Hyundai debuted the totally redesigned 2020 Sonata sedan at the New York International Auto Show. Its distinctive design and cutting-edge technology should set the Sonata apart from its rivals.

Aside from a slight refresh in 2015, the last time the Sonata got such a major overhaul was way back in 2011. Today’s update makes it clear that despite the automaker’s focus on SUVs, Hyundai isn’t abandoning sedan buyers. In fact, Hyundai chose the Sonata to introduce new technology that isn’t available on any of its other vehicles.

The Sonata debuted in Korea last month, but this is the first time we get to see the U.S.-spec model. We plan to buy and test one as soon as it goes on sale. 

2020 Hyundai Sonata front

What it competes with: Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry
What it looks like: A streamlined sedan with dramatic lighting, chrome accents, and a style all its own
Powertrains: 180-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine or 191-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine; eight-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel drive
On-sale date: October 2019 

2020 Hyundai Sonata phone as key

Outside

Hyundai gave the Sonata a distinctive appearance that’s unmistakably sleek and modern. A trapezoidal grille runs from the edge of the hood to the tip of the bumper, and the tapered rear is surrounded and bisected by lighting. Chrome trim on the sides accentuate the car’s low-slung silhouette.

Perhaps the most unique feature is what Hyundai calls Hidden Lighting Lamps, which surround the headlights and extend up the hood. Although they glow when the car is on, they look like chrome trim when the car is turned off.

It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago, it would’ve been easy to lose the then-bland Sonata in a parking lot. Now, nothing else on the road looks like it. If the Sonata’s makeover translates to a sales boost, expect other carmakers to copy Hyundai’s style sooner rather than later. 

2020 Hyundai Sonata interior

Inside

We’re fans of Hyundai’s clean, straightforward cabin designs, and it appears that the new Sonata doesn’t stray too far from those design principles. The infotainment and climate control systems still get hard knobs and buttons for frequently used tasks, but alas, the traditional gear selector has been replaced with buttons.

Otherwise, the dashboard is dominated by rounded-off angles—including the housing for the touch screen, the vents, and even the chrome trim on the steering wheel. There’s lots of hidden lighting, as well.

An 8-inch touch screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility comes standard. 

More from the 2019 New York Auto Show

A panoramic sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, heated and cooled front seats, and a premium sound system are optional, as is a 10.25-inch touch screen, which has a split-screen function that can display both audio and navigation at the same time.

Android phone users will be able to swap the Sonata’s key for an app. Hyundai Digital Key uses a phone’s built-in near field communication (aka NFC) to perform the same functions as a traditional key, in addition to granting remote access to family and friends—as long as they also have an Android phone. (A similar feature is found in the latest BMW models, including the 3 Series and Z4 that CR is testing.) The vehicle owner can set limits on those shared virtual keys and revoke access as well. Unlike the Tesla Model 3, which also uses a smartphone-based key, the Sonata still comes with traditional keys. (Read "Will Your Smartphone Replace Your Car Key?")

What Drives It

Buyers will have two new four-cylinder engines to choose from: a 2.5-liter engine rated at 191 hp or a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine rated at 180 hp. We hope the turbo addresses some of the issues we’ve had with uneven power delivery from older turbocharged engines in other Hyundai models.

An eight-speed transmission is the only choice, and it replaces the six- and seven-speed transmissions available on the previous Sonata. Hyundai says to expect combined fuel economy of 33 mpg from the 2.5-liter engine and 31 mpg from the 1.6-liter turbo—an improvement over the 28 mpg we got from a current Sonata with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission.

The new Sonata is also the first vehicle built on a new platform that will underpin future Hyundai models. The sedan also gets a new suspension designed to improve handling, and brakes that are more responsive than the outgoing car’s. We find the current Sonata’s ride to be taut although a touch firmer than other sedans in its class.

There’s no word on whether a hybrid powertrain will return. 

Safety and Driver Assist Systems

Standard advanced safety features include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, lane centering, and rear cross traffic warning with rear AEB.

Like the Santa Fe, the Sonata offers Hyundai’s Safe Exit Assist, which warns occupants that a vehicle is approaching from behind when they open a door.

One feature that is more common on luxury cars but unique in the Sonata’s class is Remote Smart Parking Assist, which can move a car in or out of a parking space even if there’s no driver in the car. Like we have experienced with the Nexo, this feature can pull off perpendicular and parallel parking. It is controlled on the Sonata’s key fob, and we’ll see exactly how it works once we buy our own. 

CR’s Take

Sedans may be fading in popularity, so it’s a particularly bold move from Hyundai to give the Sonata such a dramatic new look. We expect the new features that debuted on the Sonata will make it to other Hyundai models in the near future. We’ll be testing all that new technology—and trying out the new powertrains—as soon as we buy our own. 

2020 Hyundai Sonata rear