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Hyundai Sonata, 2006: The Weekly Driver Car Review

The television commercial touting the 2006 Hyundai Sonata matches it confidently against the Honda Accord. That’s a brash move, considering the immense popularity of the country’s best-selling midsize car. But after the driving the redesigned Hyundai for a week, the Sonata represents itself well.

The Accord and other well-established vehicles in the class — Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu — have long histories and well-proven resale values.

Yet, the Sonata is worthy of a careful look, particularly considering its price point, manufacturer’s warranty, standard features and its attractive new interior and exterior designs.

My weekly drive was the top-of-the line LX V6 model. The Sonata is also available in a 4-cylinder model with both automatic and manual transmission options. But with its bigger engine, the 3.3-liter 235-horsepower edition, the Sonata is only available in an automatic, and it’s quite impressive. The five-speed automatic is surprisingly quick and powerful. It zips around slow-moving vehicles and accelerates with confidence while negotiating freeway entrances or powering up to interstate cruising mode.

The automatic transmission Sonata has also been approved by Hyundai for flat-towing.

The Sonata maneuvers well and its steering and handling capabilities, while not exemplary, are certainly above average, particularly since 17-inch wheels are included. While not extraordinarily quiet, the new Sonata has improved, lower levels of engine noise and wind rush from previous editions.

Another reason to consider the Sonata is its laundry list of standard features: Power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, AM/FM MP3 audio system, leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless entry with alarm, fog lights, and automatic temperature control, among other items.

Further, the newly designed Sonata is exceedingly comfortable. Its nicely appointment interior is basic, but spacious. And like the car’s increased horsepower  and improved new design, the interior room has been improved from the 2005 edition with expanded room in several areas. The trunk, for example, is cavernous, with additional space available for skis or other long cargo with split back seats are down.

Another nice interior design touch is the teardrop shaped dials on the instrumentation panel. It gives Sonata a touch of elegance — which is hardly expected in a vehicle with an out-the-door price of under $23,000.

The Sonata exterior design update also gives the car a refined look. Its lines are smartly contoured, resulting in a presence on the road that’s again more dignified than expected from its price category.

And there’s one last new item about the much-improved Sonata. Hyundai will build only the V6 models in the South Korean manufacturer’s new and first U.S. plant in Alabama. The U.S.-based Hyundai plant is also the manufacturing location for the all-new Santa Fe, the brand’s SUV, which is scheduled for debut in the fall of 2006.

Honda will likely remain the leader of the midsize class and with of plenty of good reasons. But it’s likely the Honda brethren has taken a look at the Hyundai Sonata. It’s a worthy opponent to the longtime midsize class ruler.

Safety Features — Dual front, front-seat mounted side impact and roof-mounted side curtain airbags. Antilock brakes.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 20 (city), 30 (highway).

Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 5 years/50,000 miles; Powertrain 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/100,000 miles; Roadside assistance, 5 years/unlimited mileage.

Base Price — $22,895.00.

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