A significant number of early Sonata sales will be to carmakers that purchase them for competitive analysis. Those who pass will miss an early assessment of the car that cracks the mid-size-sedan code.
Actually, the Sonata is not mid-size. This car's first strategic move is providing ample passenger and trunk volume. According to SAE and EPA measures, the Sonata is a Large Car. That gives Hyundai legitimate bragging rights that its hero tops the competition in roominess.
Point two is design. No squinting is necessary to see hints of Mercedes-Benz CLS in the Sonata's profile. While the grille is too flamboyant for my tastes, I predict that John and Jane Consumer will be very favorably impressed by the Sonata's styling.
Some makers squander interior space to provide a sleek roofline, but thankfully Hyundai didn't stoop to that. The front and rear doors accommodate easy entry, and the bench in back carries three adult passengers without complaint. Large two-plus-two sedans always leave me feeling cheated. When I tried the Sonata's back seat on for size and noticed the ample space and ease of moving laterally, I decided that Hyundai is serious about impressing its customers on the long haul.
The third notable accomplishment here is how happy Hyundai's new Theta II 2.4-liter engine is at work. Everyone who recovers from V-6 separation anxiety will be impressed by the vitality provided by this 200-hp four-cylinder and its smooth disposition. Class-leading fuel economy (mid- to high 20s in mixed driving on regular gas) seals the deal. But give some of the credit to the six-speed manual and automatic transmissions that help the engine shine.
Replacing metal with plastic under the hood and eliminating the extra structure needed for a V-6 option gives the Sonata a light and lively feel. The steering is quick and direct, the moves are predictably agile. The Sonata is more fun to drive than most of the mid-size sedans.
I have two minor complaints. The Sonata needs a few more ounces of sound deadening under the hood to suppress the fuel-injector clicking, which sounds like a nest of angry insects. And I'd find the automatic transmission more palatable if its manual mode held gears all the way to the engine's redline.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor