Although our Hyundai Sonata SE arrived with all-season Hankook Optima tires, we've outfitted it with season-appropriate rubber as we head into winter. To accommodate the new tires, we've downsized the Sonata's rolling stock from the factory 18-inch aluminum wheels to 16-inch steel wheels complete with the Hyundai hubcaps that come on the GLS base trim. The tires are Bridgestone Blizzak WS70s, size 205/65TR-16, and sell for $98 a piece at TireRack.com. The price for our winter wheels is far less reasonable, with each steel wheel costing $236.38 and the cover priced at $85.45. Our total for the parts and installation came to $1,854.19. Buy your steel wheels somewhere other than the local Hyundai dealer.
The cold weather has also elicited complaints from our pampered staff about our Sonata's lack of heated seats. This isn't, however, simply a case of a missed option. Heated seats, both front and rear, are standard in the Limited trim, which starts at $26,015, but aren't available even as an option on the lower GLS and SE trims.
The Sonata's logbook already shows several entries praising the smooth shifts of the six-speed automatic, but both copy editor Rusty Blackwell and contributor Ezra Dyer have recently experienced unseemly behavior under hard acceleration. Blackwell writes: "Try a wide-open-throttle start, particularly with these traction-compromised tires, and the transmission strangely holds first gear briefly before shifting into second."
Dyer's observations were made from behind the wheel of a Sonata Turbo we tested at our annual All-Stars drive, but the takeaway was similar. "If you get wheel spin, the transmission can get confused," he says. "Even when you're not in manual mode, it'll bang the engine against the rev limiter for a couple seconds before upshifting. If it took me five minutes to discover this idiosyncrasy, why didn't Hyundai already weed that out?"
Calmer cruising, though, continues to leave drivers impressed. With the Sonata's excellent highway fuel economy rating of 35 mpg and a generous 18.5 gallon fuel tank, it's not uncommon to hit 500 miles with a single fill-up in the Sonata. On a recent trip to west Michigan, managing editor Amy Skogstrom was pleased to add 275 miles to the odometer while using half a tank of gas. The range is one of the many attributes that makes the Sonata such a good long-distance driver. With that in mind, we'll be keeping a close watch on the new winter tires as we move into December to see if they upset the Sonata's comfort or handling.