The refreshed Hyundai Sonata Active gets a tweaked look and a much better cabin design and fit-out. It remains an uber-competent and comfortable big sedan lacking few attributes but charm.
If you want to see Australia's disdain for big and affordable sedans that aren't called Commodore and Camry manifest, the Hyundai Sonata makes for a great case study.
Just like rivals such as the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord and Subaru Liberty, the Hyundai offers a massive amount of space, comfort and equipment for the money, yet few in the market seem to care.
Even Mazda, a towering success in Australia where it's the second most-popular brand overall, is struggling to move the '6' mid-sizer, despite usually being capable of selling ice to the Inuit.
Unlike North America where big sedans still move in the millions, people in Australia want mid-sized SUVs and won't hear a word edgewise. Thus, Hyundai sells 20 times more Tucsons than Sonatas here.
Yet the brand persists, having very recently launched a mid-life Sonata facelift. And some time with the base Active variant reminded us of the car's great attributes – and not just for big fleet buyers such as the Queensland Police Force.
Hyundai's timing is good. The first imported Camry sold here for three decades has just arrived, and Toyota rightfully expects slower demand, because the crazy-cheap deals it had been offering before will wane. Opportunity knocks...
Yet the refreshed Hyundai Sonata Active version costs $30,990 before on-road costs (equal to about $35K drive-away), which is $400 more than before, and $1000 more than a Camry Ascent Sport grade. Thankfully, you get a lot more for your money than before.
MY18 features not found on the MY17 Sonata Active include an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and SUNA live update, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, plus hands-free boot and chrome door handles.
By adding more stuff to the Active, Hyundai has been able to axe the old $38K Sonata Elite variant, thereby reducing complexity. This means the range now only has two variants, with the Sonata Premium flagship remaining.
This upper-grade model, which we will review over the coming weeks, has a more potent turbo engine, a new eight-speed automatic gearbox and a heap of extra features. But it also costs a staggering 50 per cent more than the Active, at $45,490.
So it's safe to say that the Sonata Active is the sensible choice.
So what else is new? There's a tweaked design headlined by a bolder 'cascading' grille, created at HMC's California studio. There are also new headlights, a 'cleaner' boot and tail-light look and revised wheels.
It's still a very conservative car, though.
As well as that vastly superior new screen, the cabin also gets slicker silver HVAC controls, black plastic highlights that don't dominate the fascia like the Camry's do, a new wheel and gear shifter, and more contemporary dual-zone climate-control display.
The changes add up to a new Sonata Active that doesn't seem stripped-back in the way the old one did, with its small screen and dour design. A Mazda 6 feels more 'Euro chic', but the Hyundai is ergonomic, well made and now a little bit classier.
The MY18 Sonata carries over the 2015 date-stamped ANCAP five-star crash rating that is vital for fleet sales, yet we're disappointed at the lack of active safety features.
A base Camry Ascent has adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking (AEB), the base Mazda 6 Sport has blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert, the Sonata Active has... none of the above.
Features of this type can only be had on the Sonata Premium instead. Except for AEB, which isn't even available on the flagship.
Where the Sonata is a big winner is cabin room, which is among the best in class. The 4855mm-long sedan has plenty of rear-seat leg room for adults and amenities such as vents. The cloth seat trim is nothing special, though it's hard-wearing stuff.
Only the head room could be a little better. Anyone over 190cm will feel their head rubbing the roof-lining seated in the rear.
The boot is a sizeable 510L, and unlike the new Camry, you get a full-size alloy spare wheel under the loading floor. For context, the Tucson Active SUV that costs the same may have a higher and 'useable' boot, but it's actually smaller at 488L.
Under the bonnet is the familiar Euro 5 2.4-litre naturally aspirated and direct-injected four-cylinder petrol unit from Hyundai's 'Theta' family, making 138kW of power at 6000rpm and 241Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
This torque is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission as standard, which now gets paddle shifters.
Claimed 91 RON combined-cycle fuel use is 8.3L/100km, and the tank is a sizeable 70L. We managed figures of 8.7L/100km on our test loop, which is pretty reflective of the average all-inclusive drive. Towing capacity is 1300kg, braked.
We'd add that this figure is double that of the Toyota Camry Hybrid that kicks off at $29,990, meaning high-milers are still better off looking in that direction. Or a Mondeo/Mazda 6/Passat diesel. There's also the diesel Hyundai i40.
When you consider that more than 20 per cent of Camry sales are the hybrid, which is particularly popular with taxi drivers and fleet buyers, it becomes clear that Hyundai may have missed a trick not bringing its petrol-electric one here.
The engine is fine. In other words, happy ticking over at 100km/h, relatively refined and responsive once you've got some revs going, and capable of instantaneous response thanks to the lack of a turbo, and the torque-converter auto.
The Sonata Premium gets a 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo and a newer 8AT, though those keen on operating costs should note that the 2.4 has 12-month/15,000km service intervals compared to 12 months/10,000km for the turbo.
They're actually the same price to service at your Hyundai dealer, though, averaging about $285 a visit.
Under the body is all-round independent suspension with 'amplitude selective' dampers/springs/bar/bushes extensively reworked in Australia, and specified to suit at the South Korean factory.
As a result, the Sonata rides and handles in the typical 'family' way. It's compliant over big hits without suffering any wayward body control against lateral inputs, and also well insulated and composed over smaller ruts. It's extremely comfortable.
It's also sitting on good-quality Continental tyres and has a motor-driven steering set-up that has adjustable resistance. The 305mm/284mm brakes (front/rear) haul the car in fine, though the pedal calibration is odd and very 'grabby' on initial application.
From an ownership perspective, you get Hyundai's great five-year warranty (though a Kia Optima comes with seven years of cover), plus roadside assist and map-update plans.
Don't forget also that Hyundai owners are the 'happiest car owners in the country' according to the latest J.D. Power Australia Sale Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study.
Overall, we're still thoroughly impressed with the MY18 Sonata Active, which gets a heap of extra equipment over its predecessor at a marginal impost. A more comfortable and easy to live with sedan you'll battle to find, frankly.
However, we'd urge you push for a deal. We've seen MY17 pre-update Sonata Actives with roughly 2000km on the odometer going in dealer-land for well under $25K. Staggering value reflective of demand (or lack thereof).
Yet, even at $31K the Sonata is a good buy. A Passat is more high-tech, a Camry Hybrid more efficient, and a Mazda 6 has sharper clothes, yet the Hyundai just does what a big sedan ought to without fuss.
That it also does this without charm and charisma is a problem, but for people buying with their head rather than their heart, this merely spells opportunity.