai Sonata SE with its 2.4-liter, Theta II four-cylinder engine. It’s rated at 185 hp @ 6000 rpm and 178 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, which is on par with the competition (though reduced by 5 hp and 1 lb-ft from last year). The engine feels livelier than before because the variable valve timing affords quicker response over a broader range of rpm, and it also seems more refined than before. If you choose the luxurious 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited, you should get 24 mpg city/35 highway/28 mpg combined. The only flaw here is the electric power-assisted steering that comes with the 2.4-liter engine package, because its action still feels sticky, although it has been improved to deliver better on-center feel.
If you’re like us, you’ll probably be seduced by the 2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T, not the least because of the availability of the zippy orange paint (Urban Sunset). You’ll notice the way the new Sonata’s HID headlights and LED running lights have been supplemented by a dramatic grille, chrome accent for the bodywork’s rocker panels, and quad exhaust tips. This 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with its twin-scroll turbocharger has been revised for much improved response at low rpm, so the car surges away from a stoplight with more authority than before. The price has been a reduction in peak output to 245 hp @ 6000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 1350 – 4000 rpm, some 29 hp and 9 lb-ft less than before.
This seems like a bad deal on paper, yet we liked this 2.0T engine’s notably quicker, quieter response while accelerating away from stoplights in metro driving, and the engine made great use of the 2.0T’s six-speed automatic with its shift paddles on the steering wheel and a set up of shorter ratios in first through fourth gears for quicker acceleration. Also we expect that the 2.0T should more easily make its EPA fuel economy rating of 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Even better, the 2.0T comes with a different electric-assisted power steering (the motor is mounted on the steering rack instead of the column), and its behavior feels more natural. Meanwhile the 2.0T’s upgrade to P225/45R-18 tires from the 2.4-liter Limited and Sport SE’s P215/55R-17s provided all we needed in handling sportiness.
The whole picnic lunch
With the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, your choices begin at the $21,110 Sonata SE or the new, high-efficiency, $23,275 Sonata 1.6T with its small turbocharged engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. If you skip the intermediate combinations and go right to the top of the line, there are the $31,575 Sonata Limited Ultimate and $33,525 2.0T Sport Ultimate. The range of audio features is astonishing considering the price (Apple Car Play and Google Android Auto among them), as are the active safety features (including forward collision alert and rear cross-traffic warning).
As a country of what once were simple farmers, Americans are cheap, so we’ll never spend more than we have to. As former colonials who were once far from sources of supply, Americans are practical, and we look for reliability and durability. Americans are inventive, so we appreciate innovative technology, yet we’re not willing to pay more for it unless the cost has been reduced as far as possible. And Americans are upwardly mobile, so we believe in luxury and comfort. When you think about the story of Hyundai in America since it arrived in 1986, the company has focused on each of these things in turn, and maybe it’s the combination of these values that makes the 2015 Hyundai Sonata so American.
One day soon maybe we’ll all stop thinking of the Hyundai Sonata as a car from Korea. After all, Montgomery, Alabama, is not in Korea.
2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Sport Ultimate Specifications
- Base Price: $34,335
- On Sale: Now
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4
- Power: 245 hp @ 6000 rpm
- Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 1350 â 4000 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Front-wheel
- Steering: Electronically assisted rack-and-pinion
- Front suspension: MacPherson strut, coil springs, gas-charged dampers, anti-roll bar
- Rear suspension: Multi-link, coil springs, gas-charged dampers, anti-roll bar
- Brakes (front/rear): Ventilated discs, ABS
- Tires: 235/45R-18
- L x W x H: 191.1 x 73.4 x 58.1 in
- Wheelbase: 110.4 in
- Track F/R: 62.9/63.1 in
- Weight: 3616 lb
- Passenger Volume 106.1 cu ft
- Cargo Volume: 16.3 cu ft
- EPA Mileage: 23/32/26 City/Highway/Combined