Hyundai is in a great place with their strongest selling year ever on the books, more and more industry awards and recognition, and skyrocketing J.D. Power’s numbers; this really is a company on fire. On the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Initial Quality Study, Hyundai has ranked 4th behind Porsche, Jaguar, and Lexus. That, in essence, makes it number 1 among non-luxury brands, just above Toyota. They are also 4th in sales satisfaction and ranked number one, tied with Ford, for 2014 Customer Loyalty. I personally like singing the praises of Hyundai being a twice over owner of Hyundai vehicles. I’ve owned a 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe, as some readers may already know, and I currently own a 2013 Sonata, so forgive me if I sound a little like a fanboy more than an objective automotive reviewer here at first because I am an owner and a fan and think readers deserve to know that going into this review.
Although things are going great for Hyundai now doesn’t mean they can do no wrong. When you start messing with a product that makes up over a quarter of your overall sales, you really need to focus and get it right. From 2011 to 2014, the current generation Sonata has accumulated numerous awards including Car and Driver’s Ten-Best, International Car of the Year, Kelley Blue Book Top 10 Family Car, and so on. It’s also been one of the staple brands within the company and was the first Hyundai product to hit over 200,000 units sold in a single year. Now they’re putting out a whole new generation with new looks inside and out and all new features and targets, but are all these changes going to make the car a better offering from Hyundai or could it backfire and end up being a losing strategy?
Let’s first look at the new design. The 2015 Sonata takes on Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 which is supposed to project inner strength and confidence. When comparing the current generation side by side with the new one, you’ll notice some radical differences in styling. The most distinctive change is the bullet-like front nose transformed in favor of a more temporary and ordinary looking one. It definitely doesn’t look bad, but something inside me misses the craziness and boldness of the current generation. The new one, on the other hand, is much more elegant integrating modern LED headlamps and foglamp designs. The new hexagonal grille is sharp and sophisticated looking, although from different angles, the car can look almost Subaru or even Volvo like as the sharp lines on the hood meet up with the top of the grille.
You actually get two distinctive front ends depending on what trim you choose. The Sport trim has its own distinctive look with wider openings and larger faux-vents on either side. It’s actually difficult to tell which is which if they are not sitting side by side, though. I would have actually liked to see an even larger separation between the styles.
Around the side and the rear, you see a lot more similarities to the current generation vehicle but the back end has been touched up looking more elegant and incorporating nicer LED taillamps. Also offered is a rear diffuser with quad dual-exhaust tips which looks really clean and upscale.
Another area of major change is the interior. When the 2011 model came out, the interior was not just a step above the model preceding it, but really a step above what most of the completion had been doing. Now in 2014 and moving into 2015, a lot of the competition has caught up or even surpassed that Hyundai. Luckily, this was a huge focus for the 2015 model year.
The cockpit is completely new and you can tell with the high attention to detail in everything from quality of materials to stitching on the instrument cluster. The new leather seats are fantastic and incredibly comfortable; trust me, we spent a lot of time sitting in the car as we’ll get into soon. The center stack layout is much improved over the current design with a larger surface area and just a simpler and better thought out overall design. Although it’s all new, reaching for a button or finding a control while driving seemed almost second nature.
The overall vehicle size has grown as well. It is now both wider and longer, which translates into class-leading interior room. It’s so much larger that the EPA actually classifies the interior as a Large Car instead of Midsize. This was evident as we spent quality time in the rear seats as well as the front.
The ride and steering feel in this car is amazing. I actually toiled over using the word amazing here, but in contrast to the current generation and even other competitors in this market, the word amazing just kept creeping back into my head. The front suspension is basically the same, although they revised the geometry and improved bearing stiffness. The rear suspension, though, was completely upgraded with a dual-lower-arm to improve stability, especially at high speeds. Next, they revamped the computers for steering feel, increasing stiffness and rigidity. If you opt for the Sport trim, Hyundai decided to drop the current steering rack all together in favor of the one in the Genesis sedan. Now it’s not a sports car, and the stiffness is still just simulated so you don’t get great road feel, but as far as midsize sedans go, it’s pretty stellar.
You also now get 3-driving modes, much like the Elantra and Santa Fe already provide, which lets you choose between Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. All I can really say about these is they seem to be different enough that they actually are distinguishable, unlike others that offer similar features. The eco mode deadens the throttle response and nets better fuel efficiency. The Sport mode quickens throttle response and increases steering feel and the normal mode falls somewhere in between.
There are 3-engine combinations you can choose from and 6-trim configurations. From a company known for a philosophy of the less options the better, you can now choose from a SE, Sport, Limited, Sport 2.0t, Sport 2.0t Ultimate, and Eco trims. Engine options include the base 2.4-liter GDI 4-cylinder engine with its 6-speed automatic transmission. Although it’s the base engine, it’s a very good option offering 185-horsepower and 178-lbs-ft of torque. If you get a Sport model or are just looking for more power, you can also get the 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo GDI hooked up to a 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic and paddle shifters. This engine offers up 245-hp and 260-lbs-ft of torque. These numbers are actually slightly decreased from last year, but offer more immediate power with lower torque curves. This means that perceived power is actually greater as normal driving isn’t done at high revs. You can also get an Eco model carrying the 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbo GDI Eco engine and a 7-speed EcoShift dual-clutch transmission. I didn’t have the chance to jump behind the wheel of this vehicle, but I’m real interested in how this small engine handles in this larger car. The plus side is that you should be able to net a combined 32-mpg which is a 10% improvement over the 2.4-liter engine. At the moment, Hyundai isn’t offering the new Sonata in a Hybrid model, but they did acknowledge the fact that it is coming soon, probably next year.
There’s so much more we could touch on like 0.27 coefficient of drag, lowest in the market tying with the Ford Fusion. We should have talked more about the strides toward safety and being named a top safety pick. You now have rear parking sensors to help navigate your way into or out of parking spots. They have also integrated a lane-departure warning system to alert the driver when you’re veering out of your lane. You have a new feature called auto high-beam assist which will automatically detect oncoming traffic and turn off your high-beam lights. The tire pressure monitors are now individually monitored to give you a better visual of what’s going on with your tires. Another safety feature is a forward collision warning system to alert a driver and even apply brakes in the event the system thinks you’re about to have an accident. They have also implemented a hands free smart-trunk which opens the trunk if you stand still behind it for 3-seconds. One of my favorite new features on any vehicle is also now offered on the new Sonata, a smart cruise control with start/stop. This feature allows you to set your cruise speed and the system will spot cars in front of you, keep you at a specified distance and if the car in front of you slows down or even stops the system will slow you down or stop you as well.
Maybe we’ll come back and touch on all these new features in a follow up review, but we really want to get into some of the driving experiences we had during our trip. If you’re not following us on social media, well, you should be. If you are, you’ll know we took a trip out to Memphis, Tennessee to get behind the wheel of this car. We started off the day in an Urban Sunset (new orange paint color only offered on the Sport 2.0t trims) 2.0t Sonata with directions heading south. If you know your Tennessee geography, you’ll know you can’t go too far south without leaving the state, and that’s just what we did. We quickly moved from urban Memphis to farm land USA and crossed over the border into Northern Mississippi. We stayed to the west keeping close to the mighty Mississippi River south through Tunica and on down to Clarksdale. Heading down the highway, you’re looking at just over a 76-mile journey. Of course, we tried to take as many back roads as possible. Once in Clarksdale, we stopped off at a hole in the wall blues club for a quick bite to eat. This was a good chance to get some Mississippi style BBQ and listen to some live and authentic Blues music. It was also one of the first opportunities to reflect on the drive down and what everyone’s first impressions of the Sonata were. No surprise that most everyone was pretty impressed so far with the driving dynamics and overall comfort of the new Sonata, as was I. We also had some spirited debates and discussion on the cars new looks and front-end features.
Now it’s time to hop back in and head north, this time on a more eastern track toward Arkabutla Lake. This time we’re in a Syphony Silver Limited trim with the 2.4-liter engine. We purposely kept this car out of sport mode and started to really try and get a feel for its everyday driving capabilities. The rough Mississippi roads came and went almost unnoticed as we sailed through the countryside. Even in normal mode, the handling of this car around bends and turns felt great even at full speed.
We finally made it back into Memphis and started to reflect on the time we spent in the car and the vast list of features we loved and others we didn’t get time to even play with. Little did I know at the time, but the next day would bring an opportunity to spend even more time with the new Sonata as my travel plans began to fall apart.
That next morning, while headed to the airport ready to be back home, back in Texas, I get a notification showing the flight to DFW was canceled. Not a good thing. I had already looked up the mileage before coming to Memphis, so I already know that the drive one way is 452-miles and just about 7-hours worth of driving. I talked to the event organizers about renting a vehicle and just driving home as there was no way I was spending the night in an airport, plus many other flights other than mine to DFW had been canceled as well and there happened to be a few more folks from Dallas who were eager to get home. My luck started to turn when I found out that one of the cars in the event was headed to Dallas to be in the media fleet anyway. It was actually going to be driven there by someone who lives in Florida and he would have to catch a flight out of DFW to get home. Easy enough of a solution, all of us Dallas folks will pile in a new Sonata and make the journey through Arkansas back into Texas.
This trip afforded me, as I was the one that drove the whole way into Dallas, a lot more quality time with the vehicle. I was able to utilize more features including the radar guided cruise control which works wonders on a long trip like this. Even when we got into heavy rain passing through Little Rock, the system never missed a beat. I would lock the cruise in at a few miles over the speed limit, set the distance to maximum, and let the car do most of the work. The car was so comfortable to drive in this fashion that we just blew through the state with just a few quick stops. Even the journalist stuck in the back seats for the trip had no complaints about comfort or room.
So after our 2-day excursion and having the new Sonata in 4-different states, I really came to love this car. There is one thing, though, that we really haven’t touched on so I think it’s about time to look at the price of all these new features and specs associated with the 2015 Sonata. The base MSRP will get you in a Sonata starting at $21,150. That’s actually $300 less than the base offering from the current generation. Yes, that’s right, more options, more standard features, yet less expensive. It’s not just the base trim either; every iteration has more to offer for less money. So I’ll circle back around and remind you how much I really enjoyed this car. If you’re looking for a great midsized car for you or a full family, you really can’t be the value of, safety, or warranty of the Sonata. You may look at vehicles like the Ford Fusion, which is a great car as well, but for a higher price and shorter warranty. You can look at the Camry which has made some great updates, but just doesn’t have the feel and solidness of the new Sonata. We also enjoyed our time in the new Accord, but again, there’s no contest when compared to the 2015 Sonata. I really can’t think of a non-luxury offering in the midsize market that I would prefer over this great new vehicle from Hyundai.