2015 Hyundai Sonata First Review: Going in a new direction
The midsize sedan segment is chock-full of best-selling industry stalwarts like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima. That's why it was really important that Hyundai nails the latest take on its entrant into the segment, the Sonata. No pressure. Good thing for Hyundai is that it did just that. The 2015 Sonata has been sharpened up from a style perspective both inside and out and, after getting some lengthy time behind the wheel, makes you feel no worse for the wear.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata is all-new for the latest model year and comes in five different trims including the base model SE ($21,960), Sport ($23,985), Eco ($24,085), Limited ($27,335), and Sport 2.0T ($29,385). All prices include an $810 destination and handling fee. The Sonata Hybrid will also get the updated styling cues but that won't happen until the 2016 model rolls out next year. There are three different engine choices including a 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder found in the SE, Sport and Limited while a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder engine is found in the Sport 2.0T. A new 1.6-liter inline-4 cylinder powers the Sonata Eco. The 2.4-liter engine is good for 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque while the 2.0-liter turbo is rated at 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Power figures for the 1.6-liter engine check in at 177 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. With the exception of the Eco trim, all Sonatas are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Eco model gets a 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission.
Fuel figures for the 2.4-liter engine earned an EPA rating of 25 city/37 highway/29 combined mpg while the 2.0-liter turbo turns in 23 city/32 highway/26 combined mpg. The 1.6-liter engine hasn't been EPA certified yet. Hyundai expects that the 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder Sport model will be the most popular variant. Now in its seventh-generation, the Sonata is still competing in the toughest segment but it's taking a different route than before. With this latest generation, the Sonata is attempting to square up buyers who want a little more luxury without breaking the bank. On that, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata delivers.
Made in America (and Korea)
Sonata production in Montgomery, Alabama, began back in 2005 and currently, in its third generation being built there, produces more than 1,000 units a day and over 300,000 units annually. The 2015 Hyundai Sonata will also be built at the automaker's production facility in South Korea but the Montgomery facility is expected to get the lion's share of production. We had a chance to tour the facility in Alabama before driving off the line in a 2015 Sonata. It was only 10 o'clock in the morning at the time our tour concluded and we were already witness to Sonata No. 223 rolling off the line that day.
We took off from the production facility in a Sonata Sport 2.0T and headed into the Alabama countryside. Taking off from a standstill was done so with ease courtesy of the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Before we knew it, we were already cruising at highway speeds and the facility got shrunk in our rearview mirror. The top-tier Sport 2.0T model gets a different steering wheel than the rest of the Sonata lineup and we found it to be the more aesthetically pleasing than the other offering. Steering on the Sport 2.0T model has improved due in part to a new dual-pinion rack and feels more responsive because of it. We also really liked the quad-exhaust pipes on this trim as that's not something you'll see elsewhere in the segment. Before added options, this example checked in at $28,575 but after tacking on $4,950 worth of optional features including a panoramic sunroof, Lane Departure Warning, and an 8-inch touchscreen display, the final asking price climbed to $34,335. That includes the $810 destination and handling fee.
Competition is stiff for the 2015 Hyundai Sonata and features the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevrolet Malibu. Hyundai also sees the Volkswagen Passat, Chrysler 200, and even its corporate sibling, the Kia Optima, as secondary competition. Many of the aforementioned models have been redesigned for 2014 or 2015 making things even harder. Hyundai is confident the Sonata will find its way though describing its midsize sedan as "an athlete in a well-tailored suit." Hyundai designers watched athletes walk down the red carpet of various award shows for inspiration as to what they hoped to emulate.
The usual Sonata styling cues like the saber line and hexagonal wing grille make an appearance on the latest Sonata giving it a low, athletic stance. We think the Sonata looks best from behind thanks to redesigned taillights and the lower fascia. Inside, the instrument panel flows inwards from the doors and draws your attention to a redesigned center stack. The optional 8-inch touchscreen with navigation is easy on the eyes and delivered directions in a clear, concise manner. Climate controls are straightforward and within arm's reach while the media controls sit above it and are also displayed in a simple manner.
We have to give credit to Hyundai for taking a path less traveled. Instead of going straight at the Accord and Camry (as other have tried in the past -and failed miserably in doing so), it will try to entice prospective buyers with loads of features and even a touch of luxury at an affordable price. We think this is an interesting strategy, one that won't knock off the segment heavyweights, but it'll be successful in its own right. With that, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata deserves a long look.
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