Have you noticed this great resurgence in family sedans lately?
The all-new Accord and Camrys that we’ve tested are really pushing the limits of design, performance and technology – fighting back against the rising tides of crossovers and suvs.
And who do we have to thank for the sedan revival? Hyundai.
A few years back, it seemed like the sedan had settled in for a nice long snooze, content to be shopped by those who wanted 4 doors and a trunk – but not interested in grabbing customers by the collar and saying “Hey check me out”.
At the same time, Hyundai was in its revolution, going from a low-end, low-esteem brand, to a feisty competitor to take on Nissan, Honda, and Toyota. It was 2011, and the Korean competitor came out with an all-new Sonata that was jaw-dropping gorgeous – looking like someone from Jaguar had penned the lines in his spare time.
Those big Japanese companies are like ocean liners – they take a while to make a turn, so while they started tarting up their sedans, it was going to take a while for the fresh strokes we see this year.
Dude, where’s my Jag?
While they were busy retooling, Hyundai jumped ahead with their new 2015 sedan. And the excitement that the previous model had, well evaporated. It may have been that the company was saving the excitement for their sporty, youth brand, Kia which offered the extremely handsome Optima, but the Sonata was notably conservative. Meh.
Luckily, Hyundai has decided to put some of the hot sauce back in the design mix, and we now have the 2018 Sonata – notably more striking, and we think it’s an interesting alternative to the direction Camry and Accord are staking out.
The exterior freshening is noticeable and immediate. It starts with the new “Cascading Grille” design surrounded by an aggressive, sculpted front fascia with vertical LED daytime running lights. Around back, distinctive LED taillights and a redesigned rear bumper with relocated license plate holder add a fresh look.
Our tester was the Limited 2.0T, and it gets the Sport model treatment, including a sport grille, unique front bumper, chrome rocker panels, sport rear diffuser and chrome dual tipped exhaust. Sitting on handsome 18-inch wheels, wearing an eye-popping Scarlet Red finish, our Sonata looked handsome and modern – an amazing 180 from last year’s model. So far, so good.
It is worth noting that the Sonata is physically smaller than the ’18 Accord and Camry which have once again grown larger.
Inside there are refinements as well, with revised audio and climate controls with a long horizontal row of switchgear that looks elegant and is simple to use. The 8-inch touchscreen is prominent, of course featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the rest of the info-tainment system is well integrated. Whenever we get into a Hyundai or Kia, it’s always impressive how quickly it handshakes with your phone, and gets you up and running. We also liked the powerful sounds of our tester’s 10-speaker, 400-watt Infinity Premium Audio System.
The speedo and tach have a sportier new look, and the D-shaped flat-bottomed steering wheel looks sporty and feels good to the hands. Don’t let your hands wander too far though, the lower parts of the dash have some hard plastics that hint that our luxurious Limited model shares parts with the most basic model.
Hyundai is known for value, and here in our Limited, the goodies are ladled on with Sport leather seating surfaces with a nice blue accent piping, heated and cooled front seats with driver memory system, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, even cool stuff like Wireless Device Charging and rear side window sunshades.
As we noted, the Sonata is a smaller vehicle than Camry or Accord, but the interior feels spacious, and adults will fit happily in the rear seat.
With the nicer looks and upscale goods, we didn’t expect that Hyundai would go after the driving dynamics, but they did, and the effects are impressive. Hyundai’s familiar 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder remains a strong player with 245 hp and a nice plump 260 lb ft of torque at a barely-off-idle 1350 rpm. Combined with a new 8-speed automatic, the ’18 is notably quicker than last year’s model.
We noticed something interesting. Keeping it in Normal mode, the Sonata felt quick and responsive. Moving to Sport Mode was definitely sharper, but really didn’t feel all that much faster. Until we held the pedal down and let it run to the 6,500 rpm redline. After about 5,000 rpm, that little 2.0-liter started to sing with a lovely exhaust note and punched hard for those last 1,500 rpm.
We wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, but after we found that sweet spot, we were gunning it, and enjoying what a little powerhouse is under the hood. To keep us out of the pokey we often employed the Smart Cruise Control, and enjoyed the stop/start capability that takes much of the chore out of stop and go traffic.
Hyundai also did some fettling with the chassis, and it’s all good – we found the steering felt more natural than before, and that the Sonata turned in, and held on to corners with new-found enthusiasm.
With the red-hot Civic Type-R derived Accord and thumping V6 Camry, the Sonata feels a bit smaller and tighter, more of a canyon carver than a big muscled cruiser – no complaints, since most of the time this is a sensible family hauler that the driver can enjoy when time permits.
The rest of the time, you’re not only surrounded by goodies and good times, but a nice suite of safety items, too. All models feature standard Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Our Limited trim gives you the full boat of safety equipment, and also adds Auto Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Rear parking sensors.
Priced to Sell
We occasionally bemoan the good old days when Hyundai bargain-priced their products to move them out to an unmoved buying public. But those days are gone – the word is out, and Hyundai competes on a level playing field with the big boys. And so it should.
You can get your toes into a Sonata SE for as little as $22,050. A nice package. We’d probably opt at least for the Sport model at $25,200 to get the aggressive body kit, sport seats and upscale trim.
Our Limited 2.0T (T is for turbo) was the top-of-the-line and carried a $32,450 sticker. On the bright side, there are no options. This baby is loaded. And like the Camry and Accord, with the popularity of crossovers, deals are there to be made.
Speaking of which, Loading an Accord will run you $35,800. The top Camry – $37,485. So, while the Sonata may be a bit physically smaller, your wallet will be physically much larger.
We’re glad to see the Sonata back in the 4-door sedan fray. A good looking, well-equipped, fun to drive package. And the slightly smaller size may be a good thing – the Accord and Camry have become large cars – maybe too large for some tastes.
The car that started the sedan revival is back. The 2018 Sonata is better than ever.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.