With the dominating presence of trucks and recreational vehicles, a pleasant, efficient drive in a fair-priced sedan is still appealing. The 2020 Hyundai Sonata comes to mind.
Chasing the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, the segment sales leaders for years, the Sonata begins its eighth generation. It’s a much-changed midsize sedan inside and outside. The South Korean manufacturer’s marketing slogan for the new vehicle is “Sensuous Sportiness.” Sportiness works; sensuous is a stretch.
The Sonata’s exterior has lost its conservatism for a modern fastback look. The driving lights now extend to the hood and taillamps are c-shaped and wide. Another staid midsize sedan it’s not. Hyundai has done all that’s possible to remove that long-standing assumption.
Hyundai’s redesign interior shouts simplicity. It’s straightforward with simple lines. Most notably are the larger (10.3-inch) center screen and (12.3-inch) digital cluster.
A Sport trim has been dropped, leaving the new Sonata available on SE, SEL, SEL Plus and Limited trims. Starting prices range from $23,400 to $33,300. All trims have a $930 delivery, which places the top-line vehicle at $34,365, with the addition of $135 for carpet floor mats.
The average price of a new car in the United States in 2019 was $36,718, according to Kelley Blue Book, the vehicle valuation and automotive research company in Irvine. As such, while setting the highest-priced Sonata about $2,500 less than the average new car, Hyundai could initiate a marketing campaign with a less gimmicky tagline. Its new midsized sedan is the best car for the money in the industry.
The SE and SEL trims feature 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engines with 191 horsepower. The SEL Plus and Limited trims are equipped with 1.6-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engines with 180 horsepower and slightly higher torques.
Eight-speed automatic transmissions are standard, with paddle shifters included in SEL Plus and Limited trims. Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive push buttons replace a traditional shift lever. The system isn’t for everyone, but it’s convenient and opens up the console area.
The Sonata’s value is largely two-fold. While grouped in lower trims in option packages,
the Limited trims standard equipment list is a novella. Leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system, and a Panoramic sunroof give the Sonata upscale traits. A 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster, wireless charging and Hyundai Digital Key (a Bluetooth-enabled remote function control) are part of the strong technology features list.
Acceleration isn’t at the top of the segment, but 7.3 seconds for the 0-to-60 miles per hour standard is satisfactory. The horsepower-torque combination give the Sonata its sporty feel and sedan moves along with all that should be expected. Estimated gas mileages on the top-line Limited are 27 miles per gallon in city driving, 36 mpg on the highway.
The new Sonata offers a quiet, comfortable ride. Overall vision is good, and like many sedans, seating is strong for four adult occupants but tight for five. The 16-cubic-foot trunk is sizable among midsize sedans.
Hyundai and sister brand Kia are still not on the buying radar of some consumers, and it remains a mystery. With Mitsubishi, the two South Korean manufacturers’ 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, are the industry’s best.
While the Accord, Camry and Altima remain the long-standing better sellers, the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Kia Optima also outsold the Sonata in 2019. With the exception of Altima, the best-selling sedans all lost sales ground to lightweight truck and SUVs. Sonata sales were down nearly 17 percent.
Hyundai reacted with the bold new Sonata. It may never infiltrate the top-three top sellers in the segment, it’s the frontrunner for best value.
Article Last Updated: February 3, 2024.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.