Review: 2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Sport and 1.6T Eco

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
review 2015 hyundai sonata 2 0t sport and 1 6t eco

Yesterday, we gave a qualified thumbs-up to the Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.4, noting that the powertrain didn’t really come up to snuff in what was otherwise a competent and well-equipped sedan.

Today we’re trying the other two motivational packages on offer, in lower-priced Sport and Eco trim.

Be warned: not every Sonata Sport has the turbo engine. There’s a bodykit 2.4 Sport as well, but that doesn’t get you the two-liter turbo and it doesn’t get you the more expensive rack-mounted power steering system. The car I drove retails for a robust $29,325 and it is meant to be a competitor to the Accord and Camry V-6 entries as well as the bigger of the two Fusion Ecoboost engine options.

I’m hoping you read yesterday’s Sonata review; if you haven’t, go catch up. Let’s discuss the differences between that car and this one. In the Turbo-only metallic orange, the Sport manages to claw back a little bit of the style that Hyundai let go with the 2015 redesign. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this Sport appearance package impressed me as a step forward over the base car. Inside, the luxurious ventilated seats are replaced by “Turbo” embossed leather seats, the steering wheel is the oh-so-cliche-now flat-bottomed unit, and the needles for the instruments rest at the six o’-clock position for additional sportiness. They dutifully flick through their entire range of motion when the Sonata powers up, which means that this vehicle shares at least two features — the steering wheel shape and the instrument panel behavior — with a Lotus Elise.

And that’s where the Lotus comparison ends, because the sportiest Sonata isn’t much sportier than the regular one. The blown two-liter is torquey from 1350rpm according to the spec sheet (245hp/260 lb-ft) and it steams up the back-road hills with far more authority and less agitation than its normally-aspirated sibling, but there’s nothing particularly enthusiastic or visceral about it. Full disclosure: your humble author is the owner of a 2014 Accord V6. Fuller disclosure: and as a sporting proposition, the Accord V6 puts the Sonata 2.0T up on the pinball table and violates it while the Camry V6 and possibly even the Malibu Turbo cheer it on. There’s no comparison. It ain’t like Hyundai can’t do a strong six-cylinder, as we found out when we praised the Genesis Coupe a few years ago. They just won’t give it to you in the Sonata.

What the engine doesn’t do to torpedo its own desirability, the transmission will. While downshifts from the flimsy, wobbly paddles are sure and strong and don’t require placing the lever in Tiptronic mode in order to work, upshifts happen automatically a full 750rpm beneath the 7000rpm redline regardless of paddles or lever placement. That’s fine, I suppose, since the turbo’s long since out of breath at that point. This is the small-snail-itis that VW suffers as well. To misuse a phrase frequently heard on the internet, a compressor wheel small enough to give you the low-end torque you need is small enough to take away every bit of thrill the top end could have.

This would be a stellar engine in the Limited Ultimate; it’s strong at low revs and can’t be flustered by the demands of passing on back roads. It just doesn’t measure up to the six-banger competition, period, point blank.

Bereft of the Limited Ultimate touches and the segment-unique equipment, the interior of the Sonata Sport is revealed as a fairly Camry LE-ish place to be. The smaller LCD display has the same sad proportions of the uConnect Chrysler gives you when they want to punish you for not buying the real one. The stereo, on the other hand, is fully the equal of what you get in the big-money Sonata. It might even be a little better, and I can’t offer any reason for that other than preproduction variance. It really drops that bass on the Elvis Crespo tunes, to the discomfort of my passengers.

The theme of grey cheer continues with the deletion of the electronic parking brake and the loss of the fabulous fake wood in favor of a textured-looking silver pattern that is disappointingly smooth to the touch. It must be said that the same NVH virtues that were noted in the Sonata Limited review apply here. This is a big, quiet, solid automobile that exudes build quality and will adjust to fit nearly any driver.

For about the same money, however, you can get a Camry V-6 with fabric seats. It’s anybody’s guess how good the 2015 Camry super-facelift will be, but the existing car is pretty good and from an enthusiast perspective it continues to have much to recommend it over the Sonata. Luckily, Hyundai loyalists have another very good option available.

The 1.6T Eco that we drove was a “pilot” vehicle and not representative of the eventual production and blah blah blah and hey it was actually better than the Sport in pretty much every way. The smaller engine is mated with an alert dual-clutch transmission that is perfectly at home on hills and in city driving. The net result is a sprightly, low-inertia feel that encourages spirited driving far more than the rev-averse two-liter turbo and torque-converter automatic possibly could.

The two-tone Eco interior has the Sport beat six ways to Sunday even if it isn’t quite up to Ultimate snuff. The large touchscreen returns — and trust me, you really want that — and the dual-trapezoid center stack is enlivened with Infiniti-style grey plastiwood. Hyundai doesn’t make a big deal of the Eco’s credentials visually, presumably because the new 2016 hybrid model that will replace the carryover old hybrid for 2015 is scheduled to receive a unique fascia and trim. But it’s handsome enough and somehow the new styling works best when it’s “Eco” instead of “Ultimate” or “Sport”.

Driving point-to-point in downtown Montgomery, the Eco was sluggish with its eponymous drive mode selected via the console button, but switching to “Sport” mode brought it alive. This is the fun member of the Sonata family. The engine wants to rev, even if it’s not terribly strong, and the Eco Sonata just feels lighter on its feet. (During Q&A, Hyundai indicated that weight savings for the Eco model would be minimal.)

The DCT offers PowerShift slurring rather than DSG brap-and-cut instant shifting, so we wouldn’t expect the Eco to shine on track. In the real world, however, it’s more direct and more involving than the six-speed automatic and it’s a difference you can feel in just a few hundred feet. This was the only one of the supplied cars we felt any temptation to “hoon”, even if we didn’t yield to that temptation.

The drive in the Eco came at just the right time during the press event. Finally, a Sonata that didn’t feel so grown-up, and all the better for it. With pricing that sneaks under the $24k mark to start, it might be the best consumer choice as well. Whatever you do, don’t pick the 2.4 or 2.0T versions of this car without at least trying the Eco. It’s our choice as best of breed in the Sonata family, and it’s a value proposition besides. While none of these Sonatas will blow your mind, they’ll all impress your reason, and hey — the Eco might even capture your heart.

(Disclaimer: Hyundai provided meals and lodging and offered travel assistance which we did not use.)

Join the conversation
4 of 82 comments
  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Jul 01, 2014

    I just can't get inspired by any of these powertrains. The 2.0T seems like a worse version of the previous VW 2.0T. The 1.6T has a slow-shifting DCT, which I've always found to be the worst possible combination of roughness and lethargy. And the 2.4 just seems uninspired compared to a number of competing engines. As far as I'm concerned, Honda's got all three of the most interesting powertrains in the midsize sedan business right now: the smooth and sneaky-peaky J35, the flexible DI K24 with the best FWD manual in existence, and the most interesting and smoothest hybrid setup going. Mazda's SkyActiv 2.5 is in second place. Everyone else is far behind at this point.

    • See 1 previous
    • Thornmark Thornmark on Jul 01, 2014

      @burgersandbeer C&D found the new Sonata to have substantially improved handling - as good as a Fusion - but not so good as a Mazda6 or Accord. C&D got 23 mpg for the Sonata Sport 2.0 Turbo, which did 0-60 in 8.0 seconds. They got close to 30 mpg in the Accord Sport, 0-60 in 6.6 sec and 22 mpg in the Fusion 1.6 Turbo, 0-60 in 8.2 sec.

  • 2015sonata 2015sonata on Sep 21, 2014

    I got this car last week. Let me give you guys some feedbacks. Overall the car drives quite well for a 4-cylinder turbo. Noise level of engine and drive is somewhat in the mid range. My previous car was a 2012 Genesis and this 2015 Sonata is not better but doable. Cons: The car doors were not aligning correctly. Doors were a bit off from the quarter panels and rear passengers door. I was not able to open driver's side passenger the door. I have to pull the handle twice in order to open the door. Dealership had to take my car in for a day to fix these issues. I got the car on Friday and return to dealership for repairs on Monday, go figure. Hyundai Alabama must be rushing to get this car out of factory because their QC is way below par. I was told the car was also inspected when it arrives at dealership before it can be sold to me. The QC level at the dealership must be the same as factory, below average. How Hyundai is able to miss all doors alignment is beyond my comprehension. I really hope the doors are the only problems and nothing on the brakes or steering as they have a recall earlier when they roll out the 2015 Sonata 2.4s and SEs. My advice to all my fellow buyers: Beware and please check all the doors alignment, make sure they are flushed with quarter panels and rear passenger doors. Oh BTW, even after they fix my doors, one of the doors is still not aligned correctly. I will need to take the car in again. OMG. What is waste of my time. Bluetooth Audio Streaming: All 2015 Sonata has this problem and their engineers are working on a fix. If you try to stream your music from your phone to the car's Bluetooth system, get ready for a break/pause every 15 seconds. I was told Hyundai knew about this problem but they will still sell the car anyway. Currently I'm waiting for a software patch which will fix this but who knows when. I suggest all buyers to stay the away from this car until maybe a year later till they fix all defects. If you have a iphone 5 or better, wait for Apple Carplay to be installed before you get the car. I kind of regretted getting this car so early in the game as Carplay cannot be retro to the current 2015 Sonata models. Plus I'm not sure what other problem I may encounter. Better wait then be sorry like me. Window Lock: Yesterday I found a new problem. Window lock function is not working. There is a window lock button on the driver's side left armrest. Supposedly when this function is on, other passengers in the car is not able to open their windows. Mine doesn't work. This function is broken for my car. Sad story, Hyundai miss it during their under par QC. Pro:??? With so many current problems, my pros are clouded with the cons so there is nothing good to say about the car now. Until they fix all my car's existing problems, I may update this review with some goods. Thanks for reading and hope you all buy other cars for now."

  • BEPLA My own theory/question on the Mark VI:Had Lincoln used the longer sedan wheelbase on the coupe - by leaning the windshield back and pushing the dashboard & steering wheel rearward a bit - not built a sedan - and engineered the car for frameless side windows (those framed windows are clunky, look cheap, and add too many vertical lines in comparison to the previous Marks) - Would the VI have remained an attractive, aspirational object of desire?
  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.
  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.
  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers.