Medium-sized sedans are heading the way of the Dodo. Once a mainstay in Australian driveways, they are barely registering a blip on the sales charts these days.
Most brands have turned their back on them altogether, but Hyundai is persevering, launching a bold new version of the Sonata.
Powerful and aggressively styled, it’s designed in a similar mould to our once-loved Commodore and Falcons.
Its new 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder has more power and torque than the Aussie duo, developing 213kW of power and a lusty 422Nm of torque.
Matched to a new eight-speed dual-clutch auto that can be changed via paddles behind the steering wheel, it delivers enough performance to satisfy buyers who enjoy their driving.
Hyundai claims it will reach 100km/h in a slick 6.5 seconds, or 6.2 seconds with the launch control engaged. To give the car a sportier feel, a fake exhaust note is pumped into the cabin and there’s a rev-matching function to keep the engine on the boil coming out of a corner.
Hyundai’s general manager, product, Andrew Tuitahi, says the company is realistic about the appeal of the sedan in the current SUV-mad climate.
“We don’t have unrealistic aspirations for the car. We’re not coming here expecting to break sales records or reverse the current trends in the segment but we think it offers a legitimate alternative,” he says.
Hyundai is offering only one Sonata model – the N-Line – and at $50,990 plus on-roads, it isn’t cheap. It is, however, generously equipped, delivering luxury and tech that is missing from similarly-priced SUVs.
The cabin has a sporty feel, with body-hugging Nappa leather and suede seats, red stitching on the leather steering wheel and centre console and a digital display in front of the driver that can be configured according to personal tastes.
The screens are complemented by a large head-up display on the windscreen that gives your speed, the prevailing speed limit, road signs, satnav turn directions and active safety warnings.
A big centre screen replicates your smartphone and for the audiophiles, there’s a 12-speaker Bose audio system that is a cut above the standard fare at this price.
A wireless charging pad sits under the screen and the traditional gear shifter has been replaced by buttons for selecting drive and reverse.
The front seats are heated and ventilated, while the outboard rear seats are heated and there are rear air vents and sun shades.
Occupants are well protected by a range of driver aids.
Cameras keep an eye on your blind spot and the dash displays a video feed of surrounding cars when you’re changing lanes. There are also warning lights and if you ignore all of them, the car will brake to pull you back into line. The Sonata will also steer you back into lane if you wander and keep a safe distance to the car in front, braking and accelerating on its own in stop-start traffic.
Other tech will stop you from turning across a junction or exiting a driveway if it’s not safe.
A hi-tech form of the child lock prevents children from opening the rear doors if cameras detect an approaching vehicle.
On the road, the Sonata is a comfortable and capable highway cruiser. There’s abundant power on tap for overtaking and the suspension provides a reasonable balance between agility and comfort, although it can float a little over bigger bumps.
The engine is punchy off the mark, delivering maximum torque at just 1650rpm, while the eight-speed auto keeps the power on tap throughout the rev range.
That power will sometimes overpower the front wheels if you’re too enthusiastic with the accelerator pedal, producing some tugging at the wheel out of tight corners. Fuel use of 8.1L/100km is reasonable and it will take regular unleaded.
Unlike Volkswagens in this price range, there is no adaptive suspension and those looking for the sharp turn-in and quick reflexes of a Commodore may be disappointed.
Having said that, the Sonata is infinitely more rewarding to drive than the current crop of mid-size SUVs.
Powerful, well equipped and luxuriously appointed, the Sonata is an attractive alternative to the SUV for the driving enthusiast.
HYUNDAI SONATA VITALS
Price: From $50,990 plus on-roads
Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unl’td km, $1750 over 5 years
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged 4-cyl, 213kW/422Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert
Spare: Temporary spare