Hyundai’s got a new midsize sedan offering and it’s a real looker. But are the Korean carmaker’s efforts going to be lost on a public whose interest has shifted away from sedans to SUVs?
For the 70,000-or-so Canadian consumers who still appreciate the style, comfort and performance of a midsize sedan, the 2020 Sonata adds another formidable option in the category with luxury and technology that rivals what’s offered by premium brand nameplates.
If there’s a prize for the biggest sedan smile, the Sonata’s gaping maw should win it. The Hyundai’s enormous front grille trumps the big-mouthed designs of its key competitors, and with the angular lower corner vents, it had a few people likening it to a catfish. While not exactly elegant, the distinctive nose does help showcase that the new Sonata is lower and wider (and thus sportier-looking) than before. And the LED light strips that fade up from the headlight assembly into the chrome accents on the fenders are a clever touch.
The profile and rear of the new Sonata are quite fetching, with the low-and-wide theme emphasized by the bulging fenders and creative LED taillight treatment. Kudos to Hyundai for offering that stunning “Glowing Yellow” paint seen in the photos, even if only 6 per cent of buyers are expected to choose it.
Inside, the new Sonata’s design is triumphant. Again, highlighting a sense of width, there’s a distinct horizontal flow to the layout with even the vents taking on a very wide, squat format. The two-tone treatment available on the Ultimate trim cars elevates the look to full-on luxury.
Hyundai has become known for adding in a lot of features to its cars that are often associated with luxury vehicles, and the Sonata carries this forward. In Ultimate trim, especially, the sedan is loaded up with amenities that typically require pricey option packages on expensive German cars.
The usual finery is found as expected, including the supple leather seats and high-quality trim pieces that cover the interior. There’s also a panoramic sunroof, wireless charging pad, dual-zone climate contro,l and fancy LED lighting that gives a pleasant ambiance at night. The rich-sounding, 12-speaker Bose audio system is a first in a Hyundai, and it includes a series of atmospheric sound tracks including a crackling fireplace, a rainy day and a “lively forest.”
One standout feature that we’ve not seen outside of the top-tier luxury cars so far is what Hyundai calls Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA), which enables the driver to manoeuvre the car into or out of a tight parking spot via the remote, without actually being in the car.
User Friendliness: 9/10
In top trim, the Sonata has a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that complements the 12.3-inch full digital instrument cluster and the head-up display. The three lower trims make do with traditional gauges and an 8-inch main display. Regardless of the system, both are configured with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and all but the base trim feature Hyundai’s BlueLink connected services that enable the driver to lock, unlock or start the car remotely, as well as manage the car’s service as well.
While there is a lot of functionality here, Hyundai has done an excellent job with the user interface, making all the complexity manageable and straightforward with little effort.
Safety is another area that Hyundai is taking seriously with the new Sonata. In addition to the usual litany of airbags and a solid structure found in all cars these days, Hyundai has made standard the comprehensive suite of its Smartsense active safety functions. A host of sensors help manage everything from the Lane Keeping and Lane Follow assist, to smart cruise control with stop-and-go functionality and rear parking collision avoidance. High beam assist is also standard fare as are LED lights (though only the Ultimate gets the adaptive, projector style).
First introduced on the Palisade SUV, the Blind View Monitor also displays what’s in the vehicle’s blind spot within the instrument cluster screen when the turn signal is activated.
Up front, there is a pair of comfortable bucket seats that feature both heating elements and air-conditioned functionality. A 500-km drive day in the Sonata produced no aches or pains, reinforcing the belief that the Sonata makes a great long-distance travel companion.
Front passenger space is right in the wheelhouse of the competitors, but rear seat legroom falls a little short. That said, two adults still have abundant space back there, and even if a third passenger needs to fit between them, there’s still reasonable room.
Hyundai boasts that the Sonata is quieter than its key competitors, and while road and engine noise were well-suppressed, there was more wind noise around the upper part of the driver’s window than expected.
It’s the presumed practicality of SUVs that have earned them places in so many Canadian garages, and that where sedans like the Sonata fall somewhat short. However, with a trunk that will swallow more than 450 L of cargo with the seats up, there’s plenty of space for all but the bulkiest freight. The rear seats are also split-folding to increase that capacity further. That trunk volume actually puts the Sonata near the top of the class.
The 2020 Sonata’s base engine is a 2.5-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder, but Sport and Ultimate trims come with a smaller 1.6-litre, turbocharged inline-four. Rated at 180 horsepower, the upgraded engine still falls short of the base engines found in the Toyota, Honda and Mazda mid-sized sedans, and is well below the optional engines available from those brands.
Most buyers in the segment are likely to be satisfied with the 1.6T, but for those wanting a little more spice, a sportier Sonata N Line is expected to arrive at some point this year. It promises to have significantly more power, but until then, the Hyundai’s straight-line acceleration and passing power is best described as adequate.
Driving Feel: 7/10
The Sonata directs its power through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. The shifts have been programmed for smoothness over sportiness, but when asked to hold gears longer and shift quicker in Sport mode, the Hyundai’s transmission performs just fine.
Hyundai also claims to have no plans for all-wheel-drive offerings for the Sonata, despite more competitors (like the Camry and Altima) adding this feature that’s popular with Canadian drivers.
When it comes to slowing the Sonata down, the 325-mm front disc brakes and 300-mm rears provide solid stopping power and good, linear braking feel.
The Sonata’s handling is also decent, but its balance skews more toward ride comfort than nimble cornering, and the boosted steering offers little road feel, but makes parking-lot-speed manoeuvres a breeze. The Pirelli P7s fitted to the test car were quiet and offer reasonable grip, but the future N Line is likely to step up the steering feel and overall grip.
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
The primary benefit of the Sonata’s small, turbocharged engine is its fuel efficiency, and with an overall combined average at 7.7 L/100 km, it’s a very thrifty machine considering its size and luxury. Still, both the Honda Accord and four-cylinder Toyota Camry boast slightly better efficiency numbers.
Value: 7/ 10
Compared to their SUV counterparts, the mid-sized sedan category generally represents a stellar value in terms of content and refinement for the cost, and the 2020 Sonata is no exception. Although base model pricing starts at $27,000, the value sweet spot falls somewhere between the two middle trims in the $31,000 to $36,000 range.
The Ultimate trim we drove checks in at $38,599, and given the luxurious finishes and equipment levels included, looks like a pretty good value. Still, when looking at the top-trim entries from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Subaru fitted with their competitive base-offering engines, the Hyundai is costlier than all of them.
Hyundai has been winning accolades all over the place the past few years for making very high-quality machines, loaded up with content and generally priced below the competitors. The Sonata appears to be a tipping point for the Korean brand where its Ultimate trim is still an exceptional product, but is priced accordingly, too.
Pricing: 2020 Hyundai Sonata
All 2020 Sonata trims listed below have standard eight-speed transmission. Destination fees not included.
Preferred (2.5L): $26,999
Preferred Sport pkg (1.6T): $31,299
Luxury (1.6T): $35,999
Ultimate (1.6T): $38,599
|Peak Horsepower||180 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||195 lb-ft @ 1,500–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||8.6/6.6/7.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||453 L|
|Model Tested||2020 Hyundai Sonata Preferred Sport|
|Price as Tested||N/A|