2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL Review - Same Song, New Verse

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

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.
2018 hyundai sonata sel review same song new verse

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!]

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.

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.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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2 of 36 comments
  • DeadWeight DeadWeight on Aug 15, 2018

    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.

  • Legacygt Legacygt on Aug 16, 2018

    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.

  • Kwik_Shift Once 15 Minute Cities start to be rolled out, you won't be far enough away from home to worry about range anxiety.
  • Bobbysirhan I'd like to look at all of the numbers. The eager sheep don't seem too upset about the $1,800 delta over home charging, suggesting that the total cost is truly obscene. Even spending Biden bucks, I don't need $1,800 of them to buy enough gasoline to cover 15,000 miles a year. Aren't expensive EVs supposed to make up for their initial expense, planet raping resource requirements, and the child slaves in the cobalt mines by saving money on energy? Stupid is as stupid does.
  • Slavuta Civic EX - very competent car. I hate the fact of CVT and small turbo+DI. But it is a good car. Good rear seat. Fix the steering and keep goingBut WRX is just a different planet.
  • SPPPP This rings oh so very hollow. To me, it sounds like the powers that be at Ford don't know which end is up, and therefore had to invent a new corporate position to serve as "bad guy" for layoffs and eventual scapegoat if (when) the quality problems continue.
  • Art Vandelay Tasos eats $#!t and puffs peters