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2015 Hyundai Sonata SE first drive review

Maybe not a style leader, but attractive value for the money

Published: July 02, 2014 02:00 PM

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It’s hard to believe that we’re now talking about the seventh-generation Sonata. Except for the hybrid version, the latest, outgoing Sonata has been a strong competitor in Consumer Reports ratings, giving heavyweights such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry a run for the money (actually, your money).

We’ve just taken delivery of the Alabama-built 2015 Sonata. Our mainstream SE is powered by the 2.4-liter four-cylinder. We also rented the upscale 2.0-liter turbo version from Hyundai. Our SE with the popular equipment package rang in at $23,315.

The 2015 Sonata line starts with the SE, and then progresses to Sport, Limited, and top-trim Sport 2.0T. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 185 hp; the 2.0-liter turbo bumps it up to 245. Interestingly, both are down on power compared to the last year’s model – 198 hp and 274 hp, respectively. Hyundai’s response to the engines’ lower output is that they produce more low-end torque and deliver improved fuel economy. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission.

First impressions: Right away, we noticed that the new car is considerably quieter. The ride is also improved. The powertrain is as unobtrusive as they get. But the uplevel 2.0-liter turbo with its sportier intentions and low-profile tires add road noise and make the ride stiffer than it ought to be. The interior is roomy and controls are refreshingly simple with all the up to date connectivity features.

The engine, mated to a six-speed automatic does the job, providing ample go and unobjectionable sound. The timely and smooth shifts make it unobtrusive.  Step up to the 2.0-liter turbo and things aren’t as well sorted out: the engine sounds gruff and feels unrefined. What’s more, there’s an annoying turbo lag that feels more like a 1980’s Saab than a modern car. Perhaps Hyundai folks should check out the seamless, linear acceleration of recent turbocharged four-cylinder engines from BMW, Volvo, and Ford, to name a few.

Handling is responsive and secure but without any sporty pretense. The 2.0T version has a different steering set-up but we found the differences minor. The ride is compliant and controlled. And, the pronounced road noise of the previous generation seems to be much more muted in the redesign.

The redesign also includes a driver’s knee air bag, available forward collision warning, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning—items typically not found in this class. Our popular equipment package adds a power driver seat, touch-screen audio, and rear camera. The Limited trim line can get you heated or cooled front seats and heated rear seats—fairly rare in the family sedan class, not to mention retractable blinds for the rear windows. The rear seat is generous and it no longer requires ducking to get into. A few months into the car’s production, Apple's CarPlay will be incorporated. 

Our car happened to be included in an early recall concerning a faulty connector that could result in a steering loss. In early June, Hyundai quietly targeted all 12 retail units sold and 1,500 units that had left the plant.

We think the best version to get is the Limited trim line with the 2.4-liter engine, which gives you a comfortable ride, quiet cabin, and no turbo lag.

CR's take: While the last Sonata had a striking styling, the redesign dials back some with a blander design. If Hyundai’s goal was to make the car blend in with garden-variety Accords and Camrys, well, it succeeded. Based on our experience, the car doesn’t seem to cede anything to those stalwarts in terms of performance, either.

—Mike Quincy

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