By on August 14, 2018

2018 Hyundai Sonata front quarter

2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL

2.4-liter inline-4, DOHC (185 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 178 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm).

Six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive

25 city / 35 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

28.7 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $24,585 (USD)

As Tested: $25,710

Prices include $885 freight charge.

In 2011, Hyundai was flying high. No longer the butt of reliability jokes, and buoyed by the ten-year 100k mile warranty, Hyundais no longer needed to be sold as the “value” choice. Thus, the stunning 2011 Sonata, which flaunted eye-catching styling to generate plenty of showroom traffic.

Fast-forward seven years, and every midsize sedan has bold styling features. Big grilles and swoopy C-pillars are the name of the game as automakers try and eke out bigger slices of the ever-shrinking midsize sedan pie. Hyundai has, surprisingly, been conservative when restyling their entry. The 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL may not be a big hit like its predecessor, but it’s no mere B-side.

2018 Hyundai Sonata profile

The 2018 Sonata is a solid refresh of the underwhelming 2015 model. Unfortunately, in this rental-spec white paint, it’s still not as striking as it tends to be in more dynamic colors. The deeply-ridged hood gives some character to the front end of this sedan. I’m not a big fan of the bright trim that separates the hood from the front quarter panel, leading back to the matching window surround trim — at least on this white car, it seems like a bit of an afterthought. Still, it’s a mostly successful attempt to carry forward a distinctive feature from the successful 2011 car.

2018 Hyundai Sonata front

Out back, the license plate has been moved from the trunk lid lower to the bumper, which opens a ton of vertical real estate for big S O N A T A lettering. I’ve always preferred plates be mounted on the bumper, as I’ve had a few cars with trunk mounted plates that always seemed to transmit a bit of vibration through to the cabin — as those plates tend to be mounted by a ham-handed dealership employee. The taillamps are revised to look a bit more aggressive — as aggressive as taillamps can be, I suppose — with more sculpting to the various elements.

2018 Hyundai Sonata rear

As the SEL trim I tested is one of the more budget-friendly models in the Sonata lineup, I understand the single tailpipe rather than the dual tips found on higher trims. But I’d rather the car be fitted with either a innocuous turn-down exhaust pipe, or possibly a low-key round tip, rather than the bright oblong tip seen here. It seems to highlight the low-spec nature of this car, as the rear isn’t visually balanced. Deep down, I really prefer a single tailpipe on any car fitted with an inline engine — there is no need for two pipes if the exhaust gases emerge from a single manifold — but visually, this is a bit sloppy.

2018 Hyundai Sonata interior

Indeed, this is a relatively low spec model, but it’s rather well equipped for the money. No, it doesn’t have the fun two-liter turbocharged engine of the higher specs, but 185 hp out of a 2.4 liters isn’t bad. It’s not sporty, and the engine does emit a bit of direct-injection clatter at idle, but power is more than adequate for most any driving situation. The six-speed automatic shifts seamlessly, and is surprisingly quick to kick down to a lower gear when needed for passing.

2018 Hyundai Sonata front seats 2018 Hyundai Sonata rear seats

I was genuinely impressed with the ride quality of this Sonata. As the car generally abandons any sporting pretense in the SEL trim, Hyundai tuned the ride for serene comfort. Potholes are dispatched with a muted thump that doesn’t reverb through the cabin. Hyundai has so far avoided the trend of oversized wheels — the 17 inch alloys here are wrapped in a reasonable 55-series sidewall tire, which gives plenty of rubber to cushion harsh impacts.

[Get new and used Hyundai Sonata pricing here!]

2018 Hyundai Sonata infotainment

Really, this SEL trim is nicely equipped, save the engine room. For only $1,650 over the base SE trim, the Sonata SEL adds a power driver’s seat, a proximity key with push-button starting, heated front seats, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Another grand adds the tech package — automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist — which makes this an excellent value choice for a midsize sedan.

2018 Hyundai Sonata dashboard

Though the 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL may not be the splashy Top 40 hit that won so many converts seven years ago, this matured midsizer is now an adult-contemporary standard.

2018 Hyundai Sonata rear quarter

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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36 Comments on “2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL Review – Same Song, New Verse...”


  • avatar
    RedRocket

    I see they have not fixed the off-center positioning of the info screen in the dash and the dissimilar shape of the air vents on either side of it, which drives me nuts every time I look at it.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Offset toward the driver.

      THE HORROR! ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        bufguy

        The offset is so small it is of no aid to the driver, but its position just a tad off center looks like a design error…fail

        • 0 avatar
          tsoden

          Seems like Hyundai has a thing for offsetting…. The license plate lamps on the rear of my 2013 Elantra are offset and not centered. When I looked under, I noticed two blanks… one for a camera and the other for a trunk release button. Both options were on higher end models. Makes me wonder though why the blanks could not have been on either side of the license plate… oh well. Of course when I drive it, I don’t see it, but every time I follow behind an Elantra I can’t help but be annoyed by it.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      Yeah, that does look a bit weird but offsetting the screen slightly towards the driver makes sense, as principaldan noted. The asymmetric center vent design is a remnant of prior Hyundai interior design language (the Elantra and Genesis/G80 share it, too) that I suspect will probably be abandoned with the next full redo.

      Chalk me up as one of the distinct minority who liked the more mature direction of the ’15 redesign, and these latest changes further improve that to my eye. Compared to most other non-Mazda6 midsize sedans it’s a quite classy-looking vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        If I had my way – every vehicle would be “cockpit style” with everything oriented to the driver.

        But my wife would probably rebel if that were to become the case. We currently don’t own any vehicles with dual-zone climate controls and she doesn’t buy my argument that “the driver’s comfort is primary.”

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      Better the info screen than the steering wheel (Passat)…

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So are they still dealing steeply on the Sonata?

    I know that was one of the hallmarks of the previous generation. The actual car didn’t excite many people but when they saw how dealers were willing to deal – that got their attention!

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      I was selling Hyundais when the 2011 Sonata came out. They sold like hotcakes with almost no incentives for the first few years. Other makes had huge rebates and cheap leases, and I was stuck explaining a $500 rebate and terrible lease numbers. The cars still sold. This new generation has been whored out almost from the start.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I was looking at cars back in the spring (~April) and the local Hyundai place wasn’t offering more than $1500 on higher-trim models. I just checked again now and there’s $5500 on the hood of a Limited 2.0 Turbo and five grand on SELs. Yikes.

    • 0 avatar
      kclindley

      Yes, they are. I just bought a new 2018 SE (base model that includes Apple Carplay and blind spot monitoring for $18,500 OTD). Initially I was looking at Accords and Camrys coming off leases, but then found I could get a new Sonota in that same price range. I’ve only had it for two weeks, but so far I’m impressed with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Liger

      They are still dealing.

      A friend of mine leased a new Sonata in DC earlier this year, I told him how to work the dealer. He got a lease on an 2018 Sonata SE for $199 a month with $0 down, the dealer wanted like $2199 down, but he negotiated as I taught him, and got a great deal. But a few months later I saw leases for $139 a month here in DC with $2199 down, so the deal got better (assuming he could negotiate 0 down).

      I bought a 2012 Sonata SE Turbo in late 2011. I had sold Hyundai’s in the past, so I knew the dealer cash and all the back end money that they had. I got my Sonata for close to triple net, invoice + holdback + $700 of the dealer cash. I say close, because I didn’t know what the dealer cash would be, but it was a volume Hyundai dealer so I imagined they got more than $700 dealer cash per car. So my Sonata listed for $25,700, I got it for $22,600. But dwford is right, that was a great deal in 2011. However, I did email a few dealers before I bought at my local dealer where I had already negotiated my $22,600 price, and they would go a bit lower, but they were more than 100 miles away, so I just bought local.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I’ve driven several sonatas and Optimus of this generation and they all come across as highly competent and inoffensive cars, basically what the Camry used to be all about (and still mostly is). I was particularly impressed with my most recent Optima, a basic LX-FE car that returned an astounding 43.5 indicated mpg on an early morning drive out to NYC from Ithaca NY. The return trip was closer to “just” 39 indicated mpg as I remember. I was equally impressed with the excellent ride quality, mine had even more rationally sized 16 inch alloys with 65 series sidewalls. Given the discounts on most sedans these days, it’d be a top recommendation to a friend or colleague that just wanted a high value, nice driving family sedan/commuter.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    Fusion outside, cheap fittings inside.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My only experience with a Sonata was rental duty for a trip down to Texas. That it could fit three guys, two of us taller that 6′ – was much approved. I mostly sat in the back and was happy to be there – lots of legroom for my 6’2″

  • avatar
    don1967

    Our daughter’s Elantra still looks and feels new going into its eighth year. Ditto the previous Santa Fe and Veracruz, which weren’t held as long but did maintain good residual values.

    True, the suspensions and transmissions could have used a little more polish. But it sounds like they’re getting it now. Looks good on Hyundai.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Seems like a lot of car for the money, the only problem is the “car” part. If they would only jack it up a few inches, put some plastic “skid plates” over the lower body panels, an “all terrain” button on the center console, give it an “outdoorsy” name and hatchback, increase the price by $5K, and they wouldn’t be able to keep them in stock.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I leased a ’15 (Sport) from the end of ’14 to the end of ’17 and quite liked it. It did everything it needed to do quite well; the only major issue was that the brakes were clearly designed to meet average usage and absolutely no more; since I live in a hilly area, overheating was a problem and I needed to shift it manually to take load off the brakes and avoid warping the rotors. The 2.0 has fatter binders and probably wouldn’t have had the same problem.

    The big problem with the new one for me was the availability of depreciated 2015 Genesises. Given a choice between a mid-spec Sonata with a 6-speaker stereo, a poverty-spec Accord with 36k miles of warranty, and a monstrously plush Genesis 3.8 AWD with 17k miles on the clock and 43k miles of warranty for the same price… well, it wasn’t terribly difficult.

    I have three years and 17k fewer miles of warranty than I would have with a Sonata, the same warranty as an Accord, and a car with double the power, a V6, pano roof, 14 speaker sound system, buttery-soft leather, and every switch and touch point made the best that H/K could make it. The Sonata is a nice car, but it ain’t that nice.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The Sonata sits in a category with the Passat and Fusion of midsize sedans that are in their declining years and not as flashy as the leading Camry and Accord…but that are competitive choices and that can be had with steep discounts. I’m not impressed with the longevity of my mother’s 2012 Sonata Limited, but I wouldn’t fault anybody for choosing one in 2018, especially if they’re going to lease it/dump it before six years.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Kyree, I would appreciate if you could elaborate on your mother’s experience with her Sonata. Thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Generally agreed. This sort of looks like the “mean” car. Meaning, it’s roughly average in every aspect.

    • 0 avatar

      True, I do not see much change in interior or exterior compared with 2011 model – exterior and interior seems were just slightly restyled like Ford did with Fusion in 2017. It seems Fusion is going the same path until it gets canceled. But Fusion still is more advanced car. I was impressed when saw new Sonata at SF auto show and went to Hyundai dealership to test drive one. In real life it felt cheaply made and I did not like ride – too crude. But still looked fresh outside.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    Hyundai USA added additional standard equipment to the mid-year 2018 Sonatas. These are designated by the “Plus” designation, e.g. SEL Plus, Sport Plus, etc.

    For example, the SEL Plus includes the front end grille from the Sport model, dual automatic climate control, rear seat console vents, wireless phone charging, and heated steering wheel.

    There isn’t as much cash on the hood on the Plus models, but it shouldn’t be long before they receive larger incentives.

  • avatar
    Woods

    My ’15 Sonata Sport has simply been a really good car. It has over 112K miles on it and everything works. I’ve owned lots of cars and have driven a bunch of compay cars over the years and I was always happy to turn them in for something newer. My Sonata surprises me because unlike all those other cars, it hasn’t given me cause to grow tired of it.

  • avatar

    So this is one of the cars Ford didn’t the Fusion could compete with.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Went from a working man’s CLS to a rehash of the mid aughts Impala. What a shame.

    Thankfully the Optima hasn’t fallen anywhere near as far design wise. The 11-15 still looks way better- more fender flaring and a much better C-pillar treatment- but the overall essence hasn’t been lost.

  • avatar
    John Scott

    Needed something comfy, reliable and cheap for my wife to commute to work in – couldn’t pass up a low buck lease on an 18 Optima. So far it’s been rather impressive and she enjoys being a bit of a sedan driving contrarian amongst the sea of CUVs. Downsides? Black cloth interior attracts lint and, usually, all I need to do to fit in her cars is move the seat back a bit and adjust the inside mirror – in the Optima I have to change all the seat and mirror positions to get comfortable. Otherwise even the inevitable shade of gray it’s painted is rich and interesting. Probably not going to keep it off lease – she wants a drop top after retirement next year – but a very nice car even if you don’t factor in the rock bottom lease payment.

  • avatar
    MLS

    “Thus, the stunning 2011 Sonata, which flaunted eye-catching styling to generate plenty of showroom traffic.”

    Styling is subjective, I know, but “stunning”? Really? Yes, the 2011 model was a radical departure from prior Sonatas, but I don’t think any midsize sedan could reasonably be described as stunning. Personally, I disliked that generation’s molten plastic look from the start, and it’s only gotten worse with age.

    “I’m not a big fan of the bright trim that separates the hood from the front quarter panel, leading back to the matching window surround trim — at least on this white car, it seems like a bit of an afterthought. Still, it’s a mostly successful attempt to carry forward a distinctive feature from the successful 2011 car.”

    Ack. One of the worst elements of the 2011 car.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    This car rides better, with a more solid chassis, and is quieter, than any other midsize sedan within +5k.

    It rides better than an Accord or Camry, and waaay better than a Altima or Malibu. It also has much better steering feel than any of those sedans, save possibly the Accord.

    The only real let downs are in the quality of plastics on the dash and door inserts (not worse than a Camry or Altima or Malibu, but not great), the cheap seat cloth material in lesser trims, the really fake looking metallic strips on the dash and doors, and the overall blandness of the dash shape (?).

    I wonder how the long-term reliability/durability will fare.

    You can get the car tested here for around $22,000 OTD (including tax) if you know how to negotiate, and that makes it a very righteous purchase given the solid chassis, very good for the class suspension tuning, and decent amount of equipment.

    If someone wanted a boring but solid long commute hauler for not much money in this class, it’s hard to beat. Still, these are BORING cars in much the same way most all’affordable midsizers are (it’s par for this course’- this class is novocaine numbing boring).

    It is my #1 pick for midsize sedan for under $23k in real world pricing.

    The Volkswagen Golf and GTI are more compact, yet much sportier, and just as solid feeling, despite their smaller wheelbase and overall dimensions, and are my #1 pick for sporty hatches for under $20k, and $25k, respectively.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    Good catch on that exhaust tip. It’s amazing how something so basic can also look so wrong. If it were round, no big deal. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single trapezoidal shaped exhaust tip on one side like this. It doesn’t look right at all. On the lower end models, give me an honest round tip on one side and I’m fine. Of turn it down and hide it completely. But this is a half-a$$ed attempt at a faux sporty look. Doesn’t work at all.

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