The new Sonata generation has not been universally loved. It largely abandons the previous swirling design and CLS-style low roof in favor of a longer wheelbase and larger rump. Backseaters will be thrilled: it is now truly jumbo back there and in the trunk.
The benefit of this move is a much larger, and technically full-size, cabin versus its mid-size rivals. What was lost, however, was the near-premium appeal of the Sonata on the roads versus identical Accords and Camrys.
We’re into the second year of this new Sonata generation, and the range is filling out to meet many buyer wants/needs. The base model with its relaxed steering and performance is the broadest in its appeal, but also the one we like least. The new Sonata ECO and Sonata Sport 2.0T are the heroes of the lineup in our book. Innovative turbo engines that have V6-ish thrust but miserly fuel usage sounds like a win/win.
We loved the Sonata ECO’s new 1.6L turbo four and all-new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic when sampled briefly last Spring. Will the extra 67HP of the 2.0T make it the best of the group over the Sonata ECO? And is 60HP up from the 185HP base 2.4L engine enough to make the upgrade worthwhile?
Let’s hop in to find out! We have an HD drive review video and 70 photos to accompany the section headers of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary.
HD Drive Review Video
The exterior style is almost everything cool that’s missing from the ECO and base Sonatas: big wheels, cool dark grille, spoiler in back and quad exhaust pipes. It is convincingly stylish from most angles, especially in this shimmery quartz white pearl paintwork.
The dark grey grille surround and medium metallic grey inner wings up front are a godsend for the chrome-averse. They really enhance the timeless trapezoidal shape of the grille in a way that the bright standard nose does not. In white, we also see how cool the dark-internal headlights are. These really look extra slim and dark on the road, with a giant section of painted bumper below the projector-beams and above the sweet LED DRLs.
These slim strips of white LED light look amazing on the road. Wide, low and very distinctive — these are standard on all Sonata’s from “Sport” trim above. (Which is nearly all of them for the US market, as the SE’s ~$23k starting spec is the only one below Sport.)
The LED DRL lightbars are angled up slightly from horizontal, which creates a very confident shine in the fast lane. These LEDs light up the other big nose change of the Sport and 2.0T trims: a grey aero piece in the lower bumper where the base models have much more conservative, and forgettable, body-color intakes down below.
The nose is a huge win overall, except for the regular, and slightly yellow-ish, lowbeam lights that do not match the LEDs. As part of the Sport 2.0T, Hyundai says these are HID bulbs for the low-beams and LED for the taillamps. But up front, they are not pure white in color and do not light the road like a real xenon should or could. Again, a slight whiff on the tails: these employ LED dot strips that are not fashionable any more.
We lose a bit of enthusiasm around the sides of the Sonata. The new bodystyle is tall and very front-drive in its proportions, especially versus the Mazda6. The chrome accents are also very over-the-top in profile. The bright hood-edge accent is chrome features on all Sonatas and makes little sense in this generation. It fit the old model’s mood better.
The Sport 2.0T upgrades the sills and the door-handles to chrome, and dips the quad pipes in chrome too. This disappears nicely on a white car, but is very obvious and tacky on darker cars. Chrome is very off-trend, especially for a sport special like this turbo wants to be.
We like the integrated tail spoiler and diffuser much better. The 18-inch wheels are sexy machine-polished in their finish, but they look tiny on the road and from some angles. Especially the back wheels. All other Sonatas suffer even more from the tall bodysides and gaping wheel-wells — which make 16-inch standard tires look laughably tiny.
The style of the Sport 2.0T scores big points in places the ECO strikes out completely. But all these upgrades feel a bit half-hearted versus the style of the Camry XSE or Accord Sport for 2016. If that is not damning with faint praise, we do not know what is.
Just imagine how cool a Sonata R might look with a gloss-black roof, 20-inch wheels, full de-chrome and a lower ride height!? It seems like Hyundai might be able to make a cooler Sonata for not much extra cash… if they just had a different taste vision in mind. One without chrome, we hope.
The cabin of the Sonata is where is scores huge points in our book versus those arch-rivals from Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
It is all about the quality of materials and construction, overall refinement and superb driving position. The Sonata is instantly comfortable to drive, with a low-feeling seat base and easy-reach buttons and center stack. The Sport 2.0T has sport leather seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel to up its sport credentials, and is works!
Alloy pedals and metal door sills reinforce the sport mood nicely, as does the Drive Mode Selector that is a rarity in the volume midsize sedan segment.
Push-button start and a proximity key means blipping the keyfob to lock or unlock is a thing of the past. It is posh and premium in feel. A hands-free trunk opening function is also welcome, even if we didn’t really figure out why/when it does its thing in real life. We do know it works, however, from the trunk popping open when we approached the car from the back. Spooky! But welcoming and handy for owners.
The only things you might conceivably miss in this loaded Sport 2.0T are integrated navigation in the seven-inch display audio screen, and perhaps a moonroof.
Overall though, the cabin is a Sonata high point. The solid thunk of its lightweight doors on closing tells you most of the story: this is a high-quality car that feels worth at least $35k on the inside, if you were guessing.
If the exterior of the Sonata Sport 2.0T is slightly hit and miss, the performance is too.
245HP and 260 pound-feet of torque sounds like massively more than the 2.4L base motor or the ECO’s 1.6-liter turbo with just 178 ponies.
In reality, the fantasy of “V6 power / 4-banger economy” of the turbo upgrade is not really accurate. Yes, this 2.0T is much, much faster than the base Sonata. But all of them are too slow. About 11-seconds for the base Sonata is down to an MT-measured 8.0-seconds for the Sport 2.0T. That is well off the pace of the quickest mid-size cars available. Malibu Turbo and Chrysler 200C V6 both crack 6.0-seconds on the same sprint. A two-second gap is a giant, yawning chasm that any driver will notice.
The Sonata ECO actually feels much quicker on the road. We do not have an official sprint time for that car, but would estimate about 7.2-seconds for the much-cheaper ECO. This makes little sense when you look at the power outputs, but these are the facts.
The problem might be in the 2.0-liter turbo engine itself. Its claimed power outputs seem slightly ambitious. It just doesn’t feel like 260 pound-feet of torque arriving at 1350-rpm, as the spec sheet claims.
The six-speed auto is perhaps the culprit. It is a decently responsive autobox, but has lazy upshifts that likely eat up precious seconds. The steering, mind you, is very good. The upgraded R-MPDS rack of the Sport is the main reason to upgrade from the standard engine.
Our other major gripes on the Sonata Sport 2.0T’s performance?
–Sport mode throttle response: as discussed and demonstrated in the video above, the Sonata in Eco mode takes a full-throttle prod to wake its ponies. Normal is normal, and Sport feels more playful at most speeds. And faster all the time.
So just leave it in Sport, right?
Not so fast: the throttle in Sport becomes extremely jumpy. In traffic, it becomes very hard to keep smooth progress with the car in front. Light throttle leads to surge forward, then braking to compensate. It is annoying but disappears when you leave Sport mode. So, that’s not great.
–Engine note: modern turbo and direct-injected engines never sound very inspiring. Not the throaty startup or revs that V6s deliver, that is for sure.
But most do a better job of sounding exciting than this Sonata Sport 2.0T. From the outside on startup, the Hyundai’s engine sounds rough. From inside the cabin, the engine sounds grumbly and diesel-like. It never really wakes up to an exciting intake or exhaust noise, which is a big shame. There is also curious low- and medium-pitched groaning from somewhere under the dashboard. It is not a happy-sounding engine, even though nicely refined in terms of smoothness.
The Sonata Sport 2.0T test car came with everything as standard for its $28,925 base price. Just $125 floormats and the $835 delivery charge take up the total price to $29,885. An available Limited 2.0T trimline with navigation and a moonroof is the only fancier Sonata in the range, but its price is up about $4k versus this well-equipped Sport 2.0T.
Configure your Sonata trim, colors and options over here.
Once you discover that this sportiest Sonata just under $30k, your feelings toward it improve markedly. This is a Camry XSE or Accord Sport V6 rival by all counts outside and in, yet costs a cool few G’s less than either of those loader cars.
But while the Sonata Sport 2.0T looks the business outside and in, the drive is a serious let-down. Not only is it slow, but it makes rapid driving a chore and never really plays along. Understeer is fairly muted but comes on strong when provoked.
In all, we love how premium the Sonata feels versus its rivals. We just wish there were more Sport and more 2.0T in the mix, too. A sexier, more on-trend style upgrade would make the most of this tall roofline. As would a hotter turbo engine with more power at all times. These are do-able on the aftermarket, and the bones of the Sonata Sport 2.0T make it one of the most tunable midsize cars around.
For most midsize car shoppers, though, including that extra style and much more extra power would go a long way to luring V6 refugees.
A Sonata ECOsport might be the best of all worlds!
Configure your Sonata trim, colors and options over here.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.