By on January 28, 2009

The Hyundai Sonata is a great car for people who don’t care all that much about cars. That’s not a slam. I have a friend who considers his car a device for moving bicycles around. Another buddy would drive a large teapot if it promised a cheap commute. These are bright, successful guys for whom “driving dynamics” are as valuable as GPS on a squirrel (hunters excluded). These motorists deserve a decent ride. Once again, Hyundai’s stepped up to the pump with an automobile that’s so generic you expect to find it in the paper towel section of your local supermarket.

For ’09, Hyundai squared off the Sonata’s headlights and fitted a deeper, “more aggressive” (irony alert) chrome grille. The result: a subtle shift from vaguely 80’s soap bar rental car invisibility to “what kind of car is that?” anonymity. Presuming, of course, someone actually cared enough to ask. Still, it’s a successful under-the-radar aesthetic transformation; you can no longer say the Sonata is so not a German or Japanese car. The SE sport package adds bigger five-spoke wheels and plastic effects to noticeable improvement. It pushes the car from its core competency, though.

Which is convincing occupants they own/are renting a nice car. Lexus is the name of that game and the Sonata plays it to perfection. In fact, the Hyundai’s interior design is so startlingly upmarket—and derivative—one wonders if there’s a sedan equivalent to buyers who put fake M badges on their Bimmer’s butt and steering wheel.

I repeat: the basic shapes ape the Lexian style with Frank Caliendo-ian aplomb. A chrome-like substance surrounding the center stack and gauges brightens-up the cabin to great effect, while most of the plastic surfaces are cushy and pleasant. All the buttons respond with firm precision. The Sonata offers more cubbies than a Montessori school.

My tester was equipped with the 2.4-liter four cylinder engine (not the 3.3-liter six). The bargain and mileage hunter’s choice is no thoroughbred; it took longer to spool-up than a PS2, straining each of its 175 horses in the process. The Sonata’s five-speed automatic transmission was no help. It contemplated every move like a chess master without a clock. Honda and Toyota have smarter, quicker players.

And? The Sonata’s engine moves the car around with acceptable gas mileage (22/32). It got up ramps. And I can’t say the Sonata handled all that much worse than others in this class. From Altima to Legacy, all of these $20K-ish sedans could do with a weekend at Lotus Engineering. There doesn’t seem much point in ranking them, which should make Hyundai happy.

The Sonata’s brakes lacked the decrescendo I’ve come to expect from, well, every other car I’ve ever driven. They grab too much and too severely. The whole car bows its head as if ashamed of its spastic stopping powers. In my fake emergency brake test, I thought I might flip the thing trunk-over-cabin. I imagine I’d get used to them, but if your plan was to occasionally open this thing up to a bit of serious roadwork, it’s a stupid plan.

Remember: you also have to steer the vehicle. The Sonata’s not going to give you any hints as to how. Road feel is for drivers who want to feel the road, and they’re driving other cars. The easiest thing to do in the Sonata is park. Parking’s good.

As you’d expect, the list of standard equipment is crazy: stability control, traction control, ABS, tire pressure monitoring (three pounds either way), satellite radio, an auxiliary jack and a USB port for the stereo. Five years of roadside assistance. Ten years warranty.  My Sonata stickered at $20,862 with an immediate $2k rebate, with more cash on the hood if I’d owned another Hyundai at some point.

Way-hey! Hyundai shows the domestics how it should be done. I don’t know, I guess I’m spoiled. If it was 1972, I’d be raving about the Sonata. But it’s not, so I can’t. But again, this car is no more aimed at me than Barbie’s. Still…

The more time I spent in the Sonata, the more I long for a quirk. Hyundai Motors turns 42 this year. I’d hoped it would’ve begun to distinguish Korean cars the way the Germans, Japanese, French or Italians have done. But there is no Koreaness to the car, to the whole line really.

Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if the Hyundai Sonata added some personality to the equation? Even the minority motorists who value neck-snapping acceleration or brain-bash cornering have to buy a real car at some point, putting common sense ownership considerations above pure panache. If the Sonata had something, anything to set it apart from anything else, would it alienate the car’s core clientele? I’d like to think not. But then, nobody asked me.

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76 Comments on “Review: 2009 Hyundai Sonata GLS...”

  • avatar

    If the Sonata is anything like the Elantra, the SE package should add some noticible cornering “prowess”.

    But, better steering feel is definitely on my wish list.

    Does Hyundai still offer a manual tranny in the 4cyl? That would be better than a confused autobox. (Speaking of which: How does the 6spd auto do in the Malibu 4cyl LTZ?)

    Damn nice car for $20k, though.

  • avatar

    Wait, you toss the Legacy aside on driving dynamics?

    As a former owner of a 2007 2.5i Limited Legacy (non turbo) and a current 2008 Legacy GT (Turbo!) owner, I’ll have to go ahead and disagree with you there.

    The Legacy is heads and shoulders above as far as driving dynamics goes. The 2.5i is a little soft due to strut differences with the GT, but still will tackle an off ramp faster than most sedans out there.

    As for this Hyundai, I think you nailed the point in the statement on showing the domestics. The Sonata car looks like perfect vanilla to take on Toyota. Also, vanilla shoppers vote with their wallets quite often, and offering so many features at a small price almost always succeeds. For 20k, this is a damn fine car. A Legacy Limited stickers higher if you want the leather interior, and you still don’t get as many “features” as the Sonata (If those USB enabled extras are your bag as opposed to steering feel and AWD).

    GM needs to figure out what Hyundai is doing, because if GM built this car, the auto journals would be calling it “car of the year” and falling over themselves to praise it.

  • avatar

    Yes, you can still get a five-speed manual on the base Sonata four-cylinder.

    I think the old four-speed performed better with the 4 than the new five-speed auto.

    Having driven a million miles in these, Camries, and Accords, I feel the Accord is still the best drive. Everything works well together. I’m still partial to the last generation, but even though the new Accord is bloated and ugly, it still works well as a car. The Camry seems better sorted than the Sonata, but the five-speed auto/4-cylinder combination is even worse than the Sonata. Ever try to get the Camry to downshift to first at more than 10 mph? Impossible. Even if you put it into first with the gear selector, it won’t respond. Plenty of power, but a trans that won’t use it responsibly.

    The Sonata is a work in progress. I was always impressed with the NF Sonata, especially with the stonking V6 (once rented a Canadian-market one for a week… V6 with telescoping steering wheel that you can’t get in the US, manual seats, power moonroof, cloth, fogs… Perfectly optioned, but n/a in the US). The interior has been massaged into nearly world-class, with the best gauges available under $35 grand and good quality materials. The one thing that has always bothered me is steering kickback and suspension tuning. There’s tons of roll and lean and duck and dive, and the cars crash and float over bumps worse than the competition. But the Sonata is fully 90% there, and I expect great things about the upcoming redesign for ’11.

  • avatar

    Hyundai seems to be sticking to their brand of value — ie “we’re near-as-dammit as good as the other guys, for less cash.” The lack of quirks is perfectly in line with this message. These buyers don’t want quirks, they just want to get to work.

    I just finished up nearly 5 years and 84k miles as the original owner of a 2003 Hyundai Accent, and it had much the same qualities as this reviewer found in the Sonata. Everything worked well. It was well equiped (for it’s market segment) and worked. No feel or soul, but it worked every day and did exactly what was it was called on to do, without fail. It my car had 4 doors I’d still have it.

    Lots of folks just want to get around, and don’t care one whit about driving dynamics, soul, etc. — they just want good, reliable, and inexpensive. They don’t even need great, just good enough.

    Hyundai seems to have that market nailed. If they can keep it up, they’ll be a long term success — and a model for the US makers (especially Ford, as I see this market as where Ford should be).

  • avatar

    I haven’t sampled the optional Infiniti-tweaked stereo, which sounds good on paper. Has anyone else?

    The Sonata’s standard six-speaker system is utter crap.

  • avatar

    … but if your plan was to occasionally open this thing up to a bit of serious roadwork, it’s a stupid plan.

    Yes, but anyone who buys a Sonata and then takes it out for some all-out motoring needs to get their heads examined, anyway. It’s an extremely sensible ride for a truly ridiculous price, and the interior would shame some cars costing three times as much.

    Remember what Hyundais looked like 15 years ago? (Then again, Who would want to?) Give Hyundai 10 more years, and the US manufacturers will be toast. Another 10 and it’s the Japanese ones.

  • avatar

    Hyundai seems to have that market nailed. If they can keep it up, they’ll be a long term success — and a model for the US makers (especially Ford, as I see this marked as where Ford should be).

    Ford seems to be marketing themselves more on a value Honda equation these days. The Fusion, while not as nice inside as the Sonata, is a leagues-better driver’s car. Not at all a racer, but the Sonata really is that bad at spirited driving. It’s great at everything else, however.

    Ford is sort of the new Honda, without the styling flamboyance. Even the big Taurus drives well for its size (though not as well as the Five Hundred, which many of the retirement set probably felt was too stiff). They also play the green card heavily, unlike Hyundai, and the engineering card. Hyundai seems to me to be aping Toyota almost tit-for-tat, while Ford is reinventing itself as a technology-led enviro schtick that Honda perfected, though with a core business of trucks/SUVs that doesn’t mesh well with that ideal.

  • avatar

    We helped my mother-in-law shop for one of these in December. As you said, a perfect car for people who just want reliable transportation. She felt that the CamCords were just too big for her, and the Sonata was just right. She loves it.
    I’m impressed enough with it that when it comes time for me to purchase a new daily driver, I’ll be including the Sonata SE on my test drive list.

  • avatar

    Does Hyundai still make the Azera? If so, why? Haven’t they witnessed the Maxima’s demise at the hands of the Altima?

    Bad at spirited driving, KB? Scottsdale Police might disagree.

  • avatar

    I drove the V6 SE a few months ago–and have been late getting a review to TTAC. Maybe in the next few weeks…

    Anyway, the SE bits and V6 do make a definite difference, with a ride/handling balance that’s about where the base car should be for anyone who finds an Accord satisfying. But, like others in this class, there’s not enough to excite–hence the delay in getting the review out.

    On the reliability front, the Sonata has had a low to moderate repair rate, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Vehicle Reliability Survey. We’ll have a result for the 2009 next week–thanks to a survey process that yields results far ahead of anyone else.

    TrueDelta now has a Vehicle Reliability Comparison page for each model. The one for the Sonata is here:

  • avatar

    It looks like a Lexus from the front, a Audi from the side, and a Accord from the back.

  • avatar

    It’s really cool to see that Hyundai keeps nailing the equation. It is not a ground breaking car or strategy, but a slow methodical pace. I think they are happy to produce a good car at a great price and they seem to be forging ahead with this strategy. I have a Hyundai Elantra GT Hatchback and love it. I will buy another Hyundai in a few months. A good car from a great car company.

  • avatar

    I’ve had two week-long V6 Sonata rentals in the last couple of months. They were about like the four-cylinder version sounds. They go, they stop, the electronic nannies take away any attempt to have fun on snow and ice, they bore. I had a V6 Fusion last week and was much happier with it. The first line in the review is spot on – “the Sonata is a great car for people who don’t care all that much about cars” – but there are other cars that let you have your cake and eat it too.

  • avatar

    The sticker price is very impressive, especially considering that it’s built in the USA. So does it qualify as the best American car value?

  • avatar

    My generic comment about the Far Eastern cars is that they are like kissing your sister.

  • avatar

    The story at the link factotum provided says according to Hyundai a V6 Sonata has “a drag-limited maximum speed of 137 mph.”

    That should be adequate for everyday use, don’t you think? Heck, when I rent a car I rarely get it over 130.

    But does the fireball Sonata come with V-rated tires? Seems like I heard in Europe a car has to have tires rated for the vehicle’s top speed. For the market the Sonata is targeted for, basic S-rated rubber is typical practice.

  • avatar

    Is TTAC trying to secretly tell me something?

    Before I logged on for my day’s worth of TRUTH, I was browsing used car websites looking for my next car and I was thinking to myself, after owning a 2002 Elantra, if I wasn’t such a gearhead, the new Sonata would be a fine replacement.

    The facelift Hyundai gave the Sonata gives the understated good looks, arguably better than the Accord, and with so much standard equipment for the price.

    And then I come head-to-head with TTAC’s review.

    Hmmmm……nope, I vote sporty.

  • avatar

    Hertz has a regular habit of giving me these things (or the Kia equivalent). Every time I get into one, I’m impressed. The Sonata is remarkable in how much it doesn’t suck, relative to the Pontiac/Oldsmobile crap that I was often stuck driving in the past. Everything works. There’s a surprising amount of acceleration (for a rental car). The stereo’s surprisingly good (for a rental car). And so forth. I think Hyundai is poised to dominate the rental car market.

  • avatar

    “I think Hyundai is poised to dominate the rental car market.”

    The very definition of (car-wise) “damning with faint praise” ;-)

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Quality, reliable, durable cars, with good warranties that sell at attractive price points do well in the market. Who knew?

    In view of my recent dismal experience with a famous Japanese brand, also with an “H” in its name, I’ll be looking at Hyundai next time out.

  • avatar

    Not a bad rental, I always ask Hertz if they have any Mazda6 or Fusions on the lot though. Give me a little personality and driving enjoyment, and I’ll gladly accept a little more harsh ride or noise in the cabin.

    Great car though, alot of blue-hairs are tending towards these as you can get them loaded up for quite a bit less than a Camry. And the I-4 has plenty of power for their style of driving.

    My major dislike about the 09 Sonata rental I had, was the bright blue displays…I ended up turning them completely down, it’s very obnoxious.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Thanks for a nice review, Michael.

    I think this is a marvelous car for the price. It’s so beautifully generic. I’ve had them as rentals probably ten times and have always been pleased.

  • avatar

    a fantastic, spot-on review. I love reading reviews where the review doesn’t miss the point.

    “The steering on the Camry is awful! Dead on center, too light and overboosted, wahhh”

    these people fail to realize there are 3 other people out there, tops, who give half a sh*t about the steering quality on a Camry.

    Kudos to you.

    i’m a big fan of the Sonata as boring family transit; I just don’t get why it’s still got an interference-style engine with belt-driven cams. The people who own 4-cylinder Sonata’s aren’t going to follow the maintenance schedule; who is Hyundai kidding here?

  • avatar

    Hyundai clearly has Toyota in their crosshairs. All they have to do is aim at the middle, make it distinctly more inexpensive than Toyota and not have their cars crap out and they will slowly gain market share. As long as they can provide durability expected they will get repeat business and gain new converts along the way.

    I would add that just because people have differing tastes in cars from the reviewer, does NOT mean that they don’t like cars. No more than a statement that people who like BMW’s do not have common sense or care about their children’s future. Its simply not true. I mean think about it. If someone really doesn’t care about cars they will never buy a new one ever. I am about to evict a tenant who had trouble making their rent and that was before she went out an bought a new Kia Spectre because she just loved that car. I had another tenant that loved her Pontiac Aztek. People have different tastes in what they desire in a car but most desire their cars.

  • avatar

    Agree with Dan and Justin – as a rental its a pleasant contrast to any equivalent domestic product or even some decontented Japanese offerings.

    Hyundai today very much reminds me of how Toyota was in the 1970s – a similarity that I’m sure isn’t lost on Toyota which must regard Hyundai as one of their top competitive threats of the next couple of decades.

  • avatar

    Back around 2004 or so I test drove the Sonata back to back with the Accord. The Sonata looked like an Accord rip off so I wanted to see how well it copied Honda.

    At the time I though it was a bland, cheaper alternative for people who didn’t care about driving dynamics and the Honda premium in price. Clearly the Accord was better all around, but was it worth the extra $$ ?? From your review I don’t think Hyundai has changed anything and is still trying to win on the price points and nothing else.

    I’ll credit Hyundai for getting their quality up there and making a decent appliance vehicle, but the only real strength a Hyundai owner can tout over the Honda/Toyota owner is price. Factor in resale value and that might even be a wash.

    In the end the Hyundai will be lined up with GM and Chrysler fleet rejects at the “bad credit friendly” used car lot, while the Honda/Toyota gold standard sedans will still demand premium gold standard used car prices. Argue what you will about your vanilla Sonata, but Hyundai ain’t gonna beat the market leaders with a bland copy.

  • avatar

    Has Hyundai cured their monstrous torque steer yet? A V6 rental I had was all over the intersection if much throttle was applied at start-up. Plus pimple-faced teener wheelspin.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    So, it’s an applicance. To some extent, we all need appliances in our choice of cars, so it sounds good enough at first. But who needs an appliance that isn’t all that useful?

    I don’t mind a car that is basically a work horse. I use mine to go on business trips and visit kin. But I also use my car to transport a bike every now and then, to take the dog for outings, to lug a bass guitar plus large Fender amp, and to go skiiing. So I have a largish hatchback. The Sonata wouldn’t be all that useful to me.

    As so often, the question is twofold: what do you need the car for? And what does it say about you? I don’t want to diss anybody who likes the Sonata, because it is a good and honest and honorable vehicle. But if I had one, I’d feel it would be saying to the world: this guy doesn’t do anything with his life but commute, and is afraid of anything even mildly risky.

  • avatar

    50merc :
    January 28th, 2009 at 10:38 am

    The story at the link factotum provided says according to Hyundai a V6 Sonata has “a drag-limited maximum speed of 137 mph.”

    That should be adequate for everyday use, don’t you think? Heck, when I rent a car I rarely get it over 130.

    But does the fireball Sonata come with V-rated tires? Seems like I heard in Europe a car has to have tires rated for the vehicle’s top speed. For the market the Sonata is targeted for, basic S-rated rubber is typical practice.

    That’s Hyundai’s official stance, but remember about a year ago, someone was clocked doing 152 in New York in a Sonata V6 rental. He fought it on the grounds that Hyundai said it couldn’t go that fast, but tests proved the rental he had could go over 150. I kid you not.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if the Hyundai Sonata added some personality to the equation?

    Yes. Hyundai is like Toyota: They are building cars for people who don’t actually like cars.

    For example, “fun” requires tighter steering and stiffer suspension. Which increases noise, vibration, and harshness. Therefore “fun” is a defect that must be engineered out of the car.

    And I too rented one once. FAR better than the excretable GM products. Again, I’d rather rent a Mazda6/Fusion/Milan, but unless one of those is on the Enterprise lot, I’ll gladly take the Hyundai.

  • avatar

    MrbOOst said “i’m a big fan of the Sonata as boring family transit; I just don’t get why it’s still got an interference-style engine with belt-driven cams. The people who own 4-cylinder Sonata’s aren’t going to follow the maintenance schedule; who is Hyundai kidding here?”

    Actually, the 2006 and newer Sonata engines, both four and V6, were all new and have cam chains, not belts. I owned a prior-gen Sonata (2.7) V6 and we replaced the cam belts ($800) then 2000 miles later, we were offered such a deal on a 2007 (four cylinder) that we took it.

    Not everyone wants The SpeedyGonzolasMobile – obviously this is not going to rate highly from younger tester’s point of view; but as so many others have quite correctly commented, there is a HUGE proportion of folks out there who simply want to have a good, comfortable, reliable, steady Eddy car to serve their needs.

    It’s kind of like imagining that an automobile is a form of “butler”.

    Given that mental picture, what does everyone really want? Of course; you want reliable; quiet; dutiful; relatively inexpensive; low maintenance; understands and speaks your language; willingly does what you reasonably ask of it; carries on without complaint; sips and doesn’t guzzle; doesn’t go to the (expensive) doctor’s office on a regular basis; is reasonably competent on multiple fronts; and doesn’t frighten pets and small children to look at.

    The Sonata is “Jeeves” and looks perfectly nice in black.

    Ours is called “Frank” (my British bro-in-law named the car). “Frank Sonata”, geddit? (I know, I know – “groan”).

  • avatar

    red60r :
    January 28th, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Has Hyundai cured their monstrous torque steer yet? A V6 rental I had was all over the intersection if much throttle was applied at start-up. Plus pimple-faced teener wheelspin.

    No. Big problem with all Hyundais I’ve been in. Even the almost-adequately powered Elantra has torque steer. The only one that doesn’t is the pedal-powered Accent. Hyundai-Kia really need to improve their steering-front wheel connection. They all have too much torque steer and kickback, yet no feel whatsoever.

  • avatar

    Having been loaned a 2009 Sonata V6 while ours was being serviced (free loaner, I might add), I can see how that rascal could go over 140 or even 150 mph.

    The damn thing was so overpowered it was ridiculous.

    Anything more than 200hp needs right-wheel-drive, not front-wheel-drive.

  • avatar

    Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if the Hyundai Sonata added some personality to the equation?

    Absolutely. Hyundai recognizes there is a vast ‘car as appliance’ market segment that provides plenty of meat to live on. High features/lowish relative price, comfort, good warranty? Perfect! Adding some panache would risk alienating some of them. The Camry and Accord had better have something up their sleeves or they will wake up one morning and be losing.

  • avatar

    My best friend bought this exact same car when it was first launched in mid 2008 as the new 2009 model after comparing it directly to it’s main competition. We have driven it all over creation and it has performed pretty well and been reliable. The competition we drove was a 2008 Camry LE 5 speed automatic, 2008 Accord LX sedan with 5 speed automatic, 2008 Malibu LT 2.4 with 4 speed automatic and a Ford Fusion with 2.3 and 5 speed automatic before the Sonota purchase. The Camry with it lackluster interior, bland plain exterior complete with ugly grille, softer mushier handling and more enemic 158 HP engine and sluggish shifting transmission left us cold. So did the fact that the Sonota flat out embarrassed the Camry for interior quality and appearance, a more up scale looking exterior, warranty and std features. If there ever was a car designed for folks that don’t care about cars the Camry is it! Even it’s stereo system sounded inferior to all the other cars. Next was the Accord which was the whopper compared to the other double cheeseburgs. It was very roomy and it’s 177 HP L4 performed well enough. It was also the most expensive of the bunch with a weaker warranty, a noiser ride going 70 MPH, less comfortable seats and the dash is a mess of wierd knobs and confusing buttons. It seems to have also lost some of it’s handling and fun to drive traits but it had far more character than the Nauseatingly dull Camry. The new style LT Malibu was a pleasant surprise but also an expensive one. It rode and handled the best out of the group and the 2.4 engine was smoother and quieter than the Camry or Accord and on par with the Sonota. The Malibu also had a lot of features for the price like the Sonota such as stability control, ABS and traction control, telescoping wheel, Onstar and the 5/100 powertrain warranty. The Malibu fell down a bit with a smaller feeling cabin, lack of rear seat center armrest and smaller trunk opening. We also wish it had the new 6 speed automatic trans like the 09 models do which would have bumped highway mileage by 3 to 33 and improved low end performance quite a bit. The Fusion also was a mixed bag. It was nice enough looking and had a distinct Ford personality to it. The interior was pretty good and roomy enough and the Sync is awesome. The Fusion also handles quite well and is fun to drive around twisty roads. The 2.3 liter engine dissapointed and it’s highway mileage rating of 28 is well below the others. That left the all around better performing Sonota as the best and most practical choice for the money. It has been averaging 28-30 MPG and saw 34 on a few trips. The 2.4 175 Hp engine isn’t a powerhouse but once broken in feels plenty quick enough for daily driving duty. The 5 speed automatic is pretty seamless. The seats are all day comfortable provided you purchase the GLS popular equipment package with power seat. It also includes a trip computer, steering wheel controls, wood interior accents, auto headlights and some exterior chrome trim. The Sonota was also the only car of the bunch to offer a USB port which is great for when you want to listen to MP3’s on that 5 hour road trip. We didn’t get to drive the Nissan Altima but it’s CVT scared us and the front seats are rock hard so we skipped it. Our pecking order would thus be:

    1) Sonota
    2) Malibu
    3) Accord
    4) Fusion
    5) Camry

  • avatar

    Just did a quick check of the local used car prices to check my hypothesis. Used 2007 Sonata with 20k miles were going for $11-13k. Same year Accord with similar miles were $16-20k and Camry was $17-20k and well above for hybrid versions.

    Brand spanking new the Sonata is about a $5k cheaper car than the Accord/Camry…last I checked. Resale it looks to be about the same with a little upside to the Camcord models. Hence my argument, if in the end it’s a wash, why not buy the “better” appliances from Honda/Toyota.

    Remember, being the cheapest hasn’t helped GM lately.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Folks, the Sonata actually has been a terrible seller vis-a-vis Hyundai’s expectations for it.

    But then again, you may as well add the Kia Optima into the equation as well to tally up the overall sales since they are as similar as two pieces of toast. They usually go fro a cheaper price out the door for the non-enthusiast and satisfy anyone except perhaps those aspiring to an upscale Camry or Accord. To an enthusiast, all these cars are to the driving experience what novocaine represents to a masochist.

    When it comes to ‘comfort’ midsized rides I have endorsed the Sonata in the past for those looking for an import along with a slew of other near-Camry models. The enthusiast out there would be far happier with a Mazda 6 or a Ford Fusion, but the 12 year/200k crew looking for a plebian ride would do far worse than Hyundai/Kia.

    Far worse though does not mean ‘the best’…. as evidenced by Hyundai’s sales of retail units.

  • avatar

    I had an experience similar to Theodore’s. Reaction to the Sonata was meh. I was suprised at how poor the gas mileage was (17.8). Granted, it was a rental in the DC area. Then we got a Fusion on vacation in New Hampshire. It grew on me, actually. Although it was slow and didn’t handle very well, it got good mileage (26), looked reasonably well and had a nicer interior. If forced to choose, I would get the Fusion. Thankfully, for the moment I’m not forced to choose and can buy something I actually want.

  • avatar

    I was at the Detroit Auto Show last week and visited the Hyundai section to see the new Genesis. I have to admit, I didn’t notice the new Sonata sitting right next to the Genesis. While waiting to sit in the Genesis I didn’t even notice that the Sonata had changed styling.

    What I’m trying to say is that if you like bland, this is your car! And by bland, I don’t mean vanilla. Real vanilla bean flavor can be quite complex. Bland, however, is like flan without the flavor.

    I’m happy to see that Hyundai is gaining marketshare, all the while showing the Detroit 3 how and what they should be doing to get back in the game. They have a sound business strategy that is paying off. Kudos. As another poster pointed out, I just happen to like different cars.

  • avatar

    If compact and midsize sedans are sisters, then I’ll kiss a rental Sonata all day long. Goodbye trailer trash Chevrolet Malibu Maxx and Dodge Stratus pie.

  • avatar

    i have an 07 sonata v6. can anyone tell me why iam getting only 18.5 mpg. when i got it i was getting 20.1. it sucks. other then that great car.

  • avatar

    I may be looking for one of these in about 3 years when my oldest child turns 16. A 3 year old Sonata, assuming current depreciation levels, could be a good car at a good price. They have excellent standard safety equipment. The 4-cylinder models have good EPA ratings, almost as good as the Elantra. Lots of room. So what if the Sonata isn’t so great on the hairpins.

    On the downside, the Hyundai dealers that I’ve encountered haven’t been very impressive.

  • avatar

    I can “guess” CaliCarGuy, as to why you are having a drop in MPG.

    Blame the “reformulated gasoline” foisted on you by your government.

    On a 5000 mile trip, I noted when I used real gasoline vs. 10% ethanol blends and found that our 2007 Sonata four cylinder got 6% better MPG’s with real gasoline.

    I also suspect, but can’t prove it, that the oil companies are dumping extra ethanol into their fuels, i.e. E20 instead of E10, without telling us.

    Why would they do that? The subsidy on ethanol is pretty high, for one. They can pocket the monies and charge the same price. They know that E10 and E20 goes through cars like a drunk goes through free drinks at a Christmas party.

    The Detroit 2.4 can’t be in league with them, however, since running anything above E10 in your non-flex fuel vehicle actually voids the warrantee.

    Thus, it sure would be interesting to see our government “watchdog agencies” do surprose spot checks and see if we are getting real gasoline when we think we are (not available in California or Minnesota or Chicago or DC or NY any more), or “only” 10% ethanol in our gasoline in most other places.

    BTW, CaliCarGuy; I’ve thoroughly and carefully tested every single car I’ve had since 1979, on E10 vs. gasoline and can tell you that in every case, I’ve lost 6% to 34% MPG on E10 compared to pure gasoline.

    There’s your probable answer.

    Of course, given you have a stellar warrantee, you could always take it to Hyundai – and ask them to run a diagnostic check. You may actually have an 02 sensor problem or some such.

  • avatar

    I haven’t driven the new one. The girlfriend has a 2008 GLS with a manual, so my experiences are based on that.

    Firstly, I have to agree with Sherman Lin. To say this is a car for people “who don’t care all that much about cars” is a narrow view. I realize TTAC’s audience, but not everyone wants to “carve up the twisties” etc etc. This is the same reason I objected the TTAC reviewer ranking the Altima second among automatic four bangers just because it was slightly more sporty (talk about a relative scale).

    I do want to “carve up the twisties,” but after spending too much time on California’s crumbling roads in my car (with a torturous sporting suspension), time spent in the Sonata is like a dip in the spa after a long hike. It floats like a cloud.

    Having experienced brake grab in other new cars, I can’t this one struck me as “aggressive passive.” The steering however, is sometimes numb to a point of dangerous.

    I’ll always take a manual transmission, but while the shifter wasn’t that bad (though not nearly good), the clutch is way too sensitive. Even experienced drivers stall out in that car. Maybe it simply needs an adjustment (which Hyundai refused to perform, stating that “well, nothing is broken”).

    In all, it sold for $14.5k. I saw 2009 GLSs advertised at $15k recently after rebates. With all of the standard equipment, its probably the best mid-size value on the market (and yes I realize it’s technically a full-size car).

  • avatar

    My wife has an 06 Sonata. Its a good enough car, as the review states. I was curious though, has Hyundai fixed the terrible ventilation in these cars? The wife’s windshield fogs up terrible if its even the slightest bit damp outside.

  • avatar

    Hyundai is the people’s car

    3 star is accurate not to good and not too bad.

    If you need to buy a cheaper car buy the KIA
    and please don’t file a complaint.

    Did you realized you purchased an Econobox?

    Believe me or not I’ve seen more Hyundai out there than a 08 Mitsubishi Lancer

  • avatar


    I haven’t really noticed that problem in the 08. However, it seems like it doesn’t defrost nearly as quickly as many other newer cars.

  • avatar

    I’ve had several Sonatas and they have been great cars. As far as I’m concerned , Honda is overpriced and Toyota is overrated. The Hyundai is a high value , safe, reliable car that gets you from here to there. I don’t look at resale which incidentally has risen over the years because I’d rather pay less going into the deal and keep the car for a number of years. If I get the urge to take a drive to get excited and have fun with a car I’ll take my Corvette for a ride.

  • avatar

    The Sonata is a steal. I was the original owner of an 03 2.7 for 5 years and 90K and never had any major issues with it other than the basics. My folks own an 06 V6 which is actually pretty fun to drive.

    The 09’s are a complete step up on the interior from the 06, and the 06 isn’t too shabby. I bought the 03 fully loaded with everything but leather for the price of a loaded corolla at that time. It was a no brainer.

    I still wait for the Elantra Touring……

  • avatar

    gman, I got to sit in the Elantra Touring at the Detroit auto show, and – you’re going to liiiiiike it….

    I also enjoyed eyeballing the Genesis cars, and spent quite a bit of time looking over the upcoming Sonata hybrid tech section while jawboning with one of the female Hyundai folks (before your eyebrows all go up, my Mrs was standing right next to me!….)

    I do have to quibble with the description of this car as “derivative”. I mean, c’mon; how many ways can you arrange 4 wheels, 4 doors, a hood and a decklid? How many ways can you arrange an instrument panel, seats and inner door panels?

    Have a peek at the “next gen” Sonata (due end of 2010)

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    On a 5000 mile trip, I noted when I used real gasoline vs. 10% ethanol blends and found that our 2007 Sonata four cylinder got 6% better MPG’s with real gasoline. – menno

    Several weeks ago I wrote here that Shell premium is genuine gasoline. Marketed under the trade name V-Power, it is advertised as ethanol-free. Presumably Shell sells sufficient ethanol-contaminated regular and mid-grade to achieve the legally required Ontario 10-percent average.

    Shortly thereafter I noticed the signs advertising Shell premium’s ethanol-free formulation have been removed. Shell assured me in an e-mail its premium grade gasoline is still ethanol free. Ominously, no explanation for the signs disappearing was offered.

  • avatar

    The Sonata’s five-speed automatic transmission was no help. It contemplated every move like a chess master without a clock. Honda and Toyota have smarter, quicker players.

    Camry 5-auto with a 4 cyl is awful. If Sonata’s tranny is any worse, I can’t even imagine it.

  • avatar

    what sets the car apart is its complete lack of offensiveness or any distinguishing trait.

    Its the perfect transportation appliance. White bread on wheels.

  • avatar

    i have an 07 sonata v6. can anyone tell me why iam getting only 18.5 mpg. when i got it i was getting 20.1. it sucks. other then that great car.

    Surprising because I get consistently 23 to 25 mpg in mixed driving with my Azera with the 3.8 engine.

    I finally had my first warrenty repair on the Azera today after 38,000 miles; they replaced my driver’s door lock actuator. Otherwise, flawless.

    I had a Sonata before the Azera. It was the top of the line V6 with the Michelin Pilot tires. In my estimation, it was a fine handling car. I live on curvy roads in the Texas Hill Country and I always enjoyed the Sonata on those back roads.

    The Azera is a bit less sporting and has more body lean, but still enjoyable on our back roads.

  • avatar


    Nissan’s CVT is probably the best automatic in this class, and the only one really done ‘right.’

  • avatar

    For those that want to carve up the twisties have you ever heard of a DIY suspension job? For a relative cheap cost and a day of work you can turn a bland riding sedan into something with some enthusiast feel. I’ve never been much a speed guy, but I want to feel those corners. Changed out coil springs and struts on over 3 cars now…and I’m no mechanic. And no, I didn’t “drop” my Accord like a ricer…just made it a solid road carving 4dr. Far cheaper than trading in for a zoom-zoom Mazda 6, with better dynamics to boot. I imagine a little money spent on the Sonata could do wonders and still get your kid to soccer practice.

  • avatar

    We own an ’06 4 cyl and it’s a perfect little workhorse car. Does all the family errands we need of it reliably and inexpensively. We’re getting about 25mpg in mixed driving.

    Bang for the buck, these cars are perfect for folks like my wife and me who are just normal folks needing a solid ride to do all our junk!

  • avatar

    I think this thing looks decidedly better than the Accord inside and out. The Honda won’t raise your pulse either (at least not in auto sedan form) – which makes the Hyundai an easier choice.

  • avatar

    I rented one last year.

    Drove it for 5 days and over 1000 miles.

    Don’t remember a thing about it.

    That’s sort of the point of this car I think.

  • avatar

    i preferred the looks of the pre-facelift, but the Sonata is one of my favourite mid-sized cars. it’s a bit smaller on the outside and i like the relatively clean/unfussy looks compared with the Accord and Camry

    Hyundai has quite a good rep here with plenty of advertising, and fits ABS, side airbags and ESP to every model in it’s range right from the cheapest Getz. every model has a diesel option too

  • avatar

    I’m looking at the website, and I cannot find a description of the fuel used for testing – maybe they don’t want to explicitly state: “We test with pure, summer-blend gasoline, your mileage will be worse.”

    Of course, the EPA is responsible for “oxygenated” fuels, so this is a conflict of interest?

    My Elantra is getting around 19MPG in “short hop” driving (<2 miles), the engine is barely warm when I get to work – it’s also “cold-blooded”, it takes a long time to reach operating temperature.

    (Lets see – Do ethanol blends burn “cooler” than gasoline? Hmmmm.)

    It has been the coldest January in years here in Western PA, though…

  • avatar

    Pahaska You need a tune up or change your air filter if it’s not due for TU and did you check tire air pressure and wheel balance and alignment.

    Well if you need a not so expensive car to drive around Chicago or New England to be bombarded with pot holes, ICE Storm, Sliding on Interstate 90 and 95 or having your bumper got frozen overnight and in the morning you accidentally pulled that bumper from your car.

    I will buy a Hyundai with no worries with a 100,000 mile warranty.

    What was the news about Hyundai Financing that if you can’t pay your car just return it. I heard it on the news a couple of weeks ago.

    Hyundai is from the Land of the Can do Spirit

    hey I dated a korean for 6 hours from Seoul to LA on Northwest Airline. What else can you complain about?

  • avatar

    After driving 3 Accords for 20 years, I switched this summer to an ’09 Sonata Limited 4 cylinder. Aside from a slight drop off in handling, the Sonata is equal or better than my Accords in every way. I live in NE Ohio and, with sons/grandkids in Columbus and Dayton, a good (and fuel efficient) interstate cruiser is nice to have. The Sonata fills that role and more. I’m very happy and not missing my Accord at all. And, when I want a more sporting driving experience, I drive my wife’s Legacy GT. Overall, the Sonata is a great value, if you buy/appreciate it for what it’s designed to do. You’re right, it isn’t a screaming sports machine. But then, I didn’t buy it with that expectation, either.

  • avatar

    @ Gardiner Westbound :

    I was running V power through my 09 Fit until recently. Mileage declined over the winter weather to roughly 6.5 litres per 100k, and stabilized there. For curiosity’s sake I have run over 3 tankfuls of 87 octane from Shell, with no conscious change in driving style, and mileage is currently back to 6.4 litres.

    Admittedly, this is not measured or controlled data, but I am content with the 87 for the moment. Curious.

  • avatar

    eh_political, perhaps during the summer, the V power (isn’t that the highest octane Shell gasoline?) which in Canada is supposedly 100% gasoline, was substituted in the winter time for a 10% ethanol blend.

    Taking into account that putting too HIGH of an octane into your car can reduce MPG since the higher octane gas burns at a different rate and can’t be fully taken advantage of in an engine which is set-up (and has the lower compression ratio of) a regular-octane engine, then taking into account the ethanol (see my many ditribes on TTAC about the poor mileage of E10) put your mileage down.

    So when you went to 87 octane E10, it may have gone straight back up to the efficiency you’d been expecting.

    I experienced this phenomenon on our trip to the Canadian rockies in July/August. I took some of the advice of my Canadian friends here, and when I could, I actually put Shell Premium fuel in the Sonata – and measured carefully, expecting a bit of an increase over the prior tank of E10. Nope; it was identical.

    Yet, other than that one tankfull (actually, even including that one tankfull), my efficiency was 6% better on real 100% gasoline compared to E10 over 5000 miles (8000 km).

    If the B.O. were as “smart” a leader as he and the lamestream media swooners think he is, he’d abolish ethanol; eliminate the multiple and varied fuel standards all over the place (to reduce costs, increase efficiency and reduce the at-pump price); encourage American industry to adopt garbage-to-oil as one answer (see; likewise butanol instead of ethanol (see; get rid of CAFE regulations; homogenize crash and emission standards with Japan and Europe to reduce costs for everyone (making cars more affordable and give buyers more choices instead of fewer); and would tell California that CO2 is NOT a pollutant and that instead of adding costs, the state could start planting more trees to soak up the CO2 and put out oxygen to help clean the air.

    Of course none of the above are going to happen.

  • avatar

    By the way, if you want to see what may be the next generation Sonata, check out the following link:

    It appears that it may have more “personality” than the present model.

  • avatar

    Thanks Menno,

    I fully expected a few comments regarding my higher octane choice, it’s 91, while the Fit runs on 87. Still, I expected 100% gasoline to perform a bit better than it did. I have had zero success finding any pure gas at 87, so I have no recourse but to purchase this flawed fuel.

    Ideally with the centrality of energy to our economy, politicized decisions will be eliminated over time.

  • avatar

    Er, No! Rented a Sonata recently: crappy handling, crappy brakes, noisy, interior so-so; worse than the G6’s I usually get. Couldn’t wait to get back to my Malibu LTZ, which is far better all around: interior, handling, quiet, 6 sp auto, better milage. With the deals out there now the LTZ’s are a steal.

  • avatar

    DIY suspension upgrades won’t stiffen the chassis, which is what a lot of these cars need.
    Steering “feel” is overrated in most reviews. There’s no more “feel” in a “good” car as opposed to a “bad” one. Good just means you have to push harder to get the wheel to turn.
    The Sonata is available with a manual trans. If you’re lucky and might find one of the 2 that are made each year.

  • avatar

    Good just means you have to push harder to get the wheel to turn.…

    Uh,did you take feedback into account? Accuracy? There is way more to quality steering than effort to turn the wheel. Regarding stiffness of the chassis, I was under the impression that stiffer structures allowed softer suspension settings without compromising the handling. Torsional and bending stiffness are the latest Madison Avenue buzzwords.

    DIY suspension upgrades can help enormously, but only if parts are available. The aftermarket is going to need some volume to make money on production. Not sure if a Sonata is going to make the cut…

  • avatar

    Every single car on the market is starting to look like every other car on the market.

    The exterior of the Passat CC, MKS, Buick and Genesis look just like the Lexus GS.

    The interiors of all these cars look like the Lexus now too.

    And now the engine choices are decreasing to V6 engines around 3.5 or 3.6 liters.

  • avatar

    golden2husky- what feedback? I doubt any car for sale that weighs over 2500# has true feedback.
    Not sure I care, the car reviewers like hard effort steering, many drivers prefer fingertip effortlessness. It’s another reason why we need car reviews by people who are not driving enthusiasts.
    Flashpoint- Chrysler cars look unlike any other car on the road, and people hate them for it.

  • avatar

    I drive an old 7 series and a new Z4. I am BMW owner who is more than intrigued and impressed with Hyundai. The Sonata is not for me (too small) but the Genesis just may be. While I buy my 7’s used, a new Genesis is within my price range. I think I am ready to get over the prestige thing. I saw a Genesis in Monterey, CA, where there is more money than in Beverly Hills and CT combined, and it looked great. If only Ford, GM, and Chrysler could produce Sonata type anonymous cars they would still be in the black. It may be an anonymobile, but it has a sick warranty and high quality finish. That is all a teacher, a nurse, a sales rep, basically all of us need. I do not need dynamics on my way to work, store, mall and back, neither do millions and millions of others. Hence the success of Toyota and Honda and now Hyundai…

  • avatar

    Well said, DimaK.

  • avatar

    Hyundai is basically going after the practical Toyota crowd. It is nice enough that I would never buy a Camry over a Sonata given the price difference. Therefore mission succeeded.

  • avatar

    I agree with many of the Hyundai/Toyota comparisons. We took possession of a new Santa Fe just over a year ago, and find it surprisingly smooth, quiet, and well-built. The worst thing I can say is that the whole package is slightly generic; nothing really stands out much.

    It seems that as Toyota becomes the new G.M., Hyundai becomes the new Toyota.

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