Saturday, March 24, 2018


When it comes to midsize affordable, family friendly sedans, Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord have been the traditional sales leaders in the U.S. for years, but they aren’t the only good choices in this shrinking segment.

In fact, they’re not even the only good one from an Asian automaker.

The Hyundai Sonata, made in the South Korean company’s assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama, combines comfort and convenience in a vehicle with sharp, eye-catching styling.

Working in Hyundai’s California Design Studio, which was opened in Fountain Valley in 1990 and moved to its present site in Irvine in 2003, designers gave the Sonata a more refined look and larger cabin to move it into its seventh generation in 2015, and they have continued their tinkering with several updates for  2018.

They gave the exterior a new grille and more aggressive look overall, restyled the inside, updated the suspension, and made blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert standard on all the trims, a nice touch when the usual practice is to make the bare bones model in the lineup just that. 

Three different 4-cylinder engines are offered in the seven trim levels with the 2.4-liter serving as the standard power source. It is rated at 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, enough for a confident performance for everyday chores.

It is mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Also available are 2.0T models with a turbocharged 2.0-liter that ups the ante to 245 hp and 260 lb.-ft. and gets a new 8-speed transmission. Eco trim gets a turbo 1.6-liter paired with a 7-speed dual clutch transmission that acts like an automatic for the best fuel economy of the group (28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 mpg highway), though the 2.4L Limited isn’t much thirstier with numbers of 25/35.

My time was spent in the Limited trim with the 2.4L engine. It carries a starting MSRP of $27,400 over the base model’s $22,050, but your reward is a long laundry list of standard equipment and other features available for no charge.

These include safety technology like the blind-spot warning and cross traffic alert system cited earlier as well as headlights with what Hyundai calls Dynamic Bending Light to illuminate the path in the direction you are turning. Government crash ratings are 5-star across the board with rollover risk rated at 4 stars.

Among other items on the list the Limited’s standard or no-charge equipment are 17-inch alloy wheels, power sunroof, push-button start, heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators, hands-free trunk with auto open, LED headlights and taillights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual automatic climate control, 7-inch color touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, three years of Blue Link services, and heated and ventilated front seats.

Going for an optional Ultimate Package adds navigation with a 8-inch screen, automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection (an Uber self-driving test model could have used that recently), lane-keep assist, automatic high beam assist, an Infinity premium audio system, rear parking sensors, and more for an extra $2,900.

With $885 for destination and delivery, that runs the total for the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited to $31,310, which is near the bottom of the top offerings in its class.

What I liked about the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited: A lot, really. Legroom is generous (45.5 inches in the front, 35.6 in the back), and trunk space (16.3 cubic feet) rivals some full-size sedans. The Sonata is big enough that the government (EPA) actually includes it in its list of “large cars” when comparing fuel economy.

The technology is very user-friendly (I love the small knobs for adjusting audio and larger ones for climate control temperature), and the optional 8-inch screen for navigation included in the Ultimate Package makes it easy on the eyes. The interior has a premium feel about it, and the touchscreen is nicely integrated into the flow of the dash. Plus I just like the way it looks.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited: I would like to drive it with the 2.0L turbo just to see the difference in performance. The standard engine is far from sluggish, though, and I never really felt I was lacking power. I would just like to see what more power would give it.

Would I buy the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited? Unequivocally, yes. It’s ironic that as the overall quality of affordable sedans continues to improve, the number of people buying them continues to decrease. Sales of midsize cars in 2017 were down just over 16 percent compared to 2016.

Only the Camry showed a gain while the Sonata was with all the others with a decline of 33.9 percent, ranking behind sales numbers for the Santa Fe SUV for the first time in the Hyundai stable. Frankly, it deserves a better fate, but buyers have an undeniable infatuation with SUVs/crossovers. Maybe the Sonata will help buck the trend.

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