A real looker!
One look at the new Hyundai Sonata and it is obvious that Hyundai has decided to stop following and start leading. Till recently the Korean car company had been content to churn out cars that stuck to the brief set by the established majors. But Hyundai and its sister Kia seem to be striking out on their own path now.
The new Sonata isn't just a new car - it spells Hyundai's new approach to catering to the mid-size market. Not just filling the slot, but giving a little more value within the price bracket.
Consider this: the new Sonata looks like a proper luxury car on the outside, and it comes pretty close to it inside too. The exterior design, says Hyundai, is the result of four years of design development whose inspiration comes from nature. They call it ‘fluidic sculpture', and talk about injecting ‘emotional quality' into their designs.
Suffice to say the car is a looker. Even the petrol pump assistant, pretty jaded where cars are concerned, looked at it long and admiringly, before asking me the price. When I told him, instead of the usual wistful look that follows, his eyes looked at it speculatively, obviously calculating the EMIs he would have to pay, if and when.
That says a lot for the kind of appeal the Sonata has: fancy, yet affordable.
Smart on the inside
The impression created by the exterior is not let down when you climb inside either. It is quite a roomy car and can almost be classified a large car instead of a mid-sized saloon. The car is around 23mm longer than the previous edition. Consequently, it has the largest interior space compared to other cars in its segment - 3,398 litres. That means a spacious back seat, generous front and rear headroom and the feeling that the 2011 Sonata is way above its price range. Even the boot is huge, with 464 litres of cargo capacity.
The cabin shows an attention to detail that is only expected in higher-priced cars. The gauges are well detailed, the climate controls discreetly receded and instrument cluster well laid out. The layout is ergonomic with some details straight out of a luxury car. Most of the plastic is soft-touch except for some isolated parts. But it seems criminal to nitpick on such details when you consider the price.
The cabin is not only large but quiet, again not something you would expect in this range. The seats are very comfortable, a major consideration when you drive long distances. The driver's seat is height-adjustable and heated. All seats give sufficient lumbar support. We took it out on long drives - to Dibba as well as Jebel Hafeet, and were none the worse for it.
The audio system, which can be upgraded with a 360-watt Dimension audio package that offers subwoofers, something called a variable equalizer and a six-disc CD changer sounds pretty good. The rear AC vents keep the passengers cool.
The beauty is in the details
Most of the functions are power-operated, there's a Bluetooth speaker phone, electronic stability control and power-operated side mirrors. The list of goodies goes on: steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, trip computer, automatic headlights, advanced driver and front passenger air bag, side air bag, side air curtains (front and rear), electronic stability control with traction control, and so on. A panoramic sunroof tops it off.
So much for the features. But how does the car perform on the road?
The standard engine on every Sonata trim level is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder, that's good for 198 horsepower and 249Nm of torque. The V6 is missing, but you don't really miss those extra cylinders. Numbers aside, the new Sonata doesn't feel underpowered doing what it is expected to. Eight seconds to accelerate to 100km used to be considered quite rapid for a family runabout and, to be honest, it still is ample power for what you will put it through. In these times, it also makes more sense for a city runabout.
The new Sonata handles pretty well too. All four wheels are independently suspended with MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear. The tilt-and-telescopic power steering may not be the most communicative but there is no complaint about the car's road holding capability. The ride is very smooth, it helps that the main body structure, though lighter, is 25 per cent stiffer than the previous version. While it has its faults, with its new iterations Hyundai's cars are slowly inching up on their European counterparts.
The quick city runs are where the car is at its best. If you flog it too hard, the 2.4-litre engine starts gasping for breath. The paddle shifts on the steering wheel can be fun if you don't take them too seriously. In any case, the automatic takes over when the needle reaches 6,500rpm.
For the most part, the Sonata has kept getting better. The all-new model, in particular, is a fully competitive choice for a family car. In addition to the strong value proposition, it adds a few things previously not seen in Hyundai cars - daring styling.
The Sonata is a comfortable and likable mid-size car that proves Hyundai can build cars that aren't just easy on the pocket, but easy to live with as well. Like most vehicles in the mid-size saloon class, the Sonata offers front-wheel drive, numerous safety features and a choice of trim levels. However, what really sets the Sonata apart is its value-for-money pricing. Even the base car comes well equipped. Starting at Dh67,900 and going up to Dh92,900, the Sonata is a good buy at both ends.