By on August 1, 2017

2011-2015-2018 Hyundai Sonatas - Images: HyundaiAfter the forgotten third-generation car, the odd and bulbous fourth-generation car, and the dull fifth-generation car, the sixth Hyundai Sonata was unveiled at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was surprising, even shocking, that Hyundai so dramatically transformed its staid midsize car into a radical “fluidic sculpture” sedan.

In the United States, after averaging 132,000 sales over the previous half-decade, the Hyundai Sonata exploded. By 2012, Hyundai sold more than 230,000 copies, and the Sonata averaged 215,000 U.S. sales between 2010 and 2014, a 63-percent increase compared with the previous half-decade average.

The momentum was not sustained. The seventh-generation Hyundai Sonata debuted in the United States at 2014’s New York International Auto Show. Where did the fun go? Where was the drama, the cat-like headlamps, the desire to stand out from the pack?

“We went from a very striking design, to a very beautiful car, but it just didn’t turn heads like the car before it did,” Hyundai Motor America’s vice president of product planning, Mike O’Brien, tells Automotive News.

Predictably, buyers turned away. In 2016, the seventh-generation Sonata’s second model year, U.S. Sonata sales fell below 200,000 units for the first time since 2010. Through the first-half of 2017, Sonata volume is down 27 percent, year-over-year. The Hyundai Sonata’s share of America’s shrinking midsize sedan sector is down to 8.4 percent, a full percentage point drop compared with 2016. Hyundai is on track for fewer than 150,000 Sonata sales in America in 2017, a 35-percent drop in just five years.

Yet even with an all-new 2018 Toyota Camry arriving this summer and an all-new 2018 Honda Accord reaching dealers in the coming months, Hyundai believes the freshened 2018 Sonata can hold its own. In part, that’s because the automaker believes the shrinking passenger car market won’t shrink further.

“Based on all the industry indices, it appears we’ve about reached equilibrium between car and truck,” Hyundai’s O’Brien says. “The industry’s balancing out. The numbers you’re seeing now are more reflective of natural demand.”

In the first-half of 2017, 37 percent of America’s auto industry was powered by cars, down from 41 percent in 2016, 45 percent in 2015, 49 percent in 2014, 51 percent in 2013, and 53 percent in 2012, the year Sonata sales peaked.

Yet if the Hyundai’s choice of forecasts are correct — that the Camry and Accord will spur renewed midsize sedan interest, that midsize sales will bottom out in 2019, that incentive as a percentage of the average transaction price and days’ supply and days to turn — then the Sonata won’t struggle to achieve Hyundai’s goal: maintain its market share.

Steph Willems’ first-drive review of the 2018 Hyundai Sonata was the most-read review on TTAC in July, which certainly serves as some kind of statement regarding the car’s continued interest.

Whether front and rear restylings, thorough underpinning revamps, a new trim strategy that emphasizes the meat of the lineup, and the absence of panoramic sunroofs can entice prospective Camry and Accord owners remains to be seen. But at least the 2018 Hyundai Sonata, like it or not, is something of a return to the days of eye-catching Sonatas.

[Images: Hyundai]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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39 Comments on “Hyundai Acknowledges Seventh-Generation 2015-2017 Sonata “Didn’t Turn Heads”...”

  • avatar

    I pulled up next to a 7th gen Sonata at a traffic light yesterday. One thing I’ve liked design-wise the last few generations is the chrome spear from the window surrounds to the front fenders. Looks really sharp with the right paint colors.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This is pretty typical for the Sonata- flipping back and forth between staid, reserved design for the Korean market, and flashy, eye-catching design for the American market.

  • avatar

    Not many vehicles turn my head. A Lotus, Lambo, or Ferrari? Or a really colorful Mini, Camaro, Mustang, or Challenger? Sure thing. Even Porsches – unless it’s vintage – don’t make me look like they used to.

    The other day I did see a metallic brown 911 with a brown convertible top. That drew my eye because it’s such an odd color versus the normal black/silver/red.

    • 0 avatar

      That brown – I want to say it’s Anthracite Brown Metallic – is a stunning color. Root beer with flecks of gold. Very understated and premium looking.

  • avatar

    I actually thought it was inoffesnively handsome versus the awful ’11-’14 cars. the interior update (?) on the ’16 or ’17 finally made it a very decent option in the midsize field IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, my mother looked at the ’12 Sonata when she went to replace her 2003 Corolla. We were both afraid that the styling wouldn’t age well for the Sonata. I know style is highly subjective, but when I see that gen Sonata on the road now, I just don’t think it looks fresh. Maybe it’s just me…

  • avatar

    May be its the quality? While Kia is getting all the Consumer Reports phrase, Hyundai is just average. I liked the looks of outgoing Sonata. But its the drive. And BTW, I never liked that crocodile that made their sales go through the roof.

  • avatar

    I’d like to know how sales fared in the Korean market. I thought that was the whole point of making it more conservative – the fluidic design was just too wild for Seoul, which has one of the dullest fleets I’ve ever seen.

    • 0 avatar

      As the model aged, sales fared worse than usual in the Korean market.

      Take away fleet sales (taxi fleets, etc.), the Sonata was actually being outsold by the Chevy Malibu at times.

      The previous Sonata was overly busy, but the current one (pre-refresh) was just too staid/bland.

      Having clean/simple lines doesn’t have to mean a non-striking design, as the previous gen Optima was a looker (the current one, not so much).

  • avatar

    “We went from a very striking design, to a very beautiful car, but it just didn’t turn heads like the car before it did,” To me I’m afraid that’s going to mean some crazy grill opening. Maybe they will look at the Volestro and tone it back some.

  • avatar

    There are a lot of those 6th generation models on the road, but their getting older. It’ll be interesting to see if they trade ’em in for the 8th.

    My personal favorite is that “odd & bulbous” 4th. Up here in Minnesota, most of them now have terminal cancer of the frame thanks to a high road salt diet. I don’t think we’ll be seeing many of them in the not too distant future.

    Haven’t seen a 3rd gen in over a year, and that was rare.

  • avatar

    What’s with the cropped car photos lately? I “turn my head” but I still can’t see the rest of the car. It’s not just in this post, but in the Honda Accord posts as well, along with others I can’t specifically recall.

    Either I missed an article or this is a secret way of saving money.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    “We went from a very striking design, to a very beautiful car”


    It wasn’t beautiful. It was conservative, perhaps bordering on handsome. But it certainly wasn’t beautiful and neither is the refresh.

    Is there any reason at all to opt for a Sonata against the incoming Accord and Camry? They were already a hard sell against the outgoing generation. And frankly, if I wanted a Sonata I’d get an Optima instead.

  • avatar

    The early 5th gen in dark blue with the light interior and aluminum wheels is not dull. It is the best looking Sonata made. Later that gen they botched the grill.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    That’s because they listened to armchair buyers who all complained about the melted looking front end of the 6th gen. So then the next generation was more conservative. And guess what, everyone complained.

  • avatar

    I rented a Sonata 2 weeks ago. It was just what I expected a Sonata to be….boring but basic transportation. It had decent power, the seats were comfortable on a 3 hr highway trip and it had one of the coldest blowing A/C I have ever experienced in car. It was 100 degrees outside and the car cooled off in about 60 seconds.

    If I were in the market for a commuter car, I’d be all over a Sonata,

    • 0 avatar

      Well, since Camry is going towards excitement, something needs to fill appliance niche.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a similar rental experience with a Sonata a few years ago. I had a choice between a well equipped Malibu (previous generation now) or a lower trim level Sonata. I took the Malibu, and in ten minutes of driving it I knew I’d hate it for the round trip from Long Island to Boston (terribly uncomfortable seats, and interior trim bits falling off). So I went back and swapped it for the Sonata. It was a great car for the 4+ hour drive each way. Comfortable, quiet, enough power and good enough ride/handling for a family sedan. Interior design was pretty dull, but inoffensive. It averaged 33-34 mpg, which I thought was pretty good, especially considering there’s lots of stop-and-go traffic getting in/out of NY. And I can say it was easily more likable than a Camry I had rented, and on par with the Altima, though the Altima feels more modern inside, due to that dull but inoffensive design I mentioned earlier.

      • 0 avatar

        I just spent a week in a Sonata Hybrid. It was by far the best choice on the Hertz Gold aisle. After a week and 1000 miles of city, rural, and mountain driving, I decided it was a car I would consider if in the market. The SE model had everything I needed, with the exception of a leather wrapped steering wheel. CarPlay, climate control, it was all there. 45mpg and over 600 miles of range sealed the deal.

  • avatar

    2018 Sonata a very nice take on the Ford Fusion. I don’t know why but it seems Hyundai tries to imitate Ford’s designs, specially the European Fords.

  • avatar

    I’ve never owned a Hyundai, but the Sonata seems like a screaming deal and I actually like the lines on it compared to some of the other competitors.

  • avatar

    The Koreans have successfully passed Detroit in car quality. The US industry now drops to fourth place.

    Why are Hyundai and Kia producing much better vehicles than both GM and Ford?

  • avatar

    It is boring car, in and out. I had one as a rental a few weeks ago. I keep forgetting what car I had. Makes no impression at all.

  • avatar

    I’m probably one of the few who prefer the pre-facelifted current generation over the previous generation. The ’15-’17 look really great and elegant in white or black in the Limited trim and Sport trims. I will commend the ’11-’14 Sonata for getting people in Hyundai showrooms but the styling got old quick being popular with both fleet and private buyers. The same applies for the current and previous Elantra. IMO, the Sonata’s sister vehicle, the Kia Optima, took a step back. The previous generation still catches my eye in high trims while the current looks the same but with a blander rear end that I can’t seem to warm up to.

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