The Hyundai Sonata really is a compelling option in its segment, because it is very stylish, comfortable, spacious, and reasonably priced. I can't get over just how composed and comfortable the ride was over a few hundred miles of highway driving over the weekend. Equally impressive was that the Sonata is very quiet inside, with only a little wind noise when you have the power sunshade open.
The midnight black exterior paint on our tester, especially when paired with the chrome trim of the Limited trim, make the Sonata look very sophisticated. By contrast, I don't like the "wine" leather on our car, which is a strange raspberry-purple color that looks totally out of place in this Sonata. Moreover, the two small wine-colored insert pieces clash with the rest of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
With the Sonata, Hyundai has proven itself to be a legitimate player in the world of mainstream automakers. Hyundai had a few good cars before the Sonata, but their purchase always had to be explained with words like "bargain" or "warranty." When the current Sonata debuted in 2009, the reasons to buy one were design, fuel economy, infotainment, and value. This is the first Hyundai product that took on the established mid-size players on level ground and stole sales, lots of sales.
There is only one area where Hyundai is still significantly behind the top-tier brands: Suspension tuning. Hyundai continues to release vehicles that fall on their faces during spirited driving. No, a mid-size sedan doesn't need Nuerburgring track time during its development, but even driving the speed limit on curving roads with broken pavement can push the dampers to their limit. Hyundai would be wise to dissect a Ford Fusion's chassis and get a thorough understanding of how to dampen impact harshness without making the suspension too mushy. Right now the Koreans seem to set the dampers to pillow soft or rock hard, which means the ride is always compromised in one direction or the other.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Every time I get behind the wheel of a Sonata I remember why it's one of my most-recommended cars. The exterior design is crisp and handsome - especially decked out in our tester's midnight black paint with chrome trim - and the interior is ergonomic bliss. (However, our tester loses points for its wine-colored leather and trim - that shade of red looks to be straight out of the late-1980s.)
As Phil says, however, Hyundai has yet to fully sort the suspension tuning of its cars. The Sonata manages to go from borderline floaty on well-paved roads to crashing and harsh over any road imperfections. Combined with steering that needs more feeling on-center, I warn potential buyers that this car does not cater to enthusiast drivers. But for most buyers, that's quite all right because the Sonata still remains at the top of its very competitive class.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
By my back-of-the-envelope computations, only eleven vehicles outsold the Sonata last year in the United States. And, if you exclude the three American full-size pickups plus a couple of crossovers (the Ford Escape and the Honda CR-V), the Sonata is the seventh-best selling car in the United States. Granted, the Sonata sits in the sweet part of the new car market -- mid-size family sedans - and four of the cars that sold better in 2011 (Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry) are direct competitors to the Sonata. Still, it's a testament to Hyundai that the Sonata is now nipping at the heels, saleswise, of all them. And performance-wise, it's at least the equal of all of them. The Sonata might not be an enthusiast's car, but compared with the bland Sonata of a few years ago, it's a huge improvement.
It's easy to see why buyers are attracted to this car. For one thing, it looks good, especially in the midnight black paint of this Limited model. For another, it gets very good fuel economy (28 mpg combined) and, if our recently departed Four Seasons Sonata is typical, can go about 500 miles on a tank of gas. Sure, compromises have been made (yes, the suspension tuning is somewhat harsh, but really, it's much better than the floaty, marshmallow-soft suspensions we used to find in Korean vehicles), but in this segment, every manufacturer makes compromises in order to appeal to the greatest number of buyers. The interior design is clean and well put together, and the ergonomics are good, although the seats could be more supportive. There are lots of standard features, and even with the navigation option, this car comes in at less than $30,000.
Still, with new versions of the Fusion and Accord coming for 2013, Hyundai is going to have to stay at the top of the game to continue to compete well in this segment.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I've never quite warmed up completely to the Sonata's styling but in Limited guise it's hard to resist. The dark chrome accents give the car a seriously upscale look that belies its sub-$30,000 price tag. Inside, it's just as attractive. I'm not sure I could commit to purchasing my Sonata with the wine leather that's in this car but its nice to see a color this wild in a Korean car. As always, fit and finish are excellent and the cabin has spot-on ergonomics. I still find it difficult to find a completely comfortable seating position but if the consensus after a year with our Four Season's Sonata is accurate, most people won't have the same problem.
Jennifer Misaros,Managing Editor, Digital Platforms