Noteworthy, not perfect
The Sonata’s suspension puts some luxury models to shame ... but the cabin and drivetrain need some sprucing up
THE suspension in the new Sonata is wasted on a Hyundai.
It should be fitted in something like an upscale Audi A6, or even a Chrysler 300C, because they could do with more comfort and compliance for Australian roads.
Honestly, the list of cars that could stand some of this Hyundai-style tweaking is long. I’m now thinking about the Mini, Honda Accord, BMW 3 Series, and the ... well, it’s time to stop before we run out of Carsguide.
The Sonata drives as well as anything I’ve had this year, short of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, thanks to suspension that copes with the worst roads I can find. Nothing upsets it, not even midcorner stutter bumps or speed humps as tall as a unit block.
It’s all been done in Australia, even if the lead engineer is British and living in France, after Kia set the bar high with the work done by former Toyota hero Graeme Gambold.
But great suspension alone does not make a great car.
The Sonata is good, and much more contemporary in its styling, but it’s still cheap-oid in the cabin and it’s missing things it should have, including engine stop-start and headlights that
rise above dismal. The Sonata has been around since the 1990s, when it followed the original Excel into the Hyundai line-up, but has never been a standout. The first examples were just plain awful — and back in the day, I drove one as a company car.
Hyundai has improved its flagship sedan through the decades but it’s always been done with a home-country focus. So it’s been big and cushy but not remotely worldly.
This latest model is vastly improved and has so much cabin space that it’s now classified as a large car — which means Commodore and Falcon — in Australia. The boot is also gigantic and it’s good to find a full-size alloy spare in the back end.
Five people can actually lounge in the Sonata and I can see it taking over as the car of choice for Camry buyers once the Toyota ends its production run at Victoria’s Altona factory.
Hyundai will also be smart to get a Sonata hybrid up as a taxi in Australia because there are a lot of cabbies who now love the petrol-electric Camry.
My time with the Sonata is perfectly acceptable and I like the cabin space and that brilliant suspension. But the performance is only adequate despite the promise of 138kW and I miss having paddleshifters to excite an engine that sometimes falls well off the boil.
The six-speed auto is inoffensive and the fuel economy is fine, but not great.
The plastics in the cabin are well off the pace in 2015 and the infotainment screen needs to be bigger.
And the headlights are dismal and desperately in need — as with every Hyundai — of the same sort of Australian development that burnished the suspension. There is too much scatter and not enough brightness on low beam and no real penetration on high beam.
Hyundai needs to buy a Commodore to see how affordable headlamps should be done.
If it seems I’m being overly critical of the Sonata it’s because there is so much classy competition among the midsizers. The car is priced from just under $30,000 and with the latest deals that’s Camry money. It must also be compared to standouts such as the Mazda6.
Just around the corner is the new Ford Mondeo, which promises to set the standard for the class.
TICK OR NO TICK
So the Sonata is big and comfortable but not a hero. And that’s not enough for The Tick.
But I can easily see the day when it becomes the Korean Camry as Hyundai makes another move into the Toyota heartland in Australia.