Review: The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Is a Class Act

A meaningful move toward mid-size distinctiveness.

MONTGOMERY, Alabama—No Hyundai model is more responsible for the Korean brand's widespread consumer awareness and modern reputation than the Sonata. After America received the frankly pretty woeful second- through fourth-gen cars, the fifth-generation model was the first to be generally competitive. But that car's follow-up arrived with a thunderclap when it was introduced in the U.S. for the 2011 model year: It had adventurous styling, satisfying dynamics, and a value proposition that other makers struggled to match. So, it was a bit of a head-scratcher when the next Sonata launched with more timid styling and seemingly less setting it apart from the crowded family-sedan field. But the glam is back with the all-new 2020 Sonata, which enters the market also packing more technology than ever before.

The 2020 Sonata features with a more rakish profile, a wide grille reminiscent of Aston Martin's, and advanced LED lighting on both ends. Although it's wider and longer than the outgoing model, the hood and roof are lower than before. The entry-level engine, available on SE and SEL trims, is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is projected to be improved from a combined 29 mpg to 33 mpg. We didn't get the opportunity to test this one, as it won't go into production for another month or so. Instead we spent time behind the wheel of Sonata equipped with the uplevel turbocharged 1.6-liter liter four-cylinder. Fitted to SEL Plus and Limited models, it makes 181 horsepower—you'll note that's less than the 2.5—and 191 lb-ft of torque, the latter over a span of 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. A hybrid model has been promised for next spring, while those after more power (or fans of the V-6 Toyota Camry or 2.0-liter turbocharged Honda Accord and Nissan Altima) should wait for the N Line model with more than 275 horsepower. That will bring the available powertrains to four, and Hyundai tells us the platform is capable of supporting all-wheel drive, as well.

The 1.6T impressed on the long, winding Alabama country roads we explored during our drive. Working through an eight-speed automatic transmission, it feels a bit brisker than its output might suggest. Credit the turbocharger, which ensures peak torque is almost always available. Transmission shifts are slick as can be, and the 'box was decisive in selecting ratios whenever we called for downshifts by matting the throttle or using the weighty, expensive-feeling chromed metal paddle shifters fitted to the Limited.

Like most family sedans, the Sonata prioritizes comfort over outright sportiness, but the strut front and multilink rear suspension is tuned well. The nicely damped ride is compliant over rough surfaces but also taut enough to keep things interesting on a twisting stretch of tarmac. In addition, there are several chassis-mode settings, including Normal, Sport, Smart, and Custom, and they generally affect what you would expect them to. They also noticeably affect the Sonata's character, with Sport, for example, maintaining gears for maximum power at a given rpm and downshifting with authority.

Inside, the Sonata shines, with what appears to be one of the best cabins in the segment—at least in our top-trim test vehicle. Soft-touch surfaces abound, and the interior is filled with clever touches and human-centric design. To wit: Instead of having door handles that are only big enough for a single hand, the grip point is long so any length arm can comfortably close the door. The Sonata includes a robust suite of technologies as standard, including forward collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-follow assist, driver-attention warning, and automatic high beams. Higher trims add goodies like automatic lane centering, parking collision avoidance assist, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance.

We sampled most every nonemergency feature on that list and their integration seems to be elegant and unobtrusive overall. While many semi-autonomous and driver-assist functions can feel heavy-handed, the Sonata's work for the most part in the background, thankfully. Another welcome piece of tech was the nicely executed head-up display, which can show navigation directions, driver-assist functions, and road data. It works with the optional 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster to offer the driver tons of easily read data at a glance.

The 2020 Sonata also offers some really cool party tricks. For instance, once remotely started, an unoccupied car can be made to pull out of a parking spot via a button on the fob—handy when that minivan parked a little too close to the driver's door. The Sonata also has the capability to do it in reverse: A still-running car can be backed into a spot, and then remotely turned off.

An available mobile app allows an Android-equipped smartphone to function as a key, without the actual fob present. The phone can lock and unlock the car via Bluetooth, and the sweet parking function can also be controlled via the app interface. Users can also share their car with other app users and grant them permission to lock and unlock the car only (say, if a child needs to retrieve something they forgot) or to enable up to a year's permission for another app user to drive the car.

The phone's NFC chip, if touched against the right contact point on the exterior door handle—Hyundai requires the object be physically touching for additional security—can also send a signal to the car to unlock or lock. The car can then be started by putting the phone on the wireless charging pad, which doubles as an NFC reader to verify the phone.

At least in Limited guise, the Sonata offers a tantalizing package ready to reward those who refuse to drive SUVs, as well as tempt those who might be convinced to come back to the sedan fold. Pricing isn't available yet—expect it just ahead of the car's December on-sale date—but we figure it will be highly competitive against the other cars in the segment. After all, the new 2020 Sonata has a reputation to burnish.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited Specifications
ON SALE December 2019
PRICES $34,000 (est)
ENGINE 1.6L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4; 180 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD Sedan
EPA MILEAGE 27/36 mpg (city/hwy, est)
L x W x H 192.9 x 73.2 x 56.9 in
WHEELBASE 111.8 in
WEIGHT 3,400 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 6.8 sec (est)
TOP SPEED: 135 mph (mfr)
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