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2006 Hyundai Sonata Test Drive Review

Picture of 2006 Hyundai Sonata GL FWD When history reflects on this Korean brand, the redesigned 2006 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan will represent its clear pivot away from "budget-oriented wannabe" to "credible A-list player."

8.7 /10
Overall Score

With the redesigned 2006 Hyundai Sonata, the upstart automaker takes a huge leap forward in terms of design, engineering, and desirability. Finally, a Hyundai owner need not justify the purchase, for the reasons to choose the 2006 Sonata are plainly evident.

Should you agree, picking a new Sonata is easy. The car comes in GL, GLS, and LX trim levels with a choice between a 4-cylinder and a V6 engine. A handful of Sonata GLs will have a 5-speed manual gearbox, while the rest feature an automatic transmission.

Look and Feel

10/ 10

Let’s be honest, shall we? Last year’s Hyundai Sonata was not a looker. Stacked up against competitors like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry, a low price was the only way to get one off the dealer’s lot and into a customer’s driveway. Even a Ford Taurus held more visual appeal.

But now, well, things are different, aren’t they? Check out the redesigned 2006 Sonata, with its clean lines, balanced design, and undeniable good looks. Now this is a car you can be proud to own… and be seen driving.

The goodness extends to the interior, where the Sonata jettisons last year's crass, parts-bin, econo-car ambiance for a simple, uncluttered, and even upscale cabin. From its gated transmission shifter to its metal-ringed speedometer, the Sonata whispers elegance and sophistication.

In short, the change is utterly transformative.

Performance

7/ 10

A 162-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard with GL and GLS trim. Technically, a 5-speed manual gearbox is standard with GL trim, but Hyundai will no doubt build most of them with the optional 4-speed automatic transmission, which comes standard with GLS trim.

For more power and performance, a 3.3-liter V6 is optional for the GLS and standard with LX trim. It generates a robust 235 hp and is paired with a 5-speed automatic.

Your choice between the two depends on how fast you want to go, and what kind of fuel economy you prefer. The 4-cylinder is adequate in terms of power and performs on par with competitors even if it lacks the outright refinement of the best engines in the segment. The V6, according to Hyundai, gets the Sonata to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, quick for a family sedan.

With the automatic, the 4-cylinder is rated by the EPA to get 24 mpg in combined driving while the V6 engine returns 21 mpg. If spending our own money, we’d go with the V6.

If the new Sonata’s design and powertrains are competitive, Hyundai needs to fine-tune the car’s ride and handling. Most drivers won’t find the steering, suspension, or braking components lacking in any way, but there is a lack of refinement here that is plainly evident in a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry.

With that said, don’t be discouraged. This redesigned Sonata is easy to recommend.

Form and Function

9/ 10

Another big change for the 2006 Sonata is its amount of interior space. This is an accommodating sedan, on par with the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry in terms of passenger space.

Front-seat occupants face a clean, logically arranged dashboard. In lighter colors, the black dashboard and door panel tops present an appealing, high-contrast, two-tone look that lends the Sonata a more upscale look and feel.

Quality materials, refined switchgear, and clarity of purpose are the rule rather than the exception, and Hyundai supplies good storage combined with large cupholders. The trunk measures 16.3 cubic feet, which is plenty for a family road trip.

Comfort levels improve as you climb the trim level ladder, with the Sonata LX providing leather upholstery and an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s chair. The rear seat is positively huge, making the Sonata especially useful as a hauler of kids both young and old.

Tech Level

8/ 10

As is true with any modern car redesign, the 2006 Sonata gains numerous technological upgrades. Even the base GL trim includes features such as remote keyless entry, heated side mirrors, both CD and MP3 players, and a front power outlet.

Upgrade to GLS trim for a trip computer, automatic headlights, and an available auto-dimming rearview mirror. LX trim equips the new Sonata with automatic climate control and a universal programmable garage door opener, while a premium sound system with a CD changer is an option.

Unlike some competitors, however, the Sonata does not offer a navigation system, so keep your maps handy.

Safety

8/ 10

If Hyundai’s failure to offer navigation is a blemish on the new Sonata, the standard safety equipment list definitely makes up for it.

Every 2006 Sonata has six airbags, including dual front, dual front side-impact, and dual side curtain airbags to protect the front- and rear-seat occupants. Both antilock brakes and stability control are also standard, regardless of the trim level.

In testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the new Sonata performs admirably, earning 5-star ratings for frontal- and side-impact protection and a 4-star rating for rollover resistance.

Unfortunately, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is not as satisfied with the Sonata’s crash protection. While the car gets a Good rating in moderate overlap frontal-impact testing, the side-impact protection rating is one notch down at Acceptable. Roof crush strength rates no better than Marginal, so you’re going to want to keep the rubber side down.

Cost-Effectiveness

10/ 10

Compared to segment leaders, the new Hyundai Sonata remains an unbeatable bargain. Prices start below $18,000, and the Sonata GL includes more equipment than the base trims for rivals. In the top-trim specification, the Sonata LX is a bonafide bargain, offering similar equipment for thousands of dollars less.

Of course, one of the major selling points for any Hyundai during the past half-decade has been the outstanding warranty coverage. That continues for the 2006 model year, the automaker providing a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and powertrain coverage for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Taken into consideration together, the pricing and the warranty make the 2006 Hyundai Sonata an exceptionally cost-effective solution to your midsize family sedan needs. The best news of all, though, is that the new Sonata stands on its own without them.

Updated

Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.

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Hyundai Sonata Questions

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