The year is 2002. Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears had just called it off, Kath and Kim aired, the VY Commodore and BA Falcon were introduced, and Hyundai was regarded as cheap and unexciting ‘Junk’. Now while that may have been the case back then, it didn’t stop the Sonata from being our first brand-new car.
So why did we choose it, you might ask? We looked at the Holden Vectra, Mazda 626, Mitsubishi Magna, Toyota Camry and a few other medium cars of that era, but all were a bit over our budget for what we wanted.
We then came across a Burgundy EF-B Sonata optioned with the leather and woodgrain package sitting in the dealer.
We took it for a test drive where it performed well and offered the room we needed for a growing family. We also liked the classic curves and chrome beltline, looking reminiscent of a poor man’s Mercedes-Benz, crossed with Jaguar styling.
We ended up ordering a Solid Black 2.4-litre auto with the leather and woodgrain pack, a rarely optioned spec, which looked a whole lot better than the standard black/colour patterned cloth seats, all for a little over $28,000 which undercut all our alternatives.
Now at a little over 15 years old, how has the Sonata held up? Well, to be fair, only averagely, but it still provides us with transportation to wherever we want to go.
Let’s go over what’s wrong with it first, though. Currently with only 237,541km on the clock, it needs a new thermostat which is stuck open, oxygen sensor (I believe), and A/C compressor which isn’t working. Last summer was a Sonata scorcher!
It's also showing signs of worn piston rings, has shock absorbers which creak, engine mounts, and a worn head gasket which was originally replaced in 2013. Other things that were replaced were the alternator at five years old, a new coil at about 10 years old, and power steering hose at 13 years old.
Yes, that is a lot of expensive problems you may say, but don’t let that fool you, as the car still actually runs perfectly fine, even to our surprise, and can take a thrashing here and there, which we rarely do anyway. These problems do, however, incur a higher than average thirst for oil.
Never the less, the Mitsubishi designed 2.4-litre makes 104kW and about 205Nm of torque, being sent through a four-speed auto with a ‘manual mode’. Together they work extremely smoothly, with usually decisive gear changes. You can tell that there's a lack of power every now and then, but the engine pulls really well despite the low torque figure and the current issues it has.
It’s not the most economical engine though, as fourth gear doesn’t engage until 59km/h, but it will cruise in third gear at 50km/h at about 1700rpm.
On the handling front, it’s definitely a Hyundai of old. It rolls into corners and understeers if you push it any faster than a normal pace, while the steering is somewhat slow but offers some road feel, most of it kickback however.
In the wet it can lack grip mainly due to the cheap Diamondback 205/65 tires we have on it currently, and is a little scary to drive due to the lack of ABS brakes which were an option.
It's obviously not a sports car, and doesn't need to be as it provides a very smooth and quiet ride making it a good town and highway cruiser.
The interior is what has surprised us the most, though. The seats aren’t the most comfortable up front as they have a short base cushion, but the back seat is wide and spacious with a soft cushion albeit lacking toe-room, and all the materials have held up extremely well!
The leather is still soft and un-cracked, while the door materials are soft-touch and of reasonably good quality, with no rattles, but panel gaps in some areas are uneven. The upper dash is a hard/soft plastic, and is evidence of cost cutting.
The woodgrain, while plastic, doesn’t look too horrible in this day and age and suits the otherwise all black interior. It’s a quiet and somewhat comfortable place to be and storage is okay with a spacious boot.
Feature-wise, it was basic as it has (well, had) manual air conditioning; single CD/AM/FM radio with a power antenna and six speakers projecting good clarity and respectable bass despite one of the rear speakers not working; driver airbag; and the usual mirror/central locking/window electrics that were all standard.
Cruise control was reserved for the V6 until late 2003 so we missed out, while front fog lamps, a sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels, and the passenger airbag and ABS package were all optional extras, none of which we added to keep the cost down.
Is it true that Hyundai’s were junk back then? Mechanically I guess for us at least, although there are some examples that are still running top notch. We have a 2009 Elantra with 211,000km on it and it hasn't exhibited any mechanical issues at all.
But as a product, it's been okay. You can tell where the extra money went in the Japanese competitors, but we have been very happy with it as it continues to soldier on, even if we have stopped bothering with anything more than providing basic services to it.
We don’t find it’s worth to spend so much on it as it’s not worth anything, being hail damaged, having faded headlights and thin paint.
It has been a good family car though, and now makes a fine station runner/A-to-B vehicle.