I'd been looking at the Hyundai products for some time because of the increased product quality I saw in other Koren products. I knew there was a huge difference between a well built car and, say, a well built computer monitor. But I saw quality gains on other Korean products that led me to believe they were getting pretty close to the Japanese standard.
Ergo, when we moved to the boonies (where two cars are a must), I went to the closest Hyundai dealership and tried out many models. I did try the Kia products which, although both by the same company as Hyundai, did not compare. The Sonata immediately caught my eye. The styling of this car is either something you love or hate right off the bat. Suffice it to say that, for me, it was love at first sight.
The general body styling is stolen from the Jaguars and the headlamp design is right off a Mercedes E. But hey, if I can get that kind of styling for my bucks, so much the better.
I leased the Sonata at a base price of $21,900CDN ($15,935USD as of today's conversion rate) which is a steal. This is for the V6 model and it includes air, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, power trunk release, car alarm, AM/FM/CD, immobilizer, tachometer, dual trip odometer, cruise, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. Suffice it to say that, as far as bang for the buck is concerned, the Sonata is hard to beat.
I have been driving this car for a little over a year now and can give you some pretty good feedback on reliability. So here's the list of problems I've had: none. That's right, I've plunked down money for oil changes, and some of those window awning thingies to which I don't know the name. But as far as mechanical or other problems. Nothing. Zero, nada, zilch. Gotta love it.
The engine is a smooth V6 that is relatively quiet. It tends to be a little rough on cold mornings, but when it's -35C (30 below) outside, even I'm a little rough on startup. Note that, even with our harsh Canadian winters, I've never needed to use a block heater for this car. It has always started, sometimes reluctantly, but it does start.
The powerband on the engine is a little weird. It is made for smooth acceleration and does not feel sporty or glue you to your seat until you get to around 3500 RPM (redline is at 6500). Below that, available power is pretty staid. Which is why I just love the Shiftronic transmission that is standard on this vehicle.
Shiftronic is basically a auto-manual setting. When the car is in Drive, you can push the transmission shifter to the right and you're now in control of shifting. Push up toward the "+" to ship up, or down toward the "-" to shift down). With the Shiftronic engaged you can use the engine to its maximum and get brisk acceleration. Instead of shifting at the usual 2000RPM on automatic, I can shift up at 4500RPM. When the next gear engages, the tach drops to 2700RPM, right in the powerband's sweet spot. Some may think it gimmicky, I just plain love it.
The cabin is comfortable and roomy in front, a little tight in the back. But the usual 5 year old resident of the back seat doesn't seem to mind too much. A nice touch is that the rear seat armrest contains a storage box and cubholder. Adults have been squeezed somewhat in the back, especially if they're sitting behind my 6-foot frame. Speaking of which, the ceiling seems REAL close for tall people, but I've never actually bumped my head on it.
Visibility is a sore point with me. My previous car is a 1993 Sentra which has amazing visibility, something I did not appreciate until I sat in the Sonata. I never used to use my mirrors in the Sentra as I had such good visibility that a quick shoulder check was all I needed. The A-pillar on the Sonata is fairly thick, and the size of the rear window is not fantastic. It's something that you need to get used to if you're moving up from a compact.
The seats are comfortable and are 8-way adjustable. The radio is not bad quality wise, but the buttons are tiny and awful, which causes you to take your eyes off the road for way too long. Set the radio or CD before you start driving. The speakers are mid-grade, and sound okay, but they're not great and get muddy once the volume gets too loud (but how else do you listen to vintage VH?).
Everyone says the trunk space is huge, and I have to disagree. Granted, the actual space inside is nice, but the access to that space could be better designed. A larger trunk lid and less trunk lip on both sides would be desirable (although I'm not sure it's do-able without redesigning the rear end). One nice touch in the trunk is the inclusion of a 12V power outlet for connecting whatever car-compatible tool you may have. Nice touch.
The fit and finish is very nice, and Hyundai has used a kind of padded plastic to finish the dash so that it feels softer to the touch (a nice touch there). The ashtray is also well designed in that it pops out slowly when you push on it, as if on hydraulics. These little touches give the car a much more "classy" feel. The front center armrest has two drink holders (small for pop cans, large for those honking fast food joint drinks). The controls are well positioned and easy to access, although the armrest storage can be a little hard to get to while you're driving.
Safety features include five seatbelts with shoulder restraints, as well as driver and passenger airbags. The brakes are not equipped with ABS. To my way of thinking this is a plus. I hate ABS as it seems to kick in at the worst possible time. The braking is good for a car this size, positive but not exceptional.
Overall, I compared this car's performance against other Japanese products of the same class (mid-size sedans) and couldn't find another that could comptete with the Hyundai for value.
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