A massive makeover brings about a revitalised Sonata that is now better than ever, particularly in the base spec.
It’s actually hard to know why it’s not an all-new Sonata, because from the outside at least, the only panel the new Hyundai Sonata shares with its predecessor is the roof. The front bumper, bonnet, the doors, the rear bumper and pretty much anything else you can think of, has been updated with Hyundai’s new design language.
Under the sheet metal there is a new transmission for the top-spec turbo, which also gets a slight increase in torque, while the interior gets a better infotainment system and improvements to multiple surfaces.
Parked next to each other, the new and old Sonata share a slight family resemblance, however the new car is a far more sophisticated design that brings about the new Hyundai family face first seen on the all-new Hyundai i30 and Hyundai Kona. The new Sonata is the work of Hyundai’s California design centre, which may explain some of the grille elements on the higher-spec variant.
But no matter how you view it, it’s a pretty good-looking car, if a mid-sized family sedan is what you’re after. But herein lies the problem with the Sonata, both new and old, not many private buyers really want one over the company’s super popular SUVs (Santa Fe, Tucson and Kona) with more than 60 per cent of Sonata sale going to fleets such as QLD police, which seem to have taken a particular liking to the car and its (apparently XR6 Turbo matching) performance.
Having ditched the mid-spec Elite model due to lack of popularity and small volume of overall sales, there is now a substantial $14,500 price gap between the base model Active ($30,990 plus on roads) and the top-spec Premium ($45,490 plus on roads).
Both remaining variants have been updated with additional equipment (see our pricing and specs article), however the gap is significant enough to question the value of the top-spec model over the very accomplished base model.
We started our review and test drive with the Sonata Premium variant, which is paired exclusively with the brand’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It delivers the same 180kW of power but sees torque lift slightly to 353Nm. Power is sent to the front wheels.
The biggest change for the turbo models is the introduction of an eight-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the previous model’s six-speed. The software update to the engine and the additional two gears allow for torque to build up about 500rpm earlier in the rev range, giving a more linear power delivery than before - though it would be relatively hard to notice unless you were looking for it.
On the road, the updated powertrain feels smooth and more than capable of highway overtaking or getting up to speed without too much effort. We did on one occasion notice the vehicle cutting power rather abruptly when accelerating off the line, even though it didn’t seem to be struggling for traction. Our attempts to repeat the issue failed to materialise.
It’s a very smooth experience behind the wheel, with the power and torque is delivered effortlessly and in a usable manner. The steering, ride and suspension tuning remains unchanged and carries forward the original setup that Hyundai Australia’s own engineers put together locally.
The locally-tuned setup provides an ideal balance between comfort and dynamic ability for the Sonata’s intended purpose. It absorbs the bumps rather well yet it doesn’t complain too much when pushed into a corner at speed. It helps that both variants are wearing proper performance tyres.
There are now also paddle shifters on the updated flat-bottom steering wheel, which you would probably never use, but the updated LED headlights are far more useful. The one new feature I did find somewhat annoying was the driver attention alert system, which said on eight separate occasions in less than an hour period when I had just started driving on the highway, to take a coffee break, suggesting it was reading the signs for fatigue or driver monitoring rather poorly.
The front seats are rather comfortable and with heating and cooling available, it’s the sort of car that is ideal to take on long inter-state drives. The rear seats too, are capable of comfortably accommodating two large adults (a third when necessary), or two forward and rear facing baby seats (two ISOFIX points available). The Sonata offers 510 litres of boot space, which is more than enough to swallow a few large suitcases or golf clubs, but given its shape, may struggle with larger prams.
Like the base model Active, the turbocharged Sonata gets an updated 8-inch infotainment system that now handles Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We tested CarPlay extensively and it worked a treat, as we’ve come to expect. The top-spec Sonata will also happily charge your iPhone X (or a variety of supported Android smartphones) wirelessly thanks to its Qi standard wireless charging capability.
That feature is not present on Active variants and our base model test vehicle refused to play music over Bluetooth streaming (or even let us change the media interface at all, with all options permanently blanked out), forcing us to use CarPlay to manage audio playback.
Speaking of the Active, the gloss black updates to the air-conditioning dials and their surrounds are a nice addition and help lift the overall cabin ambience ever so slightly. There is also the addition of dual-zone climate control, smart key & push-button start, and a smart boot system which automatically opens if you stand near the boot with the key in your pocket for a few seconds.
All base-model Sonatas are powered by an unchanged 2.4-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine. The powertrain delivers a very reasonable 138kW of power and 241Nm of torque. Given the non-turbocharged models weight about 60kg less than their more expensive siblings, I found the drivetrain setup more than ideal and capable of handling the task.
During the drive both in suburbia and on the highway, it never felt inadequate or lacking in performance. Considering the everyday driving tasks the Sonata will likely encounter, the base model’s powertrain is more than good enough for the job.
So much so that it would be worth saving the near 50 per cent increase in price to the Premium and stick with the base model. Sure, there are a whole host of features that try to justify the additional cost to the Premium, a favourite being the SmartSense system that comes with smart cruise control, lane change assist and blind spot detection.
But other than that, you’re really only going to miss the electric driver and passenger seats with heating and cooling, and perhaps the larger 18-inch alloy wheels wearing Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres (as oppose to 17-inch wheels wrapped in Continental ContiPremiumContact 5 tyres).
The main problem with the Sonata Premium is that at the near $50,000 on-road cost, there are plenty of other options on the table, not just from Europe, but even from Hyundai’s sister company, with the Kia Stinger.
At about the same cost, you can easily find yourself in a rear-wheel-drive Stinger offering inherently better driving dynamics with the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Yes, it will lack a fair few of the Sonata’s more luxurious features, but it will offer a fundamentally better driving package and that’s worth some consideration.
For us, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata offers a very competent package for its segment. It now looks better than ever, offers the latest in car technology and a host of new features. While it comes with one of the best warranties in the business (five years/unlimited km) it still lacks some essentials such as autonomous emergency braking, but if you can forgo that, it’s definitely worth putting on the shopping list.
Our advice is to buy a Tucson or Santa Fe for similar coin, but if a sedan is a must, then stick with the base model Sonata (which we would rate as a solid 8/10), as the value for money proposition is rather high and given its longer (15,000km) service intervals compared to the turbo (10,000km) and significantly cheaper purchasing cost, it makes the most sense.
Service intervals and costs.
Hyundai Sonata Active (2.4L) – Yearly or every 15,000km.
12m - $265
24m - $265
36m - $265
48m - $365
Hyundai Sonata Premium (2.0 Turbo) – Yearly or every 10,000km.