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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

2018 Hyundai Sonata Review

2018 Hyundai Sonata Review
The 2018 Hyundai Sonata receives a much-needed injection of style.

Like its competition, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata mid-size sedan is hiding in plain sight. With three engine choices and a long list of trim levels, the Sonata is right-priced for buyers and looks sharp.

The Sonata's demerit? It's not a crossover. Whether buyers will come around again, we can't say.


We can say the Sonata is a compelling, high-value package that may be a little light on personality but is a pleasure to drive and has a roomy interior. We’ve rated it a 7.3 out of 10. 

This year, the regular Sonata has a new look outside, some minor tweaks inside, an available 8-speed automatic transmission, and a new Sport trim level. It’s not an all-new car, but it builds on the redesigned-for-2015 Sonata with a small injection of passion that should help it stand out once again. The Sonata is available in SE, SEL+, Sport+, Eco, and Limited trim levels, with a choice of three 4-cylinder engines.

The plus designation is a mid-year update that adds few creature comforts including dual climate control and wireless phone charging. Sport+ models add automatic emergency braking when equipped with the Tech package.

Sonata SE, SEL+, Sport+, and Limited versions all come standard with a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 185 horsepower. Optional on Sport and Limited models is a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 245 hp. The Eco, which we haven’t driven for the 2018 model year, has its own 178-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 and a unique 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that helps it achieve the lowest fuel consumption of the group.

Even in Sport trim, the Sonata is quiet and composed; it’s certainly not a corner-carver, but it handles day-to-day tasks exceptionally well. Responsive steering and a plush ride help it stand out.

All trims are well-equipped, and this year Hyundai has significantly sliced the price of its range-topping Limited by deleting a formerly standard panoramic moonroof in favor of a smaller, traditional moonroof, and by dropping heated rear seats. We doubt too many buyers will miss those features, but they’ll probably appreciate the high-value SEL. Intended to be the most popular Sonata, it’s priced aggressively with desirable features such as a power driver’s seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and optional automatic emergency braking.

Styling
Once again, the Hyundai Sonata is a looker inside and out.

Compared to last year’s dowdy model, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata is basically a supermodel. Compared to a supermodel, it’s just a better-looking four-door inside and out.

We like the changes, which make it more of a head-turner than before. It’s a 7 out of 10 to our eyes. 

The 2018 Sonata keeps last year’s profile, but changes its details. A more evocative front fascia boasts a stylized version of the hexagonal grille seen on most of Hyundai’s newest models. A cleaner look out back tucks the license plate low on the rear bumper and emphasizes this sedan’s distinctive long-roof, hatchback-like profile. It’s a big improvement over last year’s wallflower, which felt awkwardly dowdy with its sexy roof line at odds with its dull front and rear fascias.

Inside, the changes are light. Hyundai didn’t relocate the Sonata’s infotainment screen (7.0 inches in most models; 8.0 inches with navigation). Instead, a silver accent ring that was previously around the central air vents now shows off the screen. It’s a subtle effort to highlight technology that automakers once tried to keep somewhat hidden.

Though the Sonata’s interior is attractive and cohesive, with buttons grouped together and plenty of redundant switches, it’s not particularly interesting. Moreover, it’s only available in rather uninspiring beige, gray, and black shades. A warm brown would help.

Performance
It's far short of sporty, but the Hyundai Sonata rides well.

With three available engines, you’d think there would be a lot to talk about in regards to the way the 2018 Hyundai Sonata performs. That’s not quite the case; the models we’ve driven ride well and feel balanced, but they’re not particularly sporty.

We’ve given the Sonata a point above average for its sublime ride quality. Everything else is about par for the course—more a measure of how good most mid-size sedans are than a critique of the Sonata. 

Most Sonatas to leave the automaker’s Alabama assembly plant—SE, SEL, Sport, and Limited trim levels—boast a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. This relatively large 4-cylinder features gasoline direct injection to save fuel and improve efficiency, and it sends power to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, either about the engine or about the way it drives. It’s smooth and quiet, providing acceptable but hardly ample power. The transmission fires off quick shifts and never seems to hunt for the right gear, something we can’t say about many rivals.

Opt for a Sonata Sport or Limited and you’ll be able to swap out the 2.4 for a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that cranks out 245 hp and 260 lb-ft. This year, it’s mated to a new 8-speed automatic that’s tuned to provide slightly more aggressive, crisp shifts than the slick 6-speed. The transmission suits this engine’s broad torque curve (which peaks between 1,450 and 4,000 rpm).

We’ve not had the opportunity to drive a 2018 Sonata Eco with its 178-hp, 195 lb-ft 1.6-liter turbo-4, but previous drives have left us liking the engine itself more than its 7-speed dual-clutch. We’ll have to see if some of the minor improvements Hyundai has promised for this powertrain make it a better choice this year.

Despite the Sonata Sport’s nomenclature, all models except for the 2.0 turbos have the same suspension and steering settings. They’re soft and compliant with electric power steering that feels natural while still filtering out most road imperfections. It’s unlikely most Sonatas will be pushed hard, but we found neutral, comfortable dynamics on a winding country road in a Sonata Limited with its standard 17-inch wheels. Sonata SE and Eco trims feature 16-inch wheels that deliver a slightly softer ride quality.

Sonata Sport and Limiteds trims fitted with the 2.0 have a sport-tuned suspension that’s noticeably firmer, but hardly too rough. It’ll jostle heads a bit more on pockmarked pavement, but only slightly. To go with that sport-tuned suspension, Sports and Limiteds have a special electric power steering setup that’s a little heavier and provides a hint more road feel. If it’s a sports sedan you’re after, you’ll probably find that the Sonata comes up a little short against rivals like the Honda Accord and Mazda 6. Instead, all versions of the Sonata are pleasantly sedate, with good noise suppression from both the road and under their hoods.
Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid
Later in 2018, new Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid variants will arrive, replacing last year's units. Hyundai hasn't detailed powertrains for those cars yet so stay tuned.

Comfort & Quality
Comfortable front and rear seats and a big trunk make the 2018 Hyundai Sonata a practical choice.

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata’s large footprint yields terrific room for passengers and their gear. Though even high-end models fall short of luxurious, they feel more than in line with their reasonable price tags.

We’ve given the Sonata points above average for its good front and rear seats and for excellent storage both in its trunk and its interior, but we’ve pulled off a point for the way its low roof hampers ingress, egress, and visibility.

Front seat passengers have a decent view out and comfortable seats that are height-adjustable in most trim levels. SE, Eco, and SEL trim levels feature cloth upholstery, while Sports have leather bolstering and cloth seat centers. Only Limited trim levels have full leather upholstery. Sonatas with the 2.0-liter turbo-4 feature heavily bolstered seats that feel like a great balance between grippy and practical to us.

Rear seat passengers, once they’ve ducked their heads to climb aboard, have good stretch-out room and their own air vents and USB port on most trim levels. However, last year’s available heated rear seats have been dropped this year and taller riders will find limited head room.

The Sonata boasts good storage for small items in its cabin thanks to a large center console and big door pockets molded for various beverage containers. Its trunk is a bit above the class average at 16.3 cubic feet, and all versions have a split-folding rear seatback that opens things up to accommodate larger items.

Though the Sonatas we’ve driven have felt solid, their interior materials are just acceptable. This year’s top-line model is about $2,000 less than before, so the interior is now price appropriate rather than a little downmarket for the money.

Safety
A near-perfect crash-test scorecard means the 2018 Hyundai Sonata should be a safe pick.

Few cars on the road have the safety credentials of the 2018 Hyundai Sonata.

Federal and independent testers gush over how the Sonata crumples, so it's no surprise that it nearly aces our safety scale with a 9 out of 10. 

The IIHS calls the 2018 Hyundai Sonata a Top Safety Pick+ after the sedan earned top "Good" scores on all its crash tests, a "Superior" rating for its optional front crash prevention tech, and an "Acceptable" rating for its headlights on top trims. (Outside of Limited trims, the IIHS calls the standard halogen bulbs "Poor," which is important to note.)

Federal testers give the Sonata five stars overall, including five stars for front- and side-impact crash safety. A lone four-star score for rollover protection keeps it from acing our safety scale.

All Sonatas now come standard with blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts in addition to a rearview camera, seven airbags, and stability control. Automatic emergency braking is bundled with adaptive cruise control and active lane control. It’s available for an extra cost on a wider range of Sonatas now, including the SEL and Limited (and it’s standard on the range-topping Sonata Limited 2.0T). While we wish Hyundai would make these important features available on all versions of its mid-size sedan, particularly the Sport, wider availability is a step in the right direction.

Features
Base Hyundai Sonatas are well-equipped and the brand's warranty is fantastic, but there aren't many ways to configure your own.

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is offered in nine combinations that all offer above-average value and a great warranty. We’ve given them extra points for their base configuration and their warranty; we’d peel a point off for the lack of customizability, but, frankly, that’s becoming the norm in this segment.

The Sonata is available in SE, SEL+, Eco, Limited, and Sport+ trim levels.

At $22,935, including a mandatory $885 destination charge, the Sonata SE serves as the gateway to this lineup. It’s fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, power windows and locks, air conditioning, Bluetooth, and a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s not much in the surprise and delight category here until you consider its hefty warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles (whichever comes first) bumper-to-bumper, and 10 years or 100,000 miles to cover its powertrain.

The Sonata Eco will set buyers back $23,535. It features a 1.6-liter turbo-4 engine optimized for fuel economy, but is otherwise mostly identical to the Sonata SE. You’ll have to do the math to decide if its $600 premium will pay out over time for you (it may take up to 6 years for a typical driver).

The new-for-2018 Sonata SEL+ runs $24,585 and adds worthwhile features such as 17-inch wheels, heated exterior mirrors, keyless ignition, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel. An extra $600 for the Tech Package nets buyers automatic emergency braking, an electronic parking brake, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Still well under $26,000, an SEL+ with the Tech Package strikes us as the Sonata to buy.

The Sonata Sport+ adds a moonroof, a black headliner, leather-and-cloth sports seats, automatic emergency braking, and numerous interior and exterior styling touches. It’s not actually any sportier to drive than other Sonatas, and at $26,085 it seems a bit pricey for what it is.

For $28,285, the Sonata Limited features leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, LED headlights, and a memory driver’s seat. A $2,300 Ultimate Package adds all the safety features in the SEL’s Tech Package plus navigation with an 8.0-inch screen, a heated steering wheel, rear-window sunshades, Infinity speakers, and a Qi wireless cellphone charging system.

Limited and Sport models can also be equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo-4; those models feature Michelin tires and their own suspension and steering tweaks, but largely mirror non-turbo models otherwise.

All in, the priciest Sonata—a Limited 2.0T—is a reasonable $32,785 from the factory. A few port-installed options are also on offer, the most notable of which is a $125 charge for carpeted floor mats.

The flip side to the Sonata’s lack of customizability is this: If you’re like most car buyers and want to take home your new ride minutes after test-driving it, odds are good that a dealer will have what you want in stock.

Fuel Economy
The Hyundai Sonata provides good fuel economy for such a roomy sedan.

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata offers good fuel economy, assuming you pick the right configuration.

We’ve based our score on models with the 2.4-liter engine, which represent the bulk of Sonatas sold. It earns a 7 out of 10. 

Sonata SEs with their 16-inch wheels score well at 25 mpg city, 36 highway, 29 combined. SELs, Sports, and Limiteds use 17-inch wheels that dent those figures slightly: 25/35/28 mpg.

The Sonata Eco is the thriftiest of the group without opting for more batteries thanks to its unique engine and transmission: 28/37/31 mpg.

The Sonata Hybrid is the most efficient of the bunch and it checks in at 39/44/41 mpg in most versions. The plug-in hybrid hasn't yet been rated.

At the opposite end, the 2.0-liter turbo-4 offered in Sonata Sport and Limited checks in at a not-so-great 23/32/26 mpg.

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