First Drive: 2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
Mid-cycle refresh brings more aggressive styling and a sportier drive
SAN DIEGO, California — Compared to its predecessor, the new-for-2014 seventh-generation Sonata was marked as a course correction in terms of styling. The sixth-generation Sonata, though successful in the United States, wasn't the sales hit Hyundai hoped it would be in its native South Korea. Thus, the midsize sedan received toned-down styling with more-rounded edges and a more approachable façade. The goal was to attract both American and South Korean buyers alike. Despite the effort, sales still dipped and Hyundai's North American design department was given the green light to thoroughly refresh the bland sheet metal.
Chris Chapman, lead designer of Hyundai's California Design Studio, and his team executed a much more significant revision than is typical for a mid-cycle update. The 2018 Hyundai Sonata has a brand new front and rear fascia, a new hood, new headlights and taillights (both LED), new side skirts, and new wheels. Overall, the Sonata's design is more more angular and eye-catching than before — and than that of many other midsize sedan offerings.
Beneath the new sheet metal, Hyundai offers two engines and two hybrid variants — a conventional one and a plug-in. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four good for 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Optional is a 2.0-liter turbo-four good for 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic comes with the naturally aspirated unit, while the turbo receives an eight-speed automatic.
The turbo-four powered the car we sampled on the winding, sun-drenched, and flame-engulfed hills of San Diego. Developed in-house by Hyundai, the new eight-speed is said to make the turbo-four slightly more fuel-efficient while offering better thrust off the line, something that was immediately felt when pressing your right foot into the foot well with vigor. Much of the extra efficiency and smoother operation is down to the multi-plate torque converter and improved dual ball bearing design in the transmission's roller contact area, as well as optimized oil pump capacity.
While it isn't the superb dual-clutch found in one of Hyundai's newest sport-tuned offerings, the Elantra Sport, the Sonata's new auto feels just as lightning fast blipping through the gears — and you're never left waiting for the gear you've selected if you choose to shift it yourself. Left to its own devices in Normal mode, the gearbox never hangs in the ether, sitting at the top of the tachometer. Shifts are crisp, to the point, and never harsh.
Among the golden waves of dried-out scrub brush, the 2018 Sonata feels more upscale than its frugal starting price of $22,935 would have you believe. Hyundai improved the ride and handling by increasing the steering gearbox's torsion bar stiffness by 0.3 newton meters, reducing steering delay and improving communication through the wheel. Engineers also increased the thickness of the rear trailing arms and swapped from steel bushings to aluminum ones. The connection to the uneven tarmac never dulls, but neither does it become too harsh, telegraphing just the right amount of feedback through the D-shaped steering wheel the 2.0T ($28,485) is equipped with.
Measuring 191.1 inches in length and 73.4 inches in width, the new 2018 Sonata isn't exactly what you'd call a small sedan. You'd expect that the car would wallow from one corner to the other. Yet, it never feels as boat-like as its predecessor (or competitors) and makes quick work of the circuitous patches of pavement above Julian, California. Running the big sedan up the snaking pieces of blacktop feels more akin to winding out the Elantra Sport.
After driving both the 2.0T and Limited during our brief introduction atop the mountains that run along San Diego, we noticed that at speeds between 65 and 75 mph, a sound resembling whistling or rushing air emits from the seal near the top of the car's B-pillar, right behind the driver's head. It's not intrusive enough to make one reconsider the Sonata, but it's audible. When we brought this to their attentin, Hyundai's engineers vowed to see if a fix was possible. That though, is the only real criticism.
In all, 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a great mid-size sedan. The fresh styling breathes new life into the car, which is economical in both its starting price and fuel consumption (23 city/32 highway), handles quite wonderfully, and features the technology and safety system suite that so many new buyers are looking for — in particular, technophiles will appreciate the connectivity between the Sonata's Blue Link connected car system and Amazon Alexa or Google Home, as well as your phone or smart watch, which allows owners to remotely lock and unlock the car, start the engine, tap the horn, flash the headlights, obtain emergency services, program the navigation, schedule maintenance, and see the Sonata's monthly health report; its available on all 2018 models and is free for the first three years of the subscription-based service ($99-a-year after).
Like the Elantra Sport, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a home run for the sedan world. But with many buyers increasingly more tempted by compact crossovers, time will tell how Korea's latest midsize offering will fare given current market trends, which include fiercer sedan competition in the form of all-new versions of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Specifications
|ON SALE||Summer 2017|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/245 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,350-4,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||23/32 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||191.1 x 73.4 x 58.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||8 sec|