First Drive 2015 Hyundai Sonata: “Modern Premium”


When Hyundai debuted the past generation Sonata in 2011 it caused quite a stir with it’s “fluidic sculpture” design.  It was a fairly aggressive design for the mid sized sedan category, which, when it comes to design, errors on the side of ultra conservative.   While many people did not like the design, it was an overwhelming sales hit for Hyundai, to the tune of a capacity constrained 210-220,000 units a year in sales.

Hyundai’s M.O. is to provide high quality and high content levels at a savings compared to it’s competitors, and this value proposition works well, not only in the Sonata, but across the lineup at Hyundai.

Now with this next generation of Sonata, Hyundai it trying to tweak it’s formula.  They are still shooting for the value proposition, however, this time their goal is to have a more mature looking car, less “look at me” and communicate a “higher quality” aura, both inside and out.

This “modern premium” philosophy, both inside and out, comes through with a much more conservative exterior, and a simplified interior.  Competing, volume wise, with the likes of Camry, Fusion, Altima, Accord and Malibu, there is much to like, yet there is much to question, mostly about the exterior design, but we will get to that in a bit.

There will be three powertrains offered in the 2015 Sonata.  The volume of sales will be with the 2.4 liter four cylinder which will be prodding 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 178 lb/ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.  Fuel economy for the 2.4 is rated at 25 mpg city, 37 highway and 29 combined.

A 2.0 Turbo four cylinder is also available, this unit will produce 245 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 260 lb/ft of torque from 1,350 through 4,000 rpms.  Once again, as in the last generation, there will be no V6 option, rather the two liter turbo provides similar power in a smaller package with better fuel economy.   For the Turbo Sonata that equates to 23 city, 32 highway and 29 combined.  According to Hyundai, the take rate on the turbo, is similar to other brands V6 packages, of somewhere between 17 and 22 percent of model sales volume.

For the first time Hyundai is breaking out a dedicated Eco model.  A 1.6 liter GDI Turbo engine with 177 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb/ft of torque from 1,500 through 4,500 rpms will be rated at 28 city, 38 highway and 32 combined.  While the 2.0 Turbo and 2.4 liter four’s make due with a six speed automatic, the Eco model gets a seven speed dual clutch unit, with updated electronic shift actuators.  Hyundai’s goal was to give a traditional automatic transmission feel, with the performance and fuel economy benefits of a dual clutch gear box.

If there was an area that was lacking in the last generation of Sonata it was the suspension tuning.  While fine over smooth pavement, it felt harsh and abrupt over rough or choppy pavement.  The new generation attacks that in several directions.

First there is a significant use of high strength steel in the 2015 Sonata.  51% of the Sonata contains high strength steel, and, along with the use of aero grade adhesives, it results in a chassis stiffness that is up 41% from the previous model.  Secondly both the front and rear suspensions have been redesigned.  The McPherson struts up front have a different geometry, and the rear suspension has been upgraded from a single to a dual link system.  Lastly a revised steering rack and column shaft communicate a more connected road feel.

The wheelbase for the Sonata checks in at 110 inches, pretty close to standard for the class, as is the overall length at 191 inches, however, the Sonata is the widest in the class at 73.4 inches.  All this translates into what Hyundai says is the largest interior in the class, at 106.1 cubic feet, and the EPA actually classifies the car as a Large, rather than Mid-sized with that volume.

As mentioned, the interior layout got a rethink with the new Sonata.  The dash layout drops the waterfall center stack for a more linear layout similar to the new Genesis sedan.  Hyundai have focused on what they call the “human machine interface” to make it more logical and intuitive for the driver to focus on the driving and not have to search around for HVAC and audio controls or the AV monitor.

There will be two different sized monitors in the 2015 Sonata, either a 5 inch model or an 8 inch when navigation is ordered.  Sometime in the next few months Hyundai will be rolling out Apple Car Play in models ordered with the 8 inch touch screen, though models ordered with the Nav, but not Car Play, may be able to be upgraded to Car Play through a software update at a later time.  Hyundai is also working on the Android Auto system as well, but the Apple car play will be live for some time before the Android system.  We have a video of the pre-production unit being demoed for you to have a look.

Other options that are available in the interior are items like driver memory seats, heated steering wheel ride side window sunshades, heated and cooled front seats along with heated rear seats and LED interior lighting.

There is some hard plastic used in the interior but it is kept to a minimum, but even the hard plastics have a good look and feel to them.  The rest of the materials inside are quite good, on the top end models the leather is nice and supple. 

Two things are quite apparent when you drive the new Sonata, number one, the changes to the suspension have made a huge difference.  We drove both the 2.4 Limited and the 2.0T Sport versions of the car over some very chewed up sections of Michigan roads and the ride was excellent.  There was no harshness transmitted into the cabin or through the steering wheel, yet the car didn’t feel too isolated either, it was a nice balance.

The second item was how quiet the cabin was.  There is a combination of items here, better glass, a smooth full under body tray and overall Cd of .27, there is little to no wind noise, and other than on very textured pavement, little no little tire noise as well.  While we didn’t take a db reading of the cabin at speed, based off our experience with most of the other cars in the class, it’s among the quietest.

While we didn’t get a chance to drive the Eco version, we do prefer the Turbo model to the 2.4 naturally aspirated unit.  Not so much for the power, but the low end torque of the turbo model made it much more enjoyable to drive in stop and go driving and typical city environment situations.  With the 2.4 engine, power and torque are high up in the power band, so, you have to really give it some stick to get up to speed.

Overall driving dynamics are solid.  This IS a family sedan, make no mistake there are no real “sporting” characteristics, even in the Sport model, but it gets the job done, and it doesn’t feel like an appliance, rather a competent road car.

The elephant in the room though is the styling.  It’s said good design should draw an emotion, good or bad.  The previous generation Sonata made a bold statement, and it was very much a take it or leave it design.  It’s understandable that Hyundai wanted to evolve the design, and in many ways you can see what they were trying to do.  Rather than bold they wanted Brooks Brothers or Savile Row, not flashy, but when you see it, you know it’s well tailored.  What they ended up with though is a nice off the rack look.

The styling was pulled back so much, that now it just blends in, and while Hyundai is on a roll, we’re not sure their at a point where they can succeed with average styling.  As you walk around the car, it has some good angles, but someone in design pulled back about 10-15% too much.  A few lines need to be crisper, others a bit more aggressive.  Following other cars in the drive we were on the rear could easily be mistaken for the new Mazda6, the front could be one of many cars in the class.  Also not as well done as it should have been is the cover plate for the radar cruise control.  It’s a large block of shiny black metal that sits just below the logo, it looks very much like an afterthought, not well integrated into the overall look and design.

Pricing starts at $21,960 with destination, and goes up through $33,500 in top spec Sport trim.  There are only 12 build combinations for the new Sonata, and when put spec for spec against the competition they do come out ahead for value.

Value is going to have to be the calling card for the new Sonata, styling, at least on the exterior will not.  Interior and driving dynamics are solid, maybe not as good as some, but better than most.

The mid-sized sedan segment is an interesting one.  With the large volumes on offer, it’s understandable that manufactures don’t want to take chances in a segment where most people are looking for a solid transportation vehicle.  That said, the easiest way to stand out from the crowd and draw interest is good exterior design.  Now if the rest of the car is substandard it doesn’t matter, but that’s not the issue for Hyundai.  Six or seven years in now on making large inroads they have momentum, the question is, with the redesign, will that momentum continue, or have they gotten too conservative.  Only time will tell.


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