Note­wor­thy, not per­fect

The Sonata’s sus­pen­sion puts some luxury mod­els to shame ... but the cabin and driv­e­train need some spruc­ing up

Herald Sun - Motoring - - The Tick -

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.

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