|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Styled by the Hyundai Design Center team in California, the Sonata carries the carmaker’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ design making it feel like the iPhone of executive sedans. It’s a fresh face in a segment filled with dullard looking four-doors. Interesting and stylish, the Sonata offers an excellent mix of traditional sedan and four-door coupe rolled into one. It looks downright expensive thanks to some interesting cues such as the chrome strip running from the tail of the headlamps to the base of the C-pillar and the captivating glow of the LED brake lamps at night. Indeed, the Sonata is very pleasing to the eye.
Visually, the Sonata suggests that it’s smaller than its two main rivals—the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. In reality, it’s classified in the North American market as a ‘large car’ along with the Honda Accord (the Toyota Camry is classified only as a ‘mid-sized car’). Interestingly, the Sonata has the most total interior volume in its segment.
The Sonata’s cabin continues with the same sculpted theme as the exterior. Understandably, it debuts a much more modern, futuristic looking cabin. There are plenty of blue lights, digital displays, knobs and a Volvo-ish humanoid-look climate control display. With knobs and buttons abound, it sounds like piloting the Sonata takes effort. In practice though, it takes only a couple of minutes to get accustomed to the Sonata’s operation and everything works better than it looks, which is what really counts.
Under the hood is Hyundai’s 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine. The all-aluminum engine, fitted with continuous variable valve timing is rated at 178 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 23.3 kg-m of torque at 4,000 rpm. There’s only a single transmission available, and that’s Hyundai’s all-new six-speed automatic. Significantly, this six-speed ‘box is Hyundai’s first proprietary six-speed automatic (the Genesis used an outsourced Aisin unit) that’s about 12 kilograms lighter and has 62 few parts than its five-speed predecessor. It’s fitted with the H-Matic manual shift mode as well as steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Jumping into the Hyper Metallic GLS Premium, the Sonata exhibits good outward visibility despite the low seating position and swoopy body style. There is no blind spot that isn’t rectified by a simple mirror adjustment. Perhaps, the only Achilles’ heel is the rear window which feels like a mail box slot, making some parking maneuvers somewhat difficult. Good thing that reverse sensors are standard.
Releasing the foot brake and slotting the transmission to drive (love the way the PRND indicators change color from white to red or blue when engaged), it’s time to set off in the Sonata. Off the line, the four-cylinder engine feels punchy and can deliver the goods to easily merge onto highway traffic. The power delivery is smooth and so is the six-speed gearbox with imperceptible shifts. With a drag co-efficient of 0.28, the Sonata feels poised with low wind and mechanical noise. The only thing that ruins the serene experience are the low-profile 225/45 R 18 Kumho Solus tires which did make a bit of a racket—perhaps a change of rubber is in order?
Though Hyundai never claims the Sonata to be a four-door sports car, that’s how exactly it behaves when pressed into corners. The steering is nicely weighted and car’s overall balance is surprisingly good and stable. The excellent suspension tuning makes for an enjoyable driving experience at spirited speeds. The Sonata’s new-found handling prowess is thanks to improved body rigidity over the outgoing model. At the same time, the Sonata sits on a fully-independent suspension set-up with MacPherson Struts upfront and Multi-Links at the back. There are stabilizer bars front and rear as well. In addition, the GLS Premium benefits from Amplitude Selective Dampers (ASD).
Tipping the scales at 1,508 kilograms, the Sonata is on the lighter side of the executive sedan scale and couple that with the sculpted body and efficient transmission, it should all equate to mind blowing fuel mileage figures. In truth however, the figures are much more down to earth with an average of 7.5 km/L in city driving, putting it just in line with other four-cylinder engined executive sedans.
Hyundai is offering two engines and two trim levels for the 2012 Sonata: GLS and GLS Premium in both 2.0- and 2.4-liter guise. Priced at P 1,368,000, the GLS gets cloth/leather combination for the seats with power adjustment for the driver, a single CD player with USB and iPod cable, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and 17-inch alloys among others. The P 1,608,000 GLS Premium adds side and curtain airbags, premium leather seating with power adjustment for both front occupants (with memory presets for the driver), an upgraded audio system with sub-woofer, a panoramic sunroof, a Smart Key push-button engine start/stop system and 18-inch alloys. At P 1,448,000, the 2.0 Limited lies smack in the middle with all the goodies of the GLS Premium but with a 2.0-liter engine. Consider this as Hyundai’s response to the launch of the Kia Optima.
Though some people are still undoubtedly drawn to Hyundai because of its 5-year, 100,000 kilometer warranty, take comfort that the Sonata is much more than that. Not anymore is this car merely a guarantee on wheels. The 2012 Hyundai Sonata is part of the latest breed of Hyundai that feels emotionally connected to the driver. It’s easy to be impressed by the upscale styling, the spacious and modern interior as well as the tremendous value for money it provides. Above all though, it’s the smiles provided by the driving excitement that sets the Hyundai Sonata on the top step of the executive sedan podium.