• An exterior styling exercise as much as an all-new car
  • Built on Hyundai's all-new, model-shared platform architecture
  • Interesting tech features available
  • Pricing still TBD, but the norm in midsize sedans is about $24,500 (including destination)
  • Arriving later this year as a 2020 model

 

We love a sneak preview as much as anybody. So when Hyundai invited KBB members of the World Car of the Year jury over to Korea to shake hands with the all-new 2020 Hyundai Sonata prior to its North American introduction at the New York auto show, we were all-in. While none of the Sonatas we drove in and around Seoul and Hyundai's Namyang R&D Center were 100% U.S.-bound iterations, they were close enough for us to draw some hopes and make a number of conclusions about Hyundai's new-generation midsize sedan.

Riding on an all-new platform

Arriving in showrooms later this year, the 2020 Sonata rides on a new platform to be shared by several cars and SUVs coming from Hyundai and Kia (that means all-wheel drive could be an eventual possibility). A bit longer, lower and wider than the Sonata it replaces, the new car's platform allows it to be better at absorbing collision energies and preventing impact structures from entering the cabin.

Another plus for the Sonata's new platform architecture lies in its ability to give exterior designers more latitude. The midsize sedan's coupe-like profile features a longer wheelbase, a lower stance, and it pushes the front wheel out for a lower front overhang. It's the shape, however, that will carry much of your final opinions, pro and con. Neutrality is neither expected, nor accepted.

On our group test drive, we took note each time the new Sonata's LED headlights and daytime running lights appeared in our mirrors. It's a good, strong face with legit presence. Likewise, when we were following, the LED taillights wrapping around the trunk lid caught our eye more than once. In profile, Hyundai's new 5-passenger sedan consciously bends light, shadow and reflections. The exterior visual effect ends well shy of splashy, and holds together as you walk around the car.

Other notable exterior character moments range from controversial to functionally elegant. Our Instagram post about the one-inch-wide chrome trim strip that runs from the headlights, up the hood, and completely around the window frame drew a vocal mix of comments ranging from love to loathing. The six aero-fins on top of the taillight lenses subtly strengthen the Sonata's exterior character, but also contribute to its 0.27 coefficient of drag – a decent number for a midsize sedan.

Korean powertrain, no / U.S. powertrains, yes

Except for two quick laps around the Namyang test track, all of our Sonata driving was done in Korean-spec cars powered by a naturally aspirated, glad-we-don't-get-it 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that is a Korea-only Sonata engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission. U.S.-spec Sonatas will see a new 2.5-liter four as the base choice (SE and SEL trim levels) and a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder as the top-end powerplant (SEL Plus and Touring models).

While the 2.5-liter generates more horsepower than the 1.6 turbo (191 vs. 180), the turbo specializes in torque (195 lb-ft peaking at a satisfyingly low rpm vs. the 181 lb-ft of the 2.5-liter) which is cranking power that allows for quicker acceleration and strong fuel economy. Both engines are paired to an electronic-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission.

Driving Impressions

What we learned from driving the newly-minted Korean Sonatas was that when the car comes to the U.S., it will need to bring down noise levels (we're not certain whether what we drove had the same levels of insulation and tire compounds that the U.S.-spec Sonatas will see). We definitely look forward to having more power to play with. On the upside, the car did a good job of keeping a variety of road surfaces at bay.

The new Sonata interior is driver-focused, with the center-mounted display screen canted purposefully toward the pilot. Though it rides an inch lower than the previous model, we never felt visually intimidated changing lanes or knowing what was around us, even in Seoul's heavy rush-hour traffic. Inside, adults will find comfort and good room in any seat in the house, though a little firmer seats would make more sense over long drives. Despite a high liftover, the sedan's squared-off trunk space looks ready to hold a mass of luggage. It's all a matter of personal taste, but I'd argue that the less contrast you choose in your Sonata interior, the more elegant your life will become.

For our two laps at Hyundai's Namyang test track -- one in the normal "comfort" driving mode and one with Sport mode selected -- we were a given 90% U.S.-ready vehicle with the turbocharged 1.6-liter. Within the Hyundai Group facility, the track is called "Biermann's Nürburgring" as an homage to the company's head of R&D, Albert Biermann, who once ran BMW's M division and most recently masterminded the Veloster N, Kelley Blue Book's 2019 Performance Car Best Buy Award winner. While some elements on the sedan, like the production grille (spotter's tip: There are different grilles for each engine) and some final performance settings were not completed on our test car, it behaved itself evenly on the track's sweepers and tight corners, accelerated really well on the lone straight, shifted through gears with extra-smoothness, and slowed with right-now responsiveness from the brake pedal.

The setup seems ready for an even more powerful engine, if that's in the cards.

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Features and safety

At some level, just about every safety and convenience feature is available on the 2020 Hyundai Sonata. What comes standard even at the base level, however, is generous in anybody's order book. Convenience standouts include auto-on headlights, automatic high-beam assist, and the soon-to-be-standard-everywhere-except-luxury-cars Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Safety equipment nearly overflows, and while blind-spot monitoring still doesn't make the standard features list, smart cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, and lane-following assist definitely do.

Two features only available on the top Touring trim level deserve to be praised. The first is called "Blind-spot View Monitor," and if you're familiar with Honda's LaneWatch, this setup brings that system up two notches. While the Honda system only shows you video of your right-hand blind spot on a separate center-stack display, the Hyundai cameras will show your left- and right-side blind spot (depending on which turn signal you're using), and it shows them in place of the speedometer (left) and tachometer (right) on the instrument cluster. The system took no time to get used to and felt more natural than Honda's.

And then there's "Remote Smart Parking Assist" (RSPA), a system designed (it seems) for Southern California condo garages – we're talking narrow parking structures that even a gymnast couldn't climb out of. If you have RSPA, you can aim your Sonata into the tight space, then exit and stand clear. Next, using arrows on the Sonata key fob, you can forward your car into the tight space and shut it off. When the time comes for you to leave, you simply reverse the procedure and make peace of mind your servant.

In conclusion

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata has a tough row to hoe: Beating the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry at their specialties – particularly in a world where midsize sedans don't appear to be a growth market. Even though the word "value" is a rare sight in Hyundai literature and speeches these days, the company still gives you a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. These days, however, that's not enough, and Hyundai's historic features-for-dollar-gap advantage is closing.

On the other side of the equation, though, Hyundai's resale-value graph looks healthier every year. Pricing is still a long ways away, but if this new Hyundai Sonata continues to keep its cost below primary competitors, comparison tests and car shopping could get very interesting by the end of the year.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Photos

 

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