By on July 24, 2020

The idea of Honda and Toyota slugging it out for midsize sedan supremacy, with every other contender — from the very good to the mediocre to the also-rans — fighting it out for sales scraps, is pretty much an auto-journalism cliché at this point.

Other contenders dance in and out of the ring, but never quite stay part of the conversation. Hyundai’s Sonata has long been one of those. Certain generations of the Sonata were very much a part of the mix at the top of the class. Others were forgettable, hanging out in the muddled middle.

Part of it, as I wrote last fall, was that Hyundai seemed unable to strike a balance between driving dynamics and styling. When the car looked good, it wasn’t great to drive, and vice versa. And while only a percentage of midsize buyers might care about either attribute, that doesn’t mean either one should be ignored. Even the most car-ignorant commuter would likely prefer a car that looks good and doesn’t drop them into a deep snooze on the interstate.

Enter the newest Sonata. This is the first entrant from Hyundai in a while that will make folks at Honda HQ and Toyota’s corporate offices sweat a bit. Sure, both the Accord and Camry are quite good themselves right now, but should either stumble, well, Hyundai dealers might want a word.

[Get price quote on a Hyundai Sonata here

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited Fast Facts

1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (180 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

27 city / 36 highway / 31 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)

8.6 city, 6.6 highway, 7.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $33,300 (U.S) / $38,599 (Canada)

As Tested: $34,365 (U.S.) / $40,736.20 (Canada)

Prices include $930 destination charge in the United States and $1,910 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

!]

Let’s start with the powertrain. The 1.6-liter turbo-four under hood makes 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft, which is good enough for smooth, relatively swift acceleration.

Hyundai continues to improve its vehicles’ steering incrementally. The Sonata’s unit feels appropriately weighted, but even the computer-controlled magic summoned by selecting Sport mode doesn’t quite put this car in league with the segment’s sportiest offerings. If you’re an enthusiast buying a family sedan for practical reasons, the Sonata won’t be as satisfying as the Accord or perhaps the Mazda 6. But for everyone else, the dynamics are engaging enough.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

My first drive in Arizona left me complimentary of the Sonata’s smooth ride, and it wasn’t a letdown on pock-marked Chicago streets. It’s a quiet machine, too.

The styling might be a bit divisive, at least in photos. But it’s not a bad look in person. The squeezed snout is, at the least, a sign that Hyundai is willing to take chances after being panned for being too conservative with previous generations. There are cool touches, like the running lights that streak back towards the A-pillar, or the C-shaped taillights connected via a light bar that dissects the Hyundai and Sonata badging.

Inside, it’s similarly mixed – the four-spoke steering wheel looks odd, and the push-button shifter will divide opinions. But the infotainment screen sweeping across the dash integrates better than most that sort of “pop up”, and the HVAC controls are cleanly mixed in.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Limited is the top trim, and my test car had only one option: Carpeted floor mats for $135. Standard features included blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic assist, forward-collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, parking-collision-avoidance assist (rear), front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, 18-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, LED lighting, keyless entry and starting, automatic-open/hands-free trunk, digital key, leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, power front seats, Bose audio, dual-zone climate control, 12.3-inch infotainment screen, navigation, USB, auxiliary input, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and Hyundai’s BlueLink connected-car app.

Oh, and it included the remote-control parking app, which if you remember pre-pandemic life, was memorably featured in a Super Bowl commercial. The one with the Boston accents: “Smaht Pahk.” I’d love to tell you how well this feature works, but I stupidly forgot to give it a whirl. I guess I’m still an analog player in a digital world (Internet points to the commenter who gets that movie reference).

I also can’t tell you if the digital key or its near-field communication works, because that’s an Android feature and I don’t have an Android phone.

Inside, the Sonata isn’t just quiet, it’s also comfy and spacious. It’s a well-balanced machine.

The best driver’s cars in the midsize segment are sold by other brands. But if you’re looking for a balanced, well-rounded mid-sizer that is priced competitively (a tad over $34K as shown here), you could do worse.

Welcome Sonata back to the top of class midsize mix. Maybe this time, it will stick around awhile.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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34 Comments on “2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited Review – A New Contender Emerges...”


  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    I’m on my second Sonata after 3 Accords. My 2009 provided me with bland but trouble free transportation for 100K miles. When time came to replace it, I didn’t even going to consider another Sonata, and test drove both another Accord and Mazda6. Went on vacation to Outer Banks before deciding and rented a midsize for the trip. Enterprise gave me a 2015 Sonata, so I had a 1,000+ mile test drive. Was completely impressed – generic blandness was replaced by clean straightforward style lines. Drove extremely well, was a great road car, and as I sat in the driver’s seat, everything just “fit” and made sense. Got home and bought a 2015 Limited. I have been completely satisfied and at 70K+ miles, it has been bulletproof. I’m also an outlier in that I actually prefer it’s straightforward and (to me) classy lines to the previous 2011-2014 generation. Think it still is a great looking car, an opinion that others have shared with me on more than one occasion.

    I’m unlikely to buy another Sonata soon, as I need to replace my Venza with another cargo capacity vehicle first. At that point, the Sonata will serve as a second vehicle for quite a while. Overall, I like the new Sonata’s styling (minus the grille; I prefer the cleaner line of the new Kia K5). Others may not care for Hyundai/Kia, and that’s fine. But I’ve had good luck with my Sonatas, and wouldn’t hesitate to get another H/K product.

  • avatar
    ajla

    No accounting for taste and no offense to new owners but I think this car looks terrible inside and out. I’ve seen a few on the road and it is just a bizarre mashup of stuff. I thought the face-lifted ’17-’19 was much better looking.

    In general I have concerns about the styling direction on several new H/K/G products.

    • 0 avatar
      pveezy

      Oddly enough I am totally opposite to you and think it looks great inside and out and is the best looking car in the class. I totally love it (and I don’t own one).

      I can sort of see how the front end is subjective, especially the black “sport” front end that Hyundai put on all trims in North America (other than the base and Hybrid). I think the smaller face with the chrome cross bars is the one that is less controversial and more upscale, and in most markets that is the standard front end across the board, but for some reason in Canada and the US they put that on the base models only.

  • avatar
    David Cardillo

    Recall that Chrysler used push button shifter configurations for their cars in the 1960’s. I remember a 65(?) Fury with that feature, and it was very positive to shift up using the tach.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I think Hyundai started this with the 17 Ioniq EV, and I have a 2019. The pushbuttons work great, and I don’t miss having a T-handle taking up space.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I’m not sure what the big deal is about push buttons for shifting, either; this looks similar to the Honda implementation. True, it doesn’t save space, but it doesn’t take long to adjust to it. I’ve noticed that I’ve developed adequate “muscle memory” to where I don’t have to look at the buttons. This actually looks more compact than the Honda’s, which is more spread out down the left side of the console. (Only thing that REALLY looks bad is that wheel! I thought one of ze Germans tried something similar, and it failed just as epically, looks-wise!)

        To each their own. :-)

        • 0 avatar
          millerluke

          I used to drive garbage trucks, and all the curbside collection units use the same Allison automatics with push button controls. I could hit the correct gear without even looking – of course, I was going from drive to reverse a few dozen times a day, but still, I found it no easier or more difficult to use than the ‘T-handle’ automatic units.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I love these cars, but noticed on the online configurator that base and hybrid models have a different front fascia than the rest of the lineup. I actually vastly prefer the base/hybrid front end, looks classier and less like a catfish.

    At this point, when I look for a new vehicle in 2-ish years, H/K will be top of the list. I want to purchase from a company that’s putting great effort into their vehicles, not cost-cutting and cheapening.

    • 0 avatar
      RedRocket

      Now that’s mighty funny!

      Hyundai exists precisely because they cut costs better than any other auto manufacturer aside from the Chinese.

    • 0 avatar
      pveezy

      Yeah, I find the base front end actually looks more upscale. And in most markets Hyundai uses that front end across the lineup. But for some reason North America only gets it on the low end cars, and they put the wider blacked out “sport” front on the rest of the line.

    • 0 avatar
      pveezy

      Yeah, I find the base front end actually looks more upscale. And in most markets Hyundai uses that front end across the lineup. But for some reason North America only gets it on the low end cars, and they put the wider blacked out “sport” front on the rest of the line.

    • 0 avatar
      amwhalbi

      Sonofagun – you’re right. I just checked the configurator, and the base SE and the hybrids do have a much better looking front end – to my eyes, anyway. Why Hyundai markets two front ends on the same model (unless it is a sporty “GT model”) is beyond me. Looks are not the top item on my priority shopping list, but if I was making a decision purely on style, I would definitely go for the hybrid. I appreciate Hyundai trying to stretch the envelope a bit, but I’m not a fan of the gaping black maw.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    That front view. Good Lord, who signed off on that?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I like the headlights running into the fenders, but then I miss opera lamps too.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I have seen a few of these out in the wild and overall, I would say that they look pretty good, I would test it out if I needed a new midsized sedan. I don’t thing anyone remaining in the sedan segment can play it safe anymore and phone it in on styling. Anyone left selling sedans will invariably have to have some sort of “it” factor to move metal. You dont like the styling, blame all the pickup and crossover buyers…..its their fault.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        On the flip side, If you don’t like everyone driving Pickups and crossovers, blame modern sedans. I will give your point though, assuming you aren’t Toyota or Honda, you need something. Whatever this has though, I don’t see it. I don’t hate Kia’s version though which is about the best you can say for these type vehicles nowadays.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Since Hyundai and Kia tend to swap spots with each other regarding who makes the better looking car, I’d say Kia gets the nod here. The lights stretching to the a-pillar looks a bit too gimmicky. That said the trunk length taillight doesn’t do either any favours. I do sort of like the steering wheel and the slightly canted screen for the HVAC, and am wholly ambivalent about the transmission selector.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I think the new Sonata looks good — having seen a few in person.

    Two friends of mine have owned two Sonatas each – logging well over 100-thousand miles in each car with no problems.

    I’m waiting for the Sonata N Line. In the meantime, I have one question: Can all of the driving-assist nannies be turned off?

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Not a big fan of the front fascia. Looks a little bit like a sad catfish? Probably a great sedan though but I believe that Kia K5, particularly in higher trims is a looker.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Alex has the K5 even with the Accord when it comes to handling and ride (and better than the Camry) with the Honda getting a slight nod for better steering feedback.

    Seems like the non-GT trims of the K5 are tuned slightly more aggressive than the comparable Sonata trims.

    The catfish grille on the Sonata is unfortunate, but the NA 2.5L and the hybrid get the better shaped grille.

    Daresay that the Sonata to get is the hybrid.

  • avatar
    rockit

    This review reads a bit much like an advertisement. Unfortunately Hyundai’s don’t age the best judging from friends of mine. And no, I don’t listen to fanboys.

    But if you dont intend to keep it long it doesn’t really matter

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      My extended family has owned an obscene number of Hyundai/Kia product, and mostly they’re fine. Typically about 8-10 years and 120-150k miles of service with no major issues (although I think that’s right about the point where they turn for the rougher). As well, I work in fleet, and my understanding is that they’re looking a little tougher at end of life compared to our Toyotas, we still trust them more than anything from Nissan. Basically, they’re fine for basic commuter use, but no where near the years of peak Honda/Toyota that some of the biggest supporters seem to suggest.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    The agency reviews in the old weekend newspaper before it went broke were better than this wishy-washy tosh. If anyone who after reading it has a clue what the car’s really like, raise your hand, because it said precisely nothing to me. It’s motoring pap.

    • 0 avatar
      RedRocket

      Hyundai have long received free passes from the automotive press. In the old days it was because of blatant payola. I don’t know what drives it now.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        They are the “it” brand for people too cool to drive the standard Japanese fare in the segment and won’t drive a domestic because reasons. Best thing I can say is they settled the class action over the Theta II quicker than the domestics tend to settle theirs and with less CYA. I got my notice with the final recall and was happy to see they will be paying for diminished trade value if you didn’t want to jump through their hoops for a new engine and just dumped the knocking chump instead. I’m sure I’ll get my 12 dollar check any day now. I am sure the quality has improved though…2017 was so long ago after all. I am just happy it is gone. Woe be to those that speak ill of Hyundai/Kia in these hallowed forums however.

        • 0 avatar
          amwhalbi

          Art, I hear your frustration, and all I can say is, if I had the experience you described in another thread, I wouldn’t be impressed with Hyundai/Kia either. It is indeed curious how one person can have great vehicle experience (whatever the model brand) and someone else gets burned by the same vehicle or manufacturer.

          I just know I have had two good Hyundai vehicles. Part of it may be my dealer, who has won numerous district service awards. In any event, relative to your last sentence, I encourage you (or anyone else) to call ’em like you see ’em.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            That’s fair amwhalbi. I haven’t ever had a bad Ford but yeah, I get that that that isn’t everyone’s experience. You touch the hot burner on a stove once, you tend to not repeat. I just don’t get the love fest. Even the good one was just a normal crossover. It was nothing special. The last one was some malaise era type BS though.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      Pretty bad review, at least include a photo of the seats and talk about interior space and other details.

  • avatar

    Same old 2010 Sonata facelifted 4th or 5th time. It gets tired.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    It’s really impressive how far Hyundai has come, and the cars seem to be quite durable. The styling of this is good, though with a strangely derivative of many sources feel. The front end has a Lexus-ish grille, the interior is very Toyota-esque and the rear end is straight up Volvo-inspired. But, it all hangs together in a pleasing overall shape. liking that it has a gearbox and not a CVT.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    As I have been saying right along this is a grille and steering wheel change away from a being a true great. The 1.6T also should be making more than 180 HP in 2020 however and it must confuse potential buyers that the cheaper lower trim level 2.5 makes 191 horses or 11 more than the upper 1.6T along with slightly better fuel economy for city and highway. The 1.6T has the torque advantage but that dissipates at higher speeds when the lower HP engine loses some steam. The sweet spot for me is the SEL model with the optional convenience package that throws in the leather wheel, wireless charging, extra USB ports, upgraded cluster and auto dimming mirror for under 27K full sticker!

    • 0 avatar
      CapVandal

      I don’t know what’s up with the new 1.6T. Prior versions of the 1.6 Turbo produce 203 HP. For whatever reason, they have eased off the HP in the latest version. Note that this is up against Honda’s 1.5T, while Toyota isn’t selling a smaller turbo engine
      Meanwhile the Kia K-5 GT will offer an optional 2.5T @290 HP and an 8 speed dual clutch automatic.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    This car (at least the SEL+ and Limited) looks much better in person than it does in photos. It’s quite striking. I also agree that the SE’s grille looks better than the blacked out grille of the higher-end models. But the SE and SEL’s wheels are atrocious.

    The one major beef I have with this car is that Hyundai canned the power seat height adjustment for the front passenger seat that comes with the Limited trim level, whereas the previous generation Sonata Limited had it. I’ve heard that the cheaper models still have a manual ratcheting height adjuster for the passenger seat. It might be a minor feature, but that would be a dealbreaker for me.

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