Significantly updated for the 2018 model year, the Hyundai Sonata aims to reverse the brand’s recent sales slump amidst a market more interested in utility-oriented crossovers than value-minded cars. This mid-generation refresh showcases major changes, inside and out, going beyond simple sheet metal adjustments and utilizing modern materials.
In truth, continuing to focus on cars isn’t quite a moot agenda (yet) as they still make up roughly 23 percent of the market. According to Hyundai, this figure will continue to shrink, but not at the quick pace of the last five years when compact and midsize cars combined for a commanding 30 percent share. In fact, the midsize sedan was the sought-after segment with a 16 percent stake. Still in the top five but currently off the podium in fourth place, these family cars are hovering at 11 percent year-to-date, behind compact cars, compact crossovers and large pickup trucks.
Simplified Packaging, Streamlined Pricing
Staying top-of-mind with automotive buyers is literally a numbers game, starting with MSRP. Industry analysts list the average transaction price of a new vehicle at almost $34,000. This is not to say cars, trucks and SUVs offer the same features and amenities as years past. Government regulations and consumer tastes dictate the plethora of now-standard features, such as hands-free and driver assistance technology. As such amenities continue to become mainstream, prices invariable drop.
The 2018 Sonata, for example, flexes its features-laden muscle with more price drops than increases. At $22,050 (plus an $885 destination fee), the entry-level SE model costs consumers a paltry $100 more than the 2017 model, but now includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Higher-end trim levels such as the Limited Ultimate 2.4 and Limited 2.0T save shoppers $2,000 and $1,900, respectively, with $30,300 and $32,450 starting positions.
Options bundles are restricted to Tech and Ultimate packages as vehicles essentially are all-inclusive in terms of standard equipment with features being added according to trim level. The Tech package is available for SEL models only and adds safety technology such as automatic braking, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and an electric parking brake with auto hold. Limited models (2.4-liter engine only) include the Tech package plus automatic high beams, rear parking sensors, navigation, an Infinity audio system, wireless smartphone charging and a heated steering wheel.
To further entice consumers away from the supposed versatility of crossovers (some are really no more than wheel well-gapped wagons), an appealing exterior redesign befits the Sonata, such as a new “cascading” grille that’s complemented by updated front and rear fascias. The no-fuss business, however, makes way for aggressive styling on the 2.0-liter-equipped model, which receives a “sport” element to its grille, front fascia, rocker panels and rear diffuser, as well as a dual exhaust treatment.
In the cabin are new designs for the steering wheel, instrument dials and center stack. A flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters and sport cloth seats with leather bolsters are standard in 2.0-liter models. Additionally, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay integration, wireless device charging and a rear USB charging point are newly available luxuries. Hyundai’s Blue Link also is now a standard three-year complimentary service for vehicles optioned with the connected car technology.
The Sonata is Legitimately Competitive
The attractive packaging extends beyond the product sheet as well. Under the hood, the new Sonata features carryover four-cylinder engines with varying displacements of 2.4, 2.0 and 1.6 liters. SE and SEL trims receive the 2.4-liter as standard equipment, which has an output of 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Sport and Limited models are available with the standard 2.4-liter or an optional 2.0-liter turbo that produces 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Exclusive to the Sonata Eco is a 1.6-liter turbocharged powertrain, which offers 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
A six-speed automatic transmission is paired with 2.4-liter models, a new-for-2018 eight-speed automatic outfits 2.0-liter vehicles and a dual-clutch transmission tuned for seven speeds can be found in the 1.6-liter Eco. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 25/36 mpg city/highway for the base model. Turbocharged Sonata vehicles offer 23/32 mpg city/highway on the 2.0-liter Sport and Limited, while the 1.6-liter Eco is estimated at 28/37 mpg.
In terms of road manners, the refreshed Sonata offers improved rigidity and body control thanks to a stiffer rear suspension and bushings. Its ride is comfortable and composed with adequate handling, but don’t expect an exceptional corner diver or mountain carver.
The standard engine provides ample power for city commuters and suburban dwellers, but will feel sluggish to those who live in areas replete with tortured twisties or elevated climbs. During a test drive in California’s San Diego County, where the aged peaks can reach 6,000 feet, the Sonata mimicked the out-of-breath song of travelers used to sea level exercises. The 2.0-liter turbo, on the other hand, is more than ample with its on-demand acceleration and effortlessness in hilly passing zones.
On sale now, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a refreshing update to the South Korean automaker’s lineup. Whether consumers will scramble to buy a sedan versus an SUV in the current American landscape will be determined not only by fuel costs, but available features and fun quotient. The Sonata certainly checks most boxes of what auto shoppers actually need. With the 1.6-liter model arriving later this summer, as well as hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions available early next year, the Sonata makes a strong case for consideration.