Once synonymous with cheap, boring and plain for the better part of nearly two decades, the Hyundai Sonata has continually improved to the point the new eighth-generation rendition is easily among the best all-around family sedans on the market.
The Sonata gets all-new dashing looks for 2020 and offers more standard power, an 8-speed transmission over the previous 6-speed, better mpg, and more standard safety features, driving assists and amenities.
Before checking out a list of features or getting behind the wheel, the Sonata is already appealing with its totally redesigned looks.
Hyundai describes its new design language as Sensuous Sportiness, which conjures up images of someone wearing lingerie with baseball cleats. Or maybe that’s just me. The Sonata’s low-slung nose, gaping cascade grille, sloping roofline and chrome line that runs the length of the hood into a sharp angle to the headlights give the new generation a refined, handsome athletic look. So, I guess they really did get the whole Sensuous Sportiness thing down.
The interior is also attractive without relying on any outlandish design, and it gets better looking the longer you let your eyes wander. There are swooping armrests, the dash that gracefully rises and falls from its curved midpoint, razor-thin air vents and an alluring center console that lacks a bulky gear lever. Instead, the Sonata gets sizeable buttons for park, drive, reverse and neutral.
The interior is spacious. Though headroom can be limited for those a good bit over the 6-foot mark, leg, shoulder and hip room are ample for both front a rear seat passengers. The Hyundai also beats out some rivals by offering a trunk with 16-cubic feet of storage space.
There are features galore in the Sonata, starting with an impressive list of standard driving assists with Hyundai’s SmartSense. All models get lane-keep assist, lane-follow assist, Driver Attention Warning, automatic high beams and smart cruise control with stop and go. Jumping up to the SEL model adds blind spot collision avoidance and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance.
Top-of-the-range Limited Sonatas get a color head up display and Hyundai’s blind-spot view monitor with collision warning. The unique and convenient system, which uses two cameras mounted on the side mirrors, activates when the turn signal is engaged and displays the camera feed into the digital instrument cluster in the dash.
Standard SE models get cloth seats, an 8-inch infotainment screen and SmartSense. The SEL offers 17-inch alloy wheels, proximity key with push button start, a hands-free trunk release, heated front seats, dual automatic temperature control, a 4.2-inch color instrument cluster display and other add-ons.
The SEL Convenience Package ($1,200) provides bang for your buck with a 12.3-inch instrument cluster, wireless charging, rear air vents, a USB port for the second row and Hyundai Digital Key. This feature allows drivers to leave the key fob at home and use their smartphone in its place.
SEL Plus gets all of those features plus leatherette seating, 18-inch alloy wheels and paddle shifters, with top range Limited models adding amenities like ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof and genuine leather seating.
Hyundai’s exclusive Remote Smart Parking Assist also comes in Limited spec. Drivers can use the key fob to start the car and move it forward or backward out of a tight parking space remotely. Or, you could just seriously confuse pedestrians and other drivers in parking lots, I suppose.
The biggest highlight of the top trims is the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, only available on SEL Plus and Limited.
Standard models get a 2.5-liter which offers 191 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft. of torque, both of which modestly increase figures from the 2.4-liter equipped in 2019 models.
The turbocharged 1.6 liter provides slightly less horsepower and a touch more torque to the naturally aspirated motor. While I haven’t tested the 2.5-liter, the turbo four provides adequate power and decent acceleration.
Those two adjectives, adequate and decent, could describe the Sonata’s ride and performance in general. The ride is relatively relaxed, but road imperfections are not completely ironed out. The steering and brake feel are far from communicative, but neither are they numb.
A strong-suit of the Sonata is its 8-speed automatic — no CVT here — which is smooth and smart in all driving situations.
The 2.5-liter nets a combined 32 mpg (28 city, 38 highway) while the turbocharged engine gets a mile fewer to the gallon in each scenario. Hyundai is offering a hybrid Sonata for 2021 models which is rated at 50 mpg in the city and 54 on the highway.
Those looking for a sporty family sedan might be let down by some of the Sonata’s execution on the road, but for the everyday commute, grocery store and soccer practice runs, it is more than acceptable.
And it does provide good value for money.
Models start at $24,330 with SEL trim and its multitude of upgrades adding $2,100. SEL Plus, the trim I’d go for if dipping into my wallet, rings in at $28,380. The Limited comes in a bit over $34,000.
The Sonata has made huge strides over the decades from being a car people had to have because it was bare-minimum transportation to being a family sedan that is an outlier in the market for the right reasons.
It looks great, is fantastically equipped, affordable and provides driving characteristics that are more than suitable for most buyers in the market for a midsize sedan.