With the Sonata's 2015 redesign, Hyundai made some significant improvements to a car that already competed credibly against such big dogs as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. They improved the ride and reduced road noise. The styling is now more upright and less sleek, but it still looks pretty sharp and the new design makes access easier and the view out appreciably better. The hybrid version is new for 2016.
As before, controls are easy to reach and simple to use. Just as important, the modestly larger interior affords a roomy backseat with plenty of head room -- key passenger concessions that other carmakers blithely overlook. All that adds up to an easy-going, well-rounded family sedan. By way of comparison, the Sonata's everyday personality is a lot more like a sedate Toyota Camry than it is, say, the more engaging Mazda6 or Ford Fusion.
As pleasing as the Sonata is in undemanding driving conditions, not all is perfect. When pushed to its limits, the new Sonata non-hybrid sedan isn't so impressive. At least partly to blame are the stock 16-inch Hankook tires on the SE model: Their lack of grip inhibits road-holding in hard cornering and doesn't allow very short stops in panic braking. The Sonata Hybrid has a different braking experience with very aggressive regenerative brakes that supply a source of energy to the batteries through friction generated when slowing down and stopping.
If not for those modest deficiencies in handling and braking, the Sonata would rank with the Camry, which has held the overall good-conduct medal for a long, long time.
As for ambience, the Sonata's seats are wide and comfortable, and the spacious interior is well-apportioned, but furnishings in the basic SE model are not what you'd call plush, so there's not much of a wow-factor there. The hybrid model does get a "driver only" button for heating and air conditioning.
Our 2.4-liter SE's powertrain delivers ample acceleration. The transmission -- a conventional six-speed automatic rather than one of those CVTs that are gaining wide acceptance elsewhere -- ensures smooth and unobtrusive power delivery. We tallied 28 mpg overall in our non-hybrid car. A few years ago that would have been outstanding, but now it's merely competitive.
The same transmission works well with our hybrid Sonata's system, and while it adds $4,000 to the price, it does shave a full second off the 0-60 mph dash with smooth transitions between electric and gas, even granting an impressive 39 mpg overall.
Overall, the Sonata strikes us as a worthy competitor to the best in the sedan class. Whether or not the hybrid's boost in fuel economy and performance is worth the price premium is a tough call -- especially when gasoline prices are palatable.