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2003 Sonata

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.0

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Ballin’ On A Budget – The 2003 Hyundai Sonata


by madtheory:      Jun 25, 2003 - Updated Jun 25, 2003


Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: V6 engine, plush interior, nice exterior, great warranty, lots of extras, good price.
Cons: Muddy speakers, “floaty” ride.
The Bottom Line: No matter how nice it is, it’s still a Hyundai. If you can see past the italic ‘H,’ you might be pleased with what you discover.


Well, it looks like I’m not the only one with a new car in the house anymore. After weeks of envying my sweet new “G-ride,” the 2003 Hyundai Elantra GT, the wife decided to trade in her 1996 Chevy POS for a new Hyundai as well. Instead of trying to match my “wimpy” Elantra, she went for the One-Uppsmanship Award and selected the sedan one level up from mine, the 2003 Hyundai Sonata GLS.

The exterior of the Sonata GLS is very sleek and refined, obviously constructed to combine popular design elements from the usual luxury sedan suspects. There’s not much unique about the car actually; the stylish open-front vertical grille and doubled, slanted headlamps are plainly jacked from recent Lexus and Mercedes products, and if seen from the side, it could pass for any of the common luxury sedans. Still, a car doesn’t have to be completely original to be considered a sweet ride.

Once you take a seat in the Sonata, you can’t help but admire the plush interior. The GLS model comes pimped-out with every amenity you can think of. Owners will be spoiled by the plush leather seats and padded armrests, woodgrain-trimmed interior, 8-way power driver’s seat, power 2-way moon roof, steering wheel-mounted cruise control, CD/cassette stereo, automatic climate control system that maintains a constant pre-programmed internal temperature, and a host of other options. But the cabin design is just as ergonomic as it is luxuriant; all dials and gauges are in a perfect line-of-sight for the driver, and the electric controls press easily and are placed within easy reach of the steering wheel.

The ride in the 2003 Hyundai Sonata should be perfect for those who like to feel completely separated from the road. The cabin itself is near studio-quiet even on the freeway, and the gas-filled shocks and 4-wheel independent suspension kills the majority of small to moderate bumps and imperfections in the road. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the isolated, floating sensation luxury sedans like this are designed to give the driver; to me, navigating the bumps and twists and turns are an integral part of enjoying the driving experience. But those who dream of driving the automotive incarnation of ‘the Big Comfy Couch’ should enjoy sitting behind the wheel of this sedan.

Unlike the majority of Hyundai’s current line-up, the Sonata actually comes with a fairly decent engine. Under the hood of the GLS and LX models is a responsive 2.7-liter, 24-valve V6 engine that makes my Elantra feel as though it’s powered by a lethargic hamster jogging in its exercise wheel. It accelerates quickly and easy, and without the “damn-what-are-you-trying-to-do?” engine roar of the 2.0-liter underlings. For those who prefer automatic transmissions but would like a bit more control over the gear changes, Hyundai offers an automatic transmission with the uber-smooth Shiftronic for sport shifting at an additional cost. This is one of the few features not included with my Elantra GT that actually makes me jealous; Shiftronic would have gone a long way in giving my car a sportier feel. More practically, it would help control the engine roar on strained accelerations.

With more and more obnoxious, cell-phone-glued-to-the-face, SUV drivers on the road killing more and more people each day, it’s now crucial to look at the safety features of any prospective new vehicle. Like most new cars nowadays, the Sonata comes standard with dual airbags, but also includes front side-impact airbags as well. To help keep you out of an accident in the first place, take a look at the brake option package that includes anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Hyundai’s Traction Control System (TCS), designed to allow the Sonata to compensate for different levels of road friction. When the ABS and TCS work in conjunction with the strong engine and impressive suspension, the Sonata becomes a very nimble vehicle in extreme conditions. It won’t rival the agility of the major European players like Mercedes or BMW, but it will pull your butt out of a sling if you have time to react to prevent an accident.

Like my Elantra GT, the Sonata GLS also comes with a six-speaker sound system, except the Sonata’s is much more powerful and has a much wider range. The equalizer on the deck only has three presets, but you can customize your audio experience by twiddling with the bass and treble knobs as well. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, the bass always comes out sounding like sh*t. The only way I was able to get the bass to sound decent was to turn it all the way down. And if I’m going to be forced to listen to Hip-Hop with no bass, I might as well head down to Billy Bob’s and start boot-scootin’ to Toby Keith. Audiophiles, take the Sonata to your local hook-up shop and beg them to rip those crappy speakers out and replace them with some quality ones.

Of course, these days it’s impossible to review a Hyundai vehicle without shoving America’s Best Warranty™ down your throat, as it’s probably the biggest factor helping Hyundai recover from their crap-hatchback past. Like all new Hyundais, the Sonata provides peace of mind with its 10-year, 100,000-mile Powertrain Protection that covers most engine and transaxle components; a 5-year, 60,000-mile Bumper to Bumper warranty covering most vehicle components; 5-year, unlimited-mile roadside assistance covering towing, lock-outs, flat-tires, and jump-starts; and a 5-year, 100,000-mile Anti-Perforation Warranty covering corrosion-related rust-throughs. Buy the plan that extends each of the above plans to 10 years / 100,000 miles, and feel free to spend the next decade worrying about something other than your car.

Flaunting a starting price of only $17,000, the 2003 Hyundai Sonata is perfect for those who want the amenities of a luxury sedan without that having that fainting spell associated with the steep monthly payments. The Sonata may not exactly have all the amenities of its more expensive competition, but that’s OK, because you won’t have to live in it either.

Amount Paid (US$): 18,900
Condition: New
Model Year: 2003
Model and Options: GLS, Automatic w/ Shiftronic
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
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