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2015 Hyundai Sonata Test Drive Review
Good thing that almost everything about the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, both inside and out, is improved, making this a terrific if not exactly head-turning family sedan.
Four years ago, Hyundai made a huge splash in the midsize family sedan marketplace with a redesigned Sonata. No one had seen anything like it. This time around, the company refines, retunes and reworks the Sonata to be better than ever, but at a cost to its standout styling.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
At the time of this writing, all the citizens of social-media land are astir over Renee Zellweger’s latest transformation. Sure, she’s still a beautiful lady, but the quirks that made Renee, well, Renee, are nowhere to be found.
This reaction to a resculpted Hollywood star is similar to how the auto industry is responding to the redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata. This midsize family sedan remains a handsome vehicle, but all of its sexy swoops, creases and eccentric but magnetic details have gone under the knife, and what has emerged is a blandly attractive vehicle in the same way that the new Renee is now just another appealing yet anonymous blonde.
Good thing that almost everything else about the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, both inside and out, is improved, making this a terrific if not exactly head-turning family sedan.
Hyundai offers the 2015 Sonata in SE, Eco, Sport, Limited and Sport 2.0T trim levels. The Sonata SE is well equipped, and the Eco model installs a more fuel-efficient powertrain plus a chrome grille, automatic headlights and turn-signal indicators on the outside mirrors. Inside, the Sonata Eco boasts nicer interior materials, an 8-way power driver’s seat and a 5-inch color touchscreen infotainment system with Blue Link telematics and a reversing camera.
Sonata Sport models have the same engine as the SE, adding much of the Eco model’s features plus 17-inch wheels, sportier design cues and interior trim, heated front seats and a hands-free Smart Trunk system.
The luxury-oriented Sonata Limited adds a unique wheel design and fancier trim, inside and out. This model also gets a long list of upgrades including leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear air vents, a 6-way power front passenger’s seat, heated rear seats, manual rear side-window sunshades, an upgraded audio system, a passive keyless entry system with push-button engine start and active safety systems including a blind-spot detection system with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist features. Numerous other details make the Limited model feel like an entry-level luxury sedan, and this is the model I tested.
Based on what my husband says about his own test drive of the performance-oriented Sport 2.0T, I think I would have preferred that trim. Unfortunately, it loses the power front passenger’s seat, heated rear seats and rear side-window sunshades of the Limited trim, but gains a stronger turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, HID headlights and a tauter suspension. The Sport 2.0T also has sport-bolstered front seats, a sport-design steering wheel with paddle shifters and four chrome exhaust tips around back to broadcast its intentions.
There’s also a hybrid version of the Sonata, but it’s not based on the all-new model. Rather, it’s a carryover from 2014, and of last year’s versions of the swoopy Sonata, it is the least appealing from a design standpoint. (CarGurus considers the Sonata Hybrid a separate model.)
My Sonata Limited test vehicle had all the options and stickered for $32,510. The Tech Package runs $3,500 and adds a navigation system with SiriusXM TravelLink, an Infinity premium audio system with HD Radio, electroluminescent gauges with a 4.2-inch information display and HID headlights. Memory for the driver’s preferences, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a panoramic sunroof are also included in this package. The Ultimate Package costs $1,550, and includes adaptive cruise control with stop-start capability, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, rear parking-assist sensors and an electronic parking brake.
At this point, consumers should be over any sticker shock associated with finding a Hyundai that is priced like any equivalently optioned car. Anyone who remains unconvinced need only glance inside a loaded Sonata’s cabin to see that this is a well-made, thoughtfully detailed, almost luxurious vehicle that doesn’t need to be discounted.
Out of 10
A 185-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine motivated my Sonata Limited, delivering power to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. That represents a 5-hp decrease from last year, yet the car feels much more spirited and responsive at all speeds. Credit goes to the transmission’s altered gearing and revised power delivery that make the car feel quicker than before. Those seeking speed can look into the Sonata Sport 2.0T, which has a turbocharged powerplant producing 60 extra hp, while buyers seeking maximum fuel economy can look into the Eco version that delivers an average of 32 mpg in combined driving.
The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that was in my test car is also the engine that will be installed in the majority of Sonatas. The EPA says it will average 29 mpg in combined driving, and I got 27.5 mpg. That’s still very good for a midsize family sedan, but my family piled on plenty of highway miles during our week with the keys.
Beyond the fine-tuning of the car’s engine and transmission, Hyundai has done a commendable job of making the Sonata a pleasure to drive and competent on a variety of roads and in various situations. Most evident to me is electric steering that has been recalibrated to provide greater precision and much more feel for the road compared to last year’s version. The brakes are expertly tuned, too, feeling completely natural underfoot and responding in expected fashion at all times.
As far as suspension tuning goes, at first the Sonata feels a little too firm, but over time it is clear that engineers have designed this car to deliver a jostle-free and drama-free ride without any harshness or disconnected float. While the Sonata Limited doesn’t land on the sportier side of the family sedan spectrum, it willingly handled the switchbacks and curves of my mountain test loop at moderate speeds.
Better yet, the Sonata’s exceptionally quiet cabin is a delightful spot in which to enjoy music, conversation or the sweet silence of solitude. (I’m a mom, with two little kids, and I don’t get much of the latter these days.)
Form and Function
Out of 10
One of my biggest pet peeves as a front-seat passenger is riding too low in a car, with no options to heighten the seat. In fact, a few relatives of mine with minor mobility issues will base their car purchase solely on their ability to raise and lower the front passenger’s seat. It is with great relief, then, to report that Hyundai has finally addressed this previous oversight in the new Sonata; Limited and Sport 2.0T trim levels now include a height-adjustable front passenger’s seat.
But wait, there’s more. Hyundai has done a terrific job of making the new Sonata’s cabin feel like that of a premium car, with pleasing, upscale materials covering every surface, excellent fit and finish, and well-labeled controls that are easy to use.
While the Sonata competes with other midsize sedans, the EPA technically classifies it as a large sedan. Accordingly, there’s plenty of room to be found in the cabin, especially in the rear. Three adults fit fine, although headroom is a little lacking for those with longer torsos. And my test vehicle had rear-seat heaters, manual side-window sunshades and rear air vents, all great touches to make riding in the Sonata a pleasure.
Open the trunk and you’ll find 16.3 cubic feet of space, making the Sonata’s cargo area among the largest in the category. The 60/40-split folding rear seats provide extra flexibility, and a hands-free Smart Trunk is available on certain models. With the car’s Proximity Key fob in your pocket or purse, simply stand by the trunk for 3 seconds, and the rear deck lid automatically opens so you don’t need to put your parcels down to fumble for the key.
Out of 10
Every version of the Sonata except the SE trim includes Blue Link smartphone connectivity as standard equipment, and the system is optional in the SE as part of the Popular Equipment option package.
There are three levels of Blue Link service, and the Sonata includes 1 free year of Connected Care, which provides automatic collision notification, SOS emergency service, access to roadside assistance and a handful of other features.
Hyundai also provides 3 months of free Remote Package service, allowing owners to remotely start the Sonata or slow it down if it has been stolen, use a smartphone app to find the car in a crowded parking area, monitor how the car is used when in the possession of a valet and more. This package also includes programmable features designed for parents of teenage drivers. Sure, you trust your kid with the keys for a night on the town, but not enough to fall soundly asleep. Blue Link telematics will alert you if the car goes above a certain speed, goes beyond a certain boundary or isn’t in your driveway by a certain time.
Finally, the Blue Link Guidance Package is available and is free for the first 3 months of ownership. This upgrade integrates Google destination search, point-of-interest search and destination download, and with the latter you can send an address from your phone to your Sonata’s navigation system. Turn-by-turn navigation is also included in the Guidance Package.
Aside from three levels of Blue Link service, the Sonata is available with a premium sound system and a navigation system, each operated using a large 8-inch color touchscreen with clear graphics and responsive virtual buttons. The optional Smart Cruise Control system makes slogging home in traffic easier, thanks to its stop-and-go capability. Plus, the Sonata offers a long list of comfort, convenience and safety systems, too.
Out of 10
Let’s start by discussing the real measure of safety, and that’s crashworthiness. In this area, the new Sonata delivers an outstanding performance, receiving a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Translated, these ratings mean that you and your passengers stand a better chance of walking away from an accident. You can’t ask for much more.
With the redesigned Sonata, Hyundai gives you more, though. My Limited test vehicle had a standard blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist features, so if you pull out in front of someone else while driving a Sonata with this equipment, you have nobody but yourself to blame. Options include a lane-departure warning system and an adaptive cruise control system with forward-collision warning. In my experience, these systems worked smoothly and seamlessly to increase awareness without raising irritation levels.
Out of 10
While it's true that a pricing advantage doesn’t necessarily exist when choosing a Hyundai over, say, an equivalently trimmed Honda, this automaker’s products still represent excellent value. From the company's industry-leading warranty and roadside assistance coverage to the length of free Blue Link subscriptions, any Hyundai makes a solid case for purchase. When it comes to the Sonata, low predicted costs associated with long-term ownership represent the icing on the cake.
The outlook isn’t entirely rosy, though. Resale values remain mired in average-land, and Consumer Reports expects reliability to be average, too, though J.D. Power has a more optimistic prediction on that front. Plus, despite a heavy regimen of highway driving, I averaged 27.5 mpg in my test car, coming up short compared to the EPA’s 29-mpg rating in combined driving.
None of these negatives are showstoppers, though. If you’re looking for a new family sedan, this redesigned Sonata belongs on your test-drive list.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
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