Like the perennial mid-size sedan sales leaders it seeks to upstage, the Sonata is a musical theme whose title persists through regular rewrites. This is the seventh revision, and, carrying the symphonic parallel a little further, elements of the composition have been changed but the melody lingers on: high quality, attractive inside and out, with an exceptional value proposition.
All-new, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata competes with stalwarts such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.
As noted, this 2015 Sonata is the seventh generation and, like previous redesigns, the overhaul is comprehensive; no area of the car has escaped revision. While the net of the redesign and engineering updates is strongly positive, the re-sculpted exterior strikes us as cautious, and a retreat from the dramatic character creases of the previous generation. Though a widened grille and LED accents give the front end a little more drama, the overall look resembles the new Genesis sedan, and in smaller scale the design loses some of the bigger car’s powerful presence.
Still, the word big does apply, or, more accurately, roomy. Exterior dimensions of the 2015 Sonata put it mid-pack among mid-size competitors, but by EPA standards its interior volume places it in full-size sedan territory, always a welcome trait in a family car.
This latest Sonata adds a new powertrain to its inventory, expanding choices to four: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; a gasoline-electric hybrid, which carries over from the 2014 Sonata line; and a new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which Hyundai characterizes as the 1.6T Eco.
All but the new 1.6-liter are mated with 6-speed automatic transmissions driving the front wheels. The 1.6-liter is paired with a new 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual. The other transmissions are 6-speeds.
Styling notwithstanding, one of the most significant elements of the 2015 Sonata redesign is a major uptick in chassis rigidity. The new car’s integrated chassis-body shell is composed of 50 percent high strength steel, according to Hyundai, compared to 21 percent in the previous Sonata. That, added to increased use of structural adhesives and more welds, adds up to a 41 percent improvement in torsional rigidity, 26 percent in longitudinal stiffness. The payoffs are reduced interior noise and improved dynamics. The high strength steel also reduces structural mass, which balances out weight gains from added content and sound deadening. On average, the new Sonata is about seven pounds heavier, model for model, according Hyundai.
The Sonata gives a good account of itself in terms of ride and handling, particularly in the Sport models, with slightly stiffer suspension and a more accurate electric power steering system (rack-mounted motor, as distinct from column mounted). Predictably, the turbocharged Sonatas are quicker off the line, and reduce passing exposure time on two-lane highways. But none of powertrain combos are likely to ignite a driver’s inner racer. The virtues here are supple ride quality, quiet operation, and responses that inspire confidence, if not passion.
Safety is always a top priority in family sedans, and the Sonata meets contemporary standards, with the anticipation of a top a safety pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as well as high marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The expanded inventory of safety features includes only one in which the vehicle takes charge of its own operation; the adaptive cruise control is capable of stopping the car and resuming motion in stop-and-go traffic. But Hyundai has also added the availability of a lane change assist system that includes blind spot detection, as well as forward collision alert and rear cross traffic alert. There’s the usual array of front and side airbags, plus a new airbag that deploys in front of the driver’s knees, to keep him or her from sliding under the dash in a collision. Antilock braking, traction, and stability control systems are all standard features.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata's redesign diminishes the profile character creases that made the previous generation a standout, but adds a little more authority to the front end with a wider grille and LED accents that serve as daytime running lights. Enlarged window openings enhance the sense of interior roominess, and some sculpting at the rocker panel level complements the strong character line running front to rear just below the beltline.
Higher trim levels are distinguished by a splash of chrome along the rocker panels, which are extended on sport models. Sport trim also includes revised front and rear fascias, dual exhaust outlets, and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels (versus 16-inch wheels on the basic Sonata).
Whatever one may think about the more conservative design, it shows up well in a wind tunnel, with a coefficient of drag value of 0.27, prominent among the current mid-size sedan field (though upstaged by the 2014 Sonata Hybrid at 0.25).
A new and useful feature is a remote trunk opening function. Approach the rear of the vehicle with the key fob on your person, stand there for three seconds, and the trunk will yawn; handy when both hands are full of cargo.
Virtually every new mid-size sedan rolling off the line today is furnished with higher quality materials than its predecessor, and the new Sonata is no exception. Soft touch surfaces have proliferated, and the instrument panel is all new, redesigned for legibility and easy scan. For example, the 8-inch info screen that supports the optional nav system is on the same plane as the primary instrument array.
Hyundai reports that the design team invested many hours just in the steering wheels (there are two styles), to achieve just the right diameter, rim section, contour, and tactility. The standard steering wheel is round, while the Sport version has a flattened bottom, a design conceived for the tight quarters of a sports car, something the Sonata is not. The seats are essentially relaxed fit, designed for comfort, with wiggle room on long trips or stop-and-go commuting, and of course there's an expanded telematics menu, that includes a new Siri eyes-free function with the optional nav system.
The Sonata also offers the option of the second generation of Hyundai's Blue Link infotainment and service system which includes a destination search function via Google, remote start, and a car care app for scheduling maintenance.
The pace of advance in automotive telematics is far faster than actual development in cars and trucks, in part because of the long life cycle of any vehicle. There's a vast array of apps out there, and the array is growing exponentially. Carmakers present various platforms and systems, but with any of them the owner can access the expanding universe of apps simply by linking a smart phone to the car. There are obviously variations from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the connectivity and access is similar.
The Sonata is conceived and designed to the deliver the kind of motoring that's made the Camry America's bestselling passenger car for so many years: quiet, unobtrusive, smooth, and reliable. And the Sonata delivers on those objectives. There's a stronger sense of driver involvement here than the pre-2015 Camry delivers (we have yet to log any seat time in the major makeover that's coming for 2015), but drivers seeking a sporty feel might do well to check out a Mazda 6 or Honda Accord.
Most of our drive time in the Sonata was in a high trim Limited model powered by the basic 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Aside from a bit of minor road noise on pebbly pavement, the car is exemplary in terms of quiet operation, as well as supple ride quality, although the experience was on two-lane highways near Montgomery, Alabama, that never know the rigors of winter.
Performance with the 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed automatic is tepid, albeit smooth. The 2.0-liter turbo picks up the pace, as you'd expect, and paddle shifters make manual shifting an option, although shift response is relaxed. But it may be that the new 1.6-liter turbo is the best bet. Acceleration isn't quite up to the 2.0-liter, but it's not far behind, and the new 7-speed is more fun to operate. Its upshifts and downshifts may not rival Volkswagen's DSG transmission, but they're a cut above those of Hyundai's 6-speed automatic.
The 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve direct injection four-cylinder is rated at 185 horsepower, 178 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, is rated at 245 hp, 260 lb-ft of torque. The 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, is rated at 177 hp, 195 lb-ft. The Hybrid uses a 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine rated at 159 hp, 154 lb-ft, plus a permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor rated at 47 hp, 151 lb-ft of torque for a combined powertrain output of 199 hp, 235 lb-ft of torque.
As noted above, the electric power steering system in Sonata Sport models, including both turbos, differs from the one employed in the standard Sonata. The electric motor is mounted on the steering rack, rather than the column, providing more tactile feedback to the driver. For drivers who value a stronger sense of connection with the vehicle, this system is worth the step up to a higher trim.
We found the 2015 Hyundai Sonata quiet, comfortable, and refined. Quality fit and finish, competitive fuel economy, and a strong value proposition add up to a compelling midsize sedan story. We don't think the new styling has the presence of the previous-generation Sonata, however.
Tony Swan filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of several Sonata models near Montgomery, Alabama.