Seeing Hyundai’s eighth-gen Sonata makes me feel a bit like Charlie Brown when he sees “the little red-haired girl.” Not sure it’s love at first sight, but “wow” the 2020 Sonata is stirring. Yet that’s not a description many family sedans evoke.
Hyundai, which along with cousin Kia continues to up the styling ante, has outdone itself with the new Sonata. After stunning buyers with the sixth generation Sonata in 2011 and then coasting on styling for the seventh gen model, this one rocks the sedan market.
How? Take a look! There’s that big smirky grille, which in and of itself isn’t unique in the car market. Think Lexus and Mazda. But combine that distinctive nose with LED running lights that extend up into the chrome trim north of the lights that extends the full length of the body and … wow!
OK, OK, looks can stir interest, but performance puts butts in the seats. Sonata delivers on all fronts here too.
This is a fine family sedan that easily challenges the likes of Toyota’s Camry (also a good looker), Honda’s Accord (reliable and good resale) and even the Mazda6 (handles great, sharply styled). But the first two are the compact sedan market leaders and Hyundai is out to unseat them. Don’t bet against the South Korean car maker.
I tested the Sonata Limited, the top of its four trim level lineup. So you’d expect it to be loaded. It was.
While the base model offers a 2.5-liter I4 that generates 191 horsepower, the Limited and SEL Plus trims use a torquey 1.6-liter turbocharged I4, a smaller engine with 180 horsepower. What gives? That turbo packs tremendous torque, which is what most of us call oomph, or power from a standing start. The Limited’s torque is rated at 195 lb.-ft. Driving is always fun when the torque number is higher than the horsepower figure.
The turbo gives the Limited plenty of power and it’s delivered smoothly via a modern 8-speed automatic with Shiftronic, meaning you can shift it manually and there are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel too. I rarely use those paddles, and to be honest, in Normal drive mode acceleration is quite good. You can toggle through four drive modes, but Sport is the one you’ll prefer if power is your game. It holds lower gears longer to give the sedan more pop off the line.
Yet you don’t expect to race a family sedan, but you may like one that provides a comfy ride and good handling, so you don’t feel you’re lolling along in a minivan or lumbering in an SUV. Sonata delivers again. Ride is well controlled, never too stiff, even on Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and highways. Big bumps are well cushioned, but road feel remains good.
Likewise, handling is fairly precise. There’s a touch of overboost from the power steering, but that’s mostly noticeable at slow speeds, specifically when parking. You can drive somewhat aggressively on sweeping highway turns and feel the car respond quickly with no body lean, so fun.
Then there’s all the safety equipment that now is standard on Sonata, including lane-keeping assist, forward collision control with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and the gas-saving stop and go system.
Limited ladles on even more with rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, forward-collision with pedestrian detection, parking sensors, and a 360-degree camera that aids when parking in tight spots.
But wait, there’s more!
Blind-spot collision avoidance not only lets you know if something is in the Sonata’s blind spot on either side, it activates one of two screens in the instrument panel whenever a turn signal is engaged. So you see what’s in the blind spot left or right in a round dash gauge. Honda has been doing this for right-hand turns for a bit. Hyundai takes it a step further.
That’s it, right?
Nope, Highway Drive Assist is standard on Limited. It’s a fine semi-autonomous driving system you engage with the smart cruise control. Once engaged it helps keep the car centered in the highway lane while also adjusting cruising speed to match surrounding traffic. I found I could gently rest my hands at the steering wheel hub’s three and nine positions and the assist system did the rest. Nice for a long drive!
Inside my Shimmering Silver Pearl (light metallic silver) test car was a handsome well laid out black leather interior with dash and seats in matching black and trim a satin chrome on the dash, doors, steering wheel and air vents. Gloss black trims the raised console pad for push-button shifting functions and a fake carbon fiber look accented the rest of the console.
Down below the center stack was a huge open area with a bevy of electronic hookups and a wireless phone charger that was easily used. That’s standard on Limited and SEL Plus models. You’ll want it.
Get this too, the infotainment screen is a 10.25-inch model that splits for various functions. It’s easy to see and use, something many luxury makes should imitate. An 8-inch screen is standard on base SE and SEL models.
Seats are heated and cooled up front and the steering wheel also is heated. Hyundai goes with a rather flat bottom seat cushion and a back cushion with mild contouring. I’d prefer a little more side support in the seatback cushion. But I found the flat seat bottom fine and easy for ingress and egress.
Front seats are powered too, and the driver’s seat powers back from the wheel when the ignition is turned off. There also are two seat memory buttons for the driver’s seat.
Rear seats are roomy with good head and legroom, so the car will easily carry a family of four even if some are 6-footers. One annoyance though, every time the ignition is turned off and the driver’s door opened a warning sounds and lights up on the dash to “check rear seat.” Not necessary at all. On some cars I’ve tested that warning only sounds if the rear doors have been opened prior to the car’s latest drive. That’s slightly better.
The Limited also comes with a panoramic sunroof and head-up display, plus all the usual trip computer, phone, etc. buttons on the steering wheel hub.
And, this is the first car I recall driving that came with a digital key card, which looks like a credit card. Pop that in your pocket instead of a bulky key fob. Hyundai says this system also allows you to program the key into your Android phone. Clever!
Gas mileage is another point in Sonata’s favor. This model is rated 27 mpg city and 36 highway by the EPA. I got a laudable 32 mpg in about 60% highway driving.
Pricing? Another plus.
The base SE starts at $24,370 and the SEL is $2,100 more but adds power seats, heated front seats, blind-spot collision avoidance system, better infotainment system with satellite radio, heated side mirrors, dual-zone climate system, push-button start and Blue Link for your phone.
Move up to the SEL Plus for $26,430 and the car adds the turbo engine, larger instrument display, digital key, leather interior, paddle shifters, rear seat air vents, wireless charger and auto-dimming mirrors.
The tested Limited is fully loaded and starts at $34,230. Oddly, it still costs $135 for carpeted floor mats. So the test car ended at $34,365, which is still below the average new car cost.
Know too that a Sonata Hybrid will be coming out later this year, along with a sporty N model. At that point, the sedan market leaders best start watching their backs.
This new Sonata is aiming for the top!
Hits: “Wow” looks, good power (+sport mode), nice handling, good ride, handsome well-laid out interior. Full bevy of safety equipment, plus semi-autonomous drive mode, dual turn-signal safety screens, wide screen, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, driver’s seat powers back when ignition off, wireless phone charger, 360-view camera, panoramic sunroof, good mpg.
Misses: Seat back could use more side support, annoying “check rear seat” alarm every time ignition turned off.
Made In: Montgomery, Ala.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4, 180 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed Shiftronic automatic
Weight: 3,336 lbs.
Length: 192.9 in.
Wheelbase: 111.8 in.
Cargo: 16.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 27/36, 32.0 (tested)
Base Price: $34,230 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $135
Test Vehicle: $34,365
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.