When was the last time you saw a Hyundai Sonata on the road? Ask me and I'd say I can't remember. That's because Hyundai could never duplicate the kind of success that they had with the Santro when it came to the Sonata. Now Hyundai has attempted to change their fortunes with the latest incarnation of their luxury automobile. But are things about to change with the coming of the all new Sonata? Let's find out.
Hyundai have given the new Sonata the fluidic treatment and based the entire car around the orchid leaf stroke one of the many Chinese painting techniques. This theme is found in almost every flowing line on the car from the projector headlamps to the side profile. The design is a combination of smooth flowing and muscular lines giving the car an elegant yet sporty look. The front gets a massive chrome laden grille and contoured bumpers which together with the strong lines on the bonnet gives the Sonata a very muscular look. Viewed from the side, the car is very coupe-like in its stance with the steeply raked roofline. Just like the Verna, the Sonata too gets a well-defined line running from the front door to the boot lid which lends the car a very sharp look. The rear is dominated by a smart LED tail light cluster. In fact we feel the only angle from which we could sense a resemblance to the previous Sonata is if viewed squarely from the rear.
The Sonata is fully loaded with all kinds of gizmos and gadgetry. The interior is roomy and wrapped in beige leather which adds to the sense of space inside the car. The material quality on the dashboard could have been a bit better and is not up to the standards set by others in the segment such as the Accord or the Superb. The two tone dashboard houses a smart instrument cluster with a speedo, tacho and a trip computer, all swathed in a soothing blue colour. The centre console is also home to the dual zone air conditioning unit and the excellent music system which uses four speakers, tweeters and a subwoofer to deliver premium quality sound. The seats are comfortable and are power adjustable on the driver and passenger sides. However, we found that the sides of the seats kept obstructing our elbows while shifting into second, fourth and sixth gears. There is very good legroom at the rear and even with a relatively tall person sitting in the front the passengers at the rear will never feel cramped. Shoulder room is good too as three regular sized individuals can fit with ease. The rear centre armrest now gets audio controls embedded in it. All four passengers get ventilated seats. Surprisingly though, the manual we drove had only vented seats at the back.
The 2012 Sonata car gets a 2.4-litre direct injection petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The GDI engine makes 201PS or power at 6300rpm and 250Nm of torque at 4250Nm. The engine scores very highly on refinement and does not judder or vibrate even while pulling from 1000rpm. This means that driveability in the city gets a very high number in our score sheet. The car is at home in bumper to bumper traffic as well as high speed cruising. However despite the adequate power figures, the engine does not seem to be too happy to complete quick overtaking manoeuvres on the highway. The shift quality on the six-speed manual gearbox is excellent with a crisp yet smooth feel and the gears slotting in perfectly every single time. The auto box gets a Shiftronic system which means that you get two paddles behind the steering wheel to play around with. The shifts are instant and even in fully automatic mode there is almost no rubber banding between gear changes making for a very involving driving experience.
When the new Verna was launched the only problem we had with the car was that the suspension was too soft. We were afraid this would happen to the Sonata too. But not so much as the previous car! The Sonata has a much more rigid setup and hence handles reasonably through the corners. The car uses Macphersons with coil springs up front and a multi link unit at the rear. Compared to the segment competition (Accord, Camry, Superb, Passat and the like) the suspension is way too soft and that makes it uncomfortable at higher speeds. The ride is bouncy and there is some body roll while cornering. The soft setup also means that there is not a lot of confidence going into corners at high speeds but there is not as much wallowing as the Verna has. The 17-inch wheels are wrapped in Hankook rubbers which give excellent grip. But we are unsure whether the tyres will be in use when it goes on sale here. Another issue we found was that the car was a bit lazy to change direction. This suggests that it is not a car that has been made to be driven aggressively. But then considering that the customers who buy the Sonata will not be looking at posting lap times at the local circuit this can be forgiven.
The Sonata then is a very well-packaged vehicle. It comes with the new found family good looks, a lot of goodies, some fancy gadgetry, many safety features (six airbags, ESP), an excellent engine, comfortable interiors and a reasonable suspension package. No wonder Hyundai calls it the sporty luxurious performance sedan. Hyundai haven't announced prices yet and will only do so after the budget comes out next month. But if they get it right, they have a winner on their hands.