If you read any industry pubs devoted to autos, you know sales of conventional sedans are in a freefall, with the now ubiquitous – make that ‘way ubiquitous’ – crossover picking up the sales slack. At Honda the 4-door Accord is passing its sales crown to the CR-V crossover, while at Toyota the acclaimed Camry is about to be eclipsed by the company’s RAV4. And at Nissan, the Altima is now playing second fiddle to the Rogue family of crossovers. For fans of the sedan, there remain a few bright spots on the showroom, and while Hyundai’s Sonata is rarely described as a ‘bright spot’, with the 2018 redesign its glow has rarely been more luminous.
We’ll regard the 2018 Sonata as an aggressive refresh of an existing design, rather than a wholly ‘clean sheet’ approach. But the design team would seem to differ. “It’s all about making an impact,” said Chris Chapman, chief designer, Hyundai North American Design Center. “We wanted to deliver an exciting expressive car to our customers and show the world how passionate Hyundai is about design and craftsmanship. The objective was to make an impact, this design provides the visual excitement and unique identity our customers associate with Sonata.”
We’ll applaud Hyundai’s obvious restraint, clearly – and cleanly – avoiding some of the gimmickry that’s befallen various Honda, Toyota and Nissan models. But this still lacks the impact of the Sonata of seven years ago, when Hyundai – for the 2011 model year – took a totally new approach, with sculpted sheetmetal looking like little else on the market. We like the overall shape and the detailing that went into, well, the details of the 2018, but within its obvious restraint you’ll find little excitement.
We will give a shout out, however, to the Sport’s standard sunroof and attractive alloy wheels. The wheels, happily, haven’t been ‘Dubbed’, but in their 17-inch diameter provide a substantial footprint along with a comfortable, composed ride. With the Sport spec you won’t confuse this Sonata with something out of the Enterprise fleet, until – of course – you rent one.
Inside, the ‘don’t offend’ theme remains in place. Plastics are appropriate to the Sonata Sport’s $26K price point, and a notable step up from the Toyota C-HR, driven the previous week. The dash is informative and (relatively) intuitive, while the seats – featuring a leather bolster and cloth insert – are the almost perfect melding of comfort and support. Interior room is what you’d hope to find in a midsize sedan, with adequate leg, head and shoulder room front and rear. And finally, a shout out to the race-inspired steering and paddle shifters. Neither does for the Sport what a turbo would do, but you can’t fault Hyundai’s product team for giving both a try.
Under the Sonata hood Hyundai supplies a choice of 4-cylinder powertrains, including both 1.6 and 2.0 liter turbocharged fours, along with a base, normally aspirated 2.4 liter four. Ours was the 2.4 liter, and while aural excitement – or lack thereof – matches perfectly the Sonata’s subtly redrawn sheetmetal, there’s little to argue with the powertrain’s functionality. Perhaps it’s a tad coarse, but there’s nothing off-putting in either over-the-road performance or its 28 (combined) mpg estimate.
If the Hyundai had a headline, it would be the relatively high content (the list of standard features is endless) at a $26K price point. This, in this observer’s view, is crazy cheap, especially when you consider the preponderance of compact crossovers selling in the mid-$30s. With roughly 20% down, you can buy the Sonata with a monthly payment that – for a lot of folks – approximates a lease payment. But instead of leasing, after 60 months you own the car and still have five years of warranty remaining.
In an era of reduced expectations, it’s refreshing to walk into a new car showroom and find a vehicle that, at a modest price point, actually exceeds expectations. If looking at anything in a new vehicle and budgeting less than $30K, Hyundai’s Sonata is a song you can enjoy, long after the musicality of a new car has ended.