2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0T First Drive - More Content, More Face, Same Power

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

As Tim Cain put it so succinctly earlier this afternoon, the seventh-generation Hyundai Sonata’s exterior design, coming on the heels of the quite edgy 2011-2014 model, didn’t set American’s hearts aflame.

Even as standard content increased and the model’s value proposition burned just as brightly as before, its distinctively watered-down design turned off buyers. Well, Hyundai wants its apology heard loud and clear. For 2018, the Sonata atones for the previous generation’s sins by showing up with something to look at.

Namely, a brand new face. Oh, and how about that rear end, now with less ovals? While fore-and-aft facelifts are the hallmark of a mid-cycle design refresh, the 2018 Sonata’s changes aren’t just skin deep.

Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is the Sonata’s adoption of the corporate “cascading grille” seen on the Elantra and its variants, including the fully redesigned 2018 Elantra GT. Flanked by wide air curtain vents containing tell-tale stacked LED running lights, the new grille endows the Sonata with not-before-seen levels of visual aggression.

The genetic traits continue out back, as the Sonata’s once-yawn-inducing taillights now mimic the slanted rear lamps of the Elantra sedan. In Sport guise, chrome tailpipes and a rear diffuser join the remolded bumper, bolstering the backside looks. Altogether, the exterior improvements contain a touch of menace and meld nicely with the sedan’s strong, preexisting character line. Operation Banish the Boredom seems a success.

Inside, a redesigned center stack, with its efficiently segmented infotainment, stereo, and climate functions, should please those enamored with neatness and order. A 7-inch touchscreen comes standard, as does Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, with the range-topping model gaining an 8-inch unit. If you’re opting for a turbocharged Sport model, the Sonata’s three-spoke steering wheel gains a flat bottom for that go-fast appeal. Just try to avoid forgetting it’s a five-passenger family sedan, please.

During a brief encounter at last month’s Elantra GT first drive, the top-flight Sonata Limited 2.0T flexed its muscles on twisty Quebec roads, revealing a sedan with two distinct sides. For 2018, last year’s six-speed automatic transmission disappears from the Sport variant, replaced by a new eight-speed unit. Smooth, with a tendency to upshift a little too quickly (except when in the “sport” setting), the tranny avoids the irritating gear hunting sometimes found in other units with high cog counts. Regardless of drive setting, a right-foot-stomp brings all 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque quickly to bear.

One thing not new for 2018 is power. The turbocharged 2.0-liter’s specs remain the same as before, as does the 184-hp, 178 lb-ft 2.4-liter four-cylinder found in lesser trims. The efficiency-minded Eco model, with its 1.6-liter turbo four, also stays put. Redesigned hybrid models are still under development.

Now, back to the Sport, as it’s the only variant we’ve tested. During an all-too-brief drive, there wasn’t much time to properly get the feel of the transmission’s new Smart mode, which cycles through Sport, Eco and Comfort modes as needed, depending on the occupant’s manner of driving. It sounds like a useful tool for drivers possessing Jekyll and Hyde personalities.

Unseen beneath the Sonata is a beefed-up rear suspension that admirably tamed the wildly irregular pavement of backwoods Quebec. New bushings, 21-percent thicker trailing arms in the rear, and a 12-percent stiffer torsion bar in the steering system round out the handling improvements. While being tossed about, the Sonata felt stable and predictable, with little body lean and a stiff, on-point steering feel.

Hyundai lists safety as a top bragging point. All 2018 Sonatas carry blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert — the most sought-after safety aids, Hyundai claims — as standard equipment. Lane keep assist now becomes available on lower-run SEL models, in addition to Limited trims. (It’s standard on the Limited 2.0T.)

Also available for 2018 is the automaker’s BlueLink telematics system which, as in the Elantra GT, is offered with a five-year, no-cost trial period in Canada, three years in the United States.

As new Sonatas arrive at dealers, buyers won’t shell out all that much more. Some, in fact, stand to pay less. A base SE now lists at $22,935 after delivery, up from last year’s $22,435 sticker. An Eco goes for $23,535, less than 2017’s after-delivery price of $23,970. If having the most available power isn’t negotiable, a Sport 2.0T now costs $28,485, or about a grand more than last year. The ultimate Sonata, the Limited 2.0T, tops the range at $33,335. That’s less than Hyundai’s 2017 MSRP listing.

Will the new styling improve Hyundai’s flagging car sales? Probably not, as the market’s headed in the opposite direction — towards crossovers Hyundai can’t develop quick enough. Could it stimulate interest in the Sonata itself, allowing the trusted nameplate to hold its own in the face of new-for-2018 competition from Toyota and Honda? Hyundai’s betting on it.

[Images: © Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Kyree Kyree on Jul 19, 2017

    I can clearly see that the front "H" logo contains the radar plate for the adaptive cruse, but couldn't they have made it a bit smaller.

    • TMA1 TMA1 on Jul 19, 2017

      It could be much worse. Look at what they did with the front of the G80. I'm surprised they'll even show that car from the front in advertisements.

  • AndyYS AndyYS on Jul 20, 2017

    As the happy owner of a 2010 Sonata, I'm glad to see that they've returned to the large hexagonal grill. Overall I think the looks of the 2018 are top notch. My main priorities are comfort and quietness. At this point I'm considering all 2018 midsize sedans except the Camry (no Android auto is a deal breaker). My guess is that the Sonata will be among the top four, along with the Optima, Accord and Legacy, but we'll see.

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