By on September 12, 2014

2015 Hyundai Sonata LimitedIn the corners of our brain where the abstract controls the synapses, trains run on time only if we allow a car to charm us, to woo and seduce and enchant.

I find the sound of a Jaguar F-Type V8 S appealing and the wind-in-my-hair romanticism of a Mazda MX-5 captivating and I’m fascinated by the roofline of Mercedes-Benz’s CLS Shooting Brake.

There are other corners of our brain, however, that look a lot like spreadsheets. And on those spreadsheets, there are no columns for charm or seduction or fascination.

Increasingly, midsize cars perform very poorly in the corners of my brain first mentioned, and exceedingly well in the latter.

Hyundai’s 2015 Sonata is one such car.

I’ve operated under the impression that there was a certain subjective appeal to the outgoing car, a vehicle which was, at the very least, good enough on spreadsheets to allow some consumers to buy the car almost on the merits of its unique exterior design alone. On sale in early 2010, the sixth-gen Sonata didn’t look at all like any of its rivals, with swept-back headlights, a long chrome beltline, and a coupe-like roofline. It was a revolutionary departure for Hyundai, especially given the stodginess of its predecessor.

2015 Hyundai Sonata LimitedMany of the same themes have been carried forward for 2015, but the revolution has ended. Hyundai clearly feels as though they’ve made it, as though they’ve established a place for the Sonata in America’s competitive midsize sector and no longer need to market the most eye-catching car in the class.

You’ve probably seen the car live by now and rendered your verdict; you can look at the images if not. Personally, I’m let down, as it feels to me as though the seventh-generation Sonata looks like it could have been the car that arrived before the sixth-generation Sonata, before Hyundai decided to make the Sonata less stodgy; less upright; less formal. Instead, so-called progress has resulted in a car that simply doesn’t appear like the next new thing.

2015 Hyundai Sonata LimitedIts wheelwells are too big for its wheels, which on this specific car are terribly Buick circa 1996. There’s a vast amount of acreage between the top of the rear wheel and the C-pillar. Visually, the car rides too high. LEDs have been too liberally scattered across the front end.

Inside, however, a return to a more conventional layout – more horizontal, less vertical – has caused the 2015 Sonata to seem quite a bit more Genesis-like. Regardless of equipment levels, and despite the fact that the current Elantra is no poor car, the outgoing Sonata always felt more or less like an Elantra Plus, particularly inside. Meanwhile, the current Accord comes across as much more than one single step upmarket from the Civic. With improved material quality and a more modern design, the Sonata is now class-competitive inside.

In terms of the simplicity of its controls and its overall intuitiveness, I’d argue that the 2015 Sonata is class-leading. There’s no getting-to-know-you process with the latest Hyundai/Kia infotainment units, and in this case, there’s no difficulty reaching across to the most distant buttons, either, as the whole centre panel is canted nicely toward the driver.

2015 Hyundai Sonata LimitedUnfortunately, the softening of the exterior design has been matched by a softening of the Sonata’s suspension. On the plus side, this pays dividends in ride quality, which is excellent. Compared with the previous Sonata, the most notable improvement in ride quality is out back. But the Sonata lacks the edge of the Mazda 6, the firmness of the Honda Accord, and the European undertones of the Ford Fusion, which quite artfully balances ride quality with a degree of athleticism.

The Sonata’s three drive modes present slight differences, with Eco definitely being eco-minded in its throttle mapping and shift strategy, and Sport clearly generating more steering weight, but none of the modes seriously alters the intentions of the car.

Not for a minute am I suggesting that this emphasis on total comfort isn’t what buyers want, only that Hyundai’s successful drive to improve the Sonata’s suspension calibration could have been executed with more of a blend.

Then again, we spent our week with a Sonata Limited, a very well-equipped car, but one that was fitted with conservative Kumho P215/55R/17s. Riding on the Sport’s 235/45R18s, with its slightly different steering setup (rack-mounted, rather than column-mounted electric power assist) and altered suspension, the Sport 2.0T could produce rather different on-road character traits.

2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited interiorLimited trim Sonatas start at $27,335 (freight included), but in fully optioned form, the Ultimate and Tech packages add $5050, bringing to the Sonata’s equipment portfolio a panoramic sunroof, premium audio, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise, lane departure warning and some other doodads.  The aforementioned turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder adds 60 horsepower to the base Sonata’s 185; torque is upgraded from 178 lb-ft to 260.

All these numbers are lower than they were just one model year ago, and lower than the kind of mind-boggling V6 numbers you’ll find in, for instance, the Chrysler 200. In the 2.4L, however, torque thankfully comes on stream early, at just 4000 rpm, and the Sonata therefore doesn’t feel slow. The 2.4L does become too buzzy at high rpm, and it runs out of gumption as revs rise. Thus, if you want care to acquire turbocharged 2.0L powerplant, pricing starts at $29,385. A solitary Ultimate package costs $4950, creating a car that’s equipped like our Limited test car.

That’s a lot of car for the money, particularly now that the Sonata feels as nicely assembled inside (with materials of similar – if not better – quality) as the segment’s top sellers.

Love it or hate it, the outgoing Sonata was a car which, stylistically speaking, stood out from the midsize pack. Any hope that Hyundai would once again move the game forward on the design front has most certainly been lost.

2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited steering wheel controlsYet no one specific individual, save for the midsize sedan buyer himself, is the final arbiter on the success of Hyundai’s exterior revamp. Is this new 2015 Sonata half as intriguing a proposition as the old model was in its first model year? Probably not, at least not in the dark recesses of my subjective mind.

But is it twice as appealing on purely objective terms? Quite possibly, with improved all-around dynamics, ride quality that’ll shame most premium cars, an enhanced cabin, and observed fuel economy in mixed driving of 31 miles per gallon.

In this transition year for the Sonata, its U.S. sales growth is outpacing the figures achieved by the Camry, Accord, Altima, and Fusion, rising 8% in the first eight months of 2014 and 25% during the month of August. After peaking at 230,605 units in 2012, volume tumbled 12% in 2013 and the Sonata very nearly fell into sixth place in the category. At the current rate, because Hyundai appears to be giving the people what the people’s spreadsheets want, the Sonata is back on track for a 2012-like year.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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62 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited...”

  • avatar

    Did I miss the announcement that this was the beginning of Hyundai/KIA week here at TTAC?

  • avatar

    What is with the wraparound headlights? Fords also have them. It might be good from a safety perspective, but the looks…..

    • 0 avatar

      Everything has them now that hoodlines are so high. Just like the fake side vents, wraparound fogs, enormous wheels. They have to do something to break up that wall of metal and make the proportions look a little bit less awful.

    • 0 avatar

      Look at this car closely. Isn’t a Fusion here? In the same way as Elantra resembles Mazda3.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree with you. It is another reason I’m glad that the Camaro and Challenger continue in their “retro-ness.”

    • 0 avatar

      I think it has more to do with drag reduction than safety. It lowers the frontal area of the nose cap, and directs air down the side of the car rather than over the hood and roof.

      The 2014 Ford Fusion has a drag coeffient of 0.275, compared to 0.32 for the 1980s-1995 Ford Taurus and 0.29 for the 1996-1999 Taurus. It’s coupe like profile certainly helps, but so do the little things like the shape of the headlights, and moving the mirror mounts from the A pillar to the door.

  • avatar

    Speaking as someone with a 2012 Sonata Limited in his fleet, I think it looks…a bit more refined, honestly. And the interior is far better. My only complaint is that circa-1990 clock. Why?

    *But* I think the next Optima is going to look much better.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree on the styling and the clock. The center stack’s shape also reminds me of several Japanese cars from the early 1980s–not in a bad way, but if you look at 1981 Datsun 280ZX, the panel with the radio is almost the same shape as the controls for the Sonata.

    • 0 avatar

      I think i read somewhere that when the 2010 launched in their home market of South Korea, the styling did not connect and sales fell as a result of the radical looks. Maybe this current version is an answer to that home market issue. They are trying to meet the tastes of two very different cultures in styling. Every time I see a new 2015 on the road now it just looks so plain and nondescript. At least the older model caused people to look and either love or hate the styling. This version will not get people to look and react.

      • 0 avatar

        I read the same thing. Hyundai’s got to cater to its home market. Plus, the guy who designed the last Sonata –an American– now works for Ford.

        My take: I thought the last Sonata was grossly overstyled, and I like this one a bit more. Sure, Hyundai could have been more progressive, but just like Chevy and the “new” Silverado… sometimes they would rather protect what they have rather than conquer new territory.

    • 0 avatar

      The design is a step up in losing some of the overwrought details of its predecessor, but a step back in going to far in some instances (bordering into “blandville”), but the typical daily driver buyer wouldn’t notice.

      The previous center stack was more elegant looking as well, but the shape of the new one allows for easy to reach controls.

      Overall, the new Sonata really seems to hit the mark for the daily driver type of buyer – with reviewers seemingly most impressed by the 1.6 Eco with the DCT.

      If Schreyer’s design team doesn’t muff it up, the new Optima should look better, have a nicer interior and a sportier ride.

      Until then, the Mazda6 would still be my pick for the segment.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Hyundai seems to wander about a bit with the intended “flavor” of the Sonata. The pre-2010 Sonata was a Camry clone; soft, numb, quiet, and generic. The next one took a different tack with stronger styling, stiffer suspension, and more road noise, as if the Accord were the target. This new one seems to have backed off that course and gone back towards comfort & quiet again.

    I much prefer this styling to the grotesque grimace on the current car, but it has lost some of the distinctiveness.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The various styling themes are reflections of the car’s conflicting missions: appeal to American buyers who like flashy cars, and appeal to Asian buyers who like more formal, conservative pacakges. You can see the same thing in the CTS, which is trying to appeal to both American and Chinese buyers.

  • avatar

    The styling is definitely a step backward, lacking the flow of the previous body style, but it’s not as dull as the 2014 Camry or as hateful as the 2015 Camry. Ride has been a sore spot in all the recent Hyundais, especially the initial impact of the front suspension hitting a bump, so if the new Sonata solves that, that’s a plus. Hyundai’s infotainment units have always been extremely easy to use, as I quietly cures my GM Intellilink system, I am glad at lead Hyundai still gets it right.

    A recent trip to my old job at the local Hyundai store informed me that the 2015 Sonata is selling very well with minimal incentives, so I guess Hyundai got it right.

  • avatar

    Is the “stodgy” version of which you spoke that one which could have been had in 2009, kinda squarish with clean lines? I like the looks of that one.

    Having ridden in examples from 2000, 2005 and 2010 I think the ’05 and ’10 feel the best even if the ’05 was less than adequately powered. My friend’s parents are Sonata buyers through and through; they owned all three of the above before handing them down to their daughter (my friend). You want to know what they have now? A 2013 Sonata.

    On the pre-refresh version the styling quickly grew tiresome and looks like a drunken lungfish squeezing in the a doggy door. Not appealing.

  • avatar

    I smell something happening.

    First the Sonata gets a dash from 1985, then the Jaguar XE follows suit.

    Are we on the cusp of a 1980s resurgence in dashboard design?

  • avatar

    My sister bought a Sonata and has been very happy with it (a base manual transmission model, no less… guess we do have something in common). It’s really roomy, comfortable, even in base form has every feature she needs, and she gets better mileage than with her old Civic LX (she claims).

    When that last generation first came out the styling was a real departure for the class, seemingly going after the Mercedes CLS more than the Accord. However, I think that leading-edge styling just aged too quickly. Now that Sonatas are so common they just look ungainly to me. In comparison, the Kia Optima looks like its styling will stand the test of time better.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you Steve. While the last model was on the market I often read snide remarks that the design would soon date. I am sure that Hyundai read these comments too, and pulled back as a result, perhaps by a little too much.
      However, this may also apply to the Optima, but to a lesser extent. I wished they would have gone after the handsome fluid design of the Mazda 6.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As the owner of a 2011 Sonata, I do have to admit that the Optima is and probably will be the better looking car.

    When the time comes to sell mine we will see if Baruth is right and all the other prognosticators are wrong, as I have the only non-turbo manual in about a 400 km radius.

  • avatar

    “…most eye-catching car in the class.” – author about previous Sonata.

    Are you drinking before looking at that car? It is like a Lincoln, a whale. Is ugly. I would take 2008 Camry looks over it.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Eye-catching and beautiful don’t always go hand in hand. The Camry made you look twice? “Love it or hate it, the outgoing Sonata was a car which, stylistically speaking, stood out from the midsize pack.”

  • avatar

    I predict sales will remain strong. However I continue to wonder what kind of power a 2.5T would put down over the current 2.0T.

    • 0 avatar

      I have often wondered about this myself PD. My thinking is that a larger displacement lower boost turbo 4 would return both that lazy power that is so nice to drive behind, while making it easier to stay out of the boost when one desires economy.

      Any turbo experts care to chime in?

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Yeah, low-boost wide-powerband turbos were Saab’s thing for a while. Of course, everyone makes their turbo engines that way now, and there are no more Saabs.

      • 0 avatar

        My parents have the previous gen Sonata with the turbo (and paddle shifters) and your right – acceleration is effortless but with a light foot one can still get excellent mileage. This is why I’m such a turbo fan (no pun intended). The folks are currently on a month long road trip visiting various friends across the county and I’m looking forward to MPG and long term comfort report. My mother recently started moving well again after a broken tailbone thus sitting for long periods of time is not much fun.

  • avatar

    The previous gen Sonata (2010-2014), to this commentor’s eye, was absolutely hideous, somewhat resembling a cockroach on wheels. This new model is far more generic but far less painful to look upon. I would take an 04-10 Sonata in a heartbeat in terms of looks.

    Meanwhile, the Optima is an absolute stunner of a midsize, I hope they don’t ruin it.

  • avatar

    I like sedans that are upright and formal. “Innovative” mid-size styling that rips off the CLS, Aston Martin, or Holden HSV does not appeal to me.

    • 0 avatar

      The VW CC ripped off the CLS.

      The Sonata moreso aped the Audi A6’s roofline/greenhouse (which Ford copied wholesale with the Ford 500/Taurus) with a more rakish/sleek bent.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Some day, I want to test the 1.6T that Jack glowingly reported on recently.

    More importantly, I’m interested to see how much back seat room there is; the 2011-14 model is too low back there.

  • avatar

    I drove the new i4 Sonata and I came away bored. The driver’s seat cushion felt really thin with zero support. The handling was present and the drive was meh. The interior was just plain ugly and the exterior was ok from most angles. I haven’t liked the handling and seats of any Korean car I’ve driven, including the last gen Genesis.

  • avatar

    The toned-down exterior styling I think is a success, the original was just too overwrought. When I first saw the centre stack however, I thought it was a gag. It looked (although less so now months later)like a very dated design treatment, complete with oddball HVAC vents.

  • avatar

    I’ve read that the Korean home market did not receive the 2010 Sonata very well. Many cultures value an outward appearance that looks “proper” and “restrained.” As a business owner, would you buy a fleet of outgoing Sonatas and put your company name on it? I sure wouldn’t; the car looks too showy for that. Camrys or MPVs send a better message.

    Now that the large US market has mostly accepted the Sonata as a mainstream player, Hyundai can afford to go back to a more conservative appearance. It should help sell the car better globally.

  • avatar

    I see parallels in this Sonata refresh relative to its predecessor to that of the Chevrolet Malibu.

    The 2008 Malibu was a quantum leap forward in all areas from the 2007 version (particularly when mated to the 6-speed auto), and fully competitive with the best the competition had to offer. The 2013 Malibu, and its 2014 refresh, is in many ways a step back, particularly in styling and rear seat room.

    None of this is to claim this Sonata (or the current Malibu) are awful cars by any means, but neither would compel me to buy one over an Accord or a Fusion.

  • avatar

    This is the first grown up looking Sonata since the 2006 model.

  • avatar

    I’ve always hated the chrome strips that awkwardly extended beyond the window surrounds all the way to the headlamps, but then I’ve always found the last generation Sonata completely overwrought as a whole. It’s unfortunate that the conservative yet handsome new car has retained the hideous chrome strips. Give me a Chrysler 200 any day.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      That the chrome strip extends beyond the A-pillar offends me to no end.

      • 0 avatar

        the chrome strip starting at the headlight made more sense in the outgoing Sonata, because the chrome strip ended with a spear-tip at the end of the side glass. With the new model having the chrome wrap all the way around the side glass, the piece from the headlight to the A-pillar seems extraneous.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree completely about the chrome strip. It should NOT have been carried over to a clean sheet design. I’m otherwise pleased with the look of the new car. I am bemused with the way the armchair critics slam Hyundai designers whatever they do. I own an 2009 Sonata which is either bland or “cleanly styled” depending on one’s sensibilities. When Hyundai answered the critics with the avant garde 2011-2014, people complained that it was too much and wouldn’t age well. Now they give us something more upright (better rear head room) but with some nice design elements, and now it’s too boring!? You have to feel for Hyundai’s plight here as Honda for example almost never gets flack for it’s uninspired Accord design (It’s Honda so it must be “cleanly styled”, not boring). I test drove the new Sonata for 45 minutes earlier this week and it’s a steller improvement in almost every way, especially ride quality. Just lose that chrome strip!!!!

  • avatar

    The biggest failing of this car was the failure to pair the sport with the 7 speed dual clutch found in the Eco model. I think the interior is fine and the exterior a bland Taurus imitation, but it could have been a cheap cla alternative if they had dropped the 6 speed slushbox. Also good on them for retuning the turbo for faster spool up.

  • avatar

    Torque doesn’t “come on” until 4,000 rpm? Crikey. That is not good at all. Torque needs to show up before 3,000 rpm for an engine to be any good at the mundane driving tasks of everyday life. No torque till 4,000 sounds like some kind of undersquare high-revving small-displacement V8 to me.

  • avatar

    I absolutely love that squared off looking dash. Simply arranged HVAC buttons, not some cascading waterfall monstrosity.

    • 0 avatar

      Me too, hugely. Trimming and shaping-up the usual excrescence of blobby, swoopy dash components is SO overdue. I love the ’80s Japanese vibe.

      It’s little things like that that can make me go all wonky for a particular car, like Honda’s traditionally low, flat dash-tops.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s an echo chamber in here apparently, what sealed the deal for me with my 2012 Civic was just how unobtrusive and low the dash was, with a pair of simple knobs flanking a neat little cluster of HVAC buttons. Dead simple, takes up a minimum of space.

        If I were trading up to a midsizer today, I’d march right over and pick up my Accord LX with a 6spd manual.

        • 0 avatar

          If you want a manual Accord Sedan, the extra premium for the Sport—which in my area gets discounted more than the other trim levels—is worth it.

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t care for larger 18 inch rims and their thinner sidewalls, a few dealers are selling stick shift LX Accords for $17,600. That strikes me as an incredible deal. This is purely hypothetical of course, the Civic has been a fantastic car so far and there is no need to upgrade. It’s paid off, gets 38-39 mpg average on my commute, and has very comfy seats. If only it was a wagon I would sing its praises far and wide. As it is, the 12.5 cu ft trunk is a bit small and limits the car’s utility.

          • 0 avatar

            Or better yet move to Canada where the manual is available in the higher Touring level

  • avatar

    It rides “Too high”, huh? Does that mean it’s easy to get in and out of unlike most of today’s midsize sedans?

    Crossovers beware.

  • avatar

    C&D found the new turbo quite slow but the chassis much better. Not up to the Accord or 6, but equal to the Fusion.

    “We can’t say that the Sonata Sport shone as brightly as the Mazda 6 or Honda Accord on the mountain back roads prior to its loss of boost, but it’s every bit as rewarding to drive as a Fusion. ”

  • avatar

    If I wanted a fast (2.0T, $29,385), well equipped (Ultimate package, $4950) Sonata, I might as well enquire about the V6 Azera sitting on the lot. The Limited stickers at $38K, and they’re listed on Autotrader for around $32K.

  • avatar

    I think it has become the ugly duckling of the segment.

    I was never a fan of the previous gen either, BUT the previous gen in 2.0T guise (with the resculpted bumpers and sport wheels) really brought the whole design together.

    This comment from the article is bang-on:
    “…feels to me as though the seventh-generation Sonata looks like it could have been the car that arrived before the sixth-generation Sonata, before Hyundai decided to make the Sonata less stodgy; less upright; less formal…”

  • avatar

    ” the kind of mind-boggling V6 numbers you’ll find in, for instance, the Chrysler 200 “.

    Um…anyone else find the Chrysler V6 numbers “mind boggling”? I didn’t think so.

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