2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T – First Drive Review w/ Video

This heavily revised Sonata arrives in the nick of time.

Its two core rivals in Camry and Accord have just undergone dramatic redesigns – bringing the latest tech, style and efficiency to their legions of devoted owners.

Staying competitive on the design front means every panel besides the doors and roof of Sonata are fresh for 2018.  All wear a very Genesis-like ‘cascading’ front grille for the first time, as well as a brand new tail with longer and sharper detailing.

It really works in the flesh.  Pulling the visuals of the car’s nose downward and the tail further back has the effect of revamping the Sonata’s proportions as well.  As a result, Sonata’s 2018 revamp must be one of the most effective facelifts/refreshes in the recent car business.

The Sonata Sport and top Sonata 2.0T models have the sexiest look of all.  Black chrome and wide-woven mesh grille set a very racy and dramatic tone for a front-drive sedan!

In the Sonata’s corner this year is then its classy and premium design.  In a nice contrast to the new Camry XSE and Accord, Sonata manages to look new without looking scarily futuristic.

Standard bi-LEDs for the low and high-beams on top models are crisp and super bright – as are the new-look LED daytime running lights.  The Sport and 2.0T have a vertically-oriented stack of white LED lenses in their bumper edges, while the Limited has horizontal white lightbars and subtler stacked triangles of DRL instead.  Limited also wears a more traditional stack or horizontal grille slats inside this new singleframe face.

All Sonata’s are more streamlined as the hood-edge plunges down to meet the vertical grille face.  Stellar quality and tight panel gaps means the shutline is VW-tight at just a few millimeters.

Conservative/premium looks are only part of the new Sonata’s toolkit to earn buyers over the next years.  Fresh cabin controls, materials and safety tech match the new Genesis-lite nature of Sonata.  All are quieter, smoother and comfier than before.  They all benefit from more direct, feelsome steering via a stiffer linkage mounting points than before.  More on the 2.0T’s amazing steering feel via the drive video below!

The Sonata Turbo is the only trim in the range to really get a big mechanical upgrade as well.  The 2.0-liter, 245HP/260-pound-foot turbo is paired to Hyundai’s first-ever use of an eight-speed auto in a front-drive car.

The gearbox is all-new with 34-percent more gear spread over the six-cog unit before.  Far less power loss from the torque-converter is a side benefit of the new automatic, as is snappier response to the Sport and 2.0T’s shift paddles.  Hyundai uses a multi-plate torque converter, direct valve body control and dual ball bearing roller bodies in the eight-speed automatic’s guts to make it so silent, smooth and responsive.  This automatic is a big improvement over the six-speed on the base engine – and it seems like only a matter of time until all models get the eight-speed around the 2020 model-year.

Sidebar: what is Sonata Sport?  For the first time in 2018, the full exterior and interior design makeover from the 2.0T (including its extra-bolstered seats!) is available on the base 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated engine trim from just $25,200 – about $2k less than the 2.0T model.  More on pricing changes for 2017 in this detailed look at the 2018 prices via Hyundai’s presentation pictured below. 

All told, the new Sonata 2.0T is much, much quicker on the road.  Its in-gear pace is hugely improved.  Flooring the alloy, floor-mounted has pedal of the 2.0T proves this instantly.  Upshifts snick into place rapidly, followed by a satisfying boost in urge when the next gear locks in place.

Objective sprint times are set to improve by almost a second: 7.5 versus an estimated 6.7-seconds for 2018.  All with the same engine!  Impressive passing and in-gear power make this the engine for speedy drivers.

In our hands, the preproduction Sonata launched off the line most effectively with a floored throttle and no brake-torque spool-up.  When attempting to build boost via braking at the start of the launch, the Sonata 2.0T felt confused and almost bogged down a bit once the brake pedal was released.  Not a big deal and certainly something 100-percent of owners will never notice in real world driving.

Sprint pace and engagement for Sonata 2.0T is down versus Camry XSE V6 or Accord V6 on paper.  But Sonata is much more efficient and actually sells volume of 2.0T models.  A V6 in those sedans has only about a 5-percent take rate among shoppers due to a $4k price jump over four-bangers.  Thus few Camry/Accords on the road run anything but their humdrum base motors.

Sonata 2.0T (and Limited 2.0T) are still the only Sonatas to use Rack-mounted Motor Powered Steering (R-MPDS), a more precise application of the electrics that control direction than typical MPDS layouts in base Sonatas.

The 2.0T as a result of years of tuning and tweaking, now has the best steering in the segment.  Truly Audi or Porsche quality heft, accuracy and road feel from Sonata 2.0T.  Even outside its SPORT drive mode, Sonata 2.0T corners and pivots like a European sport sedan.  (As cliché as that is to write, it is true!)

The stiffened nose section of all Sonata’s does mean better and more planted handling feel across the range.

Pretty comprehensive updates for Sonata, then, we’re sure you will agree.  The design alone is enough to turn heads and pull questions from curious drivers at every stop.  Juiced performance for the 2.0T model makes it the pick of the lot, of course, but all are at the top of their competitive game this year.

Getting into the 2018 Sonata Limited Ultimate or Sonata Limited 2.0T is easier than ever — their prices are lowered by $2k versus 2017.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Favorite tech details for the new Sonata much be the badge-mounted trunk release that is invisible until you touch the upper part of the Hyundai H on the trunk.  Coolest trunk handle since the VW badge pull ones from a few years ago!  (Handily, all new Sonata’s have a sticker on the trunk showing new buyers where to press to open the trunk.)

Standard blind-spot monitor/cross-traffic alerts for all trim levels is smart and helpful.  With Nav, the 2018 Sonata’s all bring standard remote start/lock/unlock via smartphone applications, with all the suite of Bluelink services free for three years.  Real-time traffic via the HD radio signals is new for the Hyundai  nav system, along with a brighter screen and quicker data processors.  Handy things like Google Search for locations is still dead simple for any driver to use.

As before, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard and work perfectly.  Bravo Hyundai!

As ever, the Sonata majors on value when cross-shopping it versus rivals.  The class-best warranty is still a big selling point, as well.

With this 2018 refresh, Hyundai has nipped and tucked the original 2015 design very smartly indeed.  This new exterior design might be the single biggest improvement.  In a world crazy for crossovers, the humble midsize sedan has to work harder than ever to earn buyer attention.

With Sonata’s upscale new look/feel outside and in, Hyundai deserves more conquest Accord and Camry buyers in 2018 than ever before.

The new Sonata is available mid-August (aka now) at Hyundai dealers around the country.  The niche 1.6T Sonata Eco and two Sonata Hybrids will strengthen the range even more when they arrive in about six months.

Year’s best refresh?  One look at Sonata’s crisp new style says YES!

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T