ROAD TEST: 2020 Hyundai Sonata 1.6T Ultimate

By Shari Prymak

It is no secret that midsized sedans like the Hyundai Sonata are losing favour with consumers. The once go-to family cars have been replaced by the overwhelming dominance of crossover SUVs. The result is that the remaining players have resorted to creative solutions to stay relevant, or even afloat, in the minds of consumers. The Sonata accomplishes this with all-out, luxury-leaning design and class-leading technology that’s sure to grab the attention of a few potential buyers.

Compared to its conservative-looking predecessor, the latest Sonata flaunts a rather eye-catching look. Hyundai sweated the details on this one with intricately-styled lighting and shapely sheet metal that help give it some real road presence. The overall design is undeniably sleek and stylish, so much so that it even makes the G70, a fully-fledged luxury sedan from Hyundai’s own Genesis brand, look somewhat bland.

The interior pushes above its class with some nice upscale touches, an attractive look, and loads of features. Major highlights include the available 12.3 inch digital instrument display and head-up display along with a 10.25 inch centre touchscreen infotainment system. The visual appeal and design of the displays are impressive, but the ease of use is what really stands out. The user interface is feature-rich, yet highly intuitive and easy to navigate. Hyundai has mastered the ability to offer an abundance of functionality while keeping the controls simple and approachable. Space-wise, the Sonata offers a generous amount for room for passengers, but it isn’t quite class-leading in terms of overall space.

Driving the Sonata is a comfortable, though uneventful experience. Unlike a few of its sportier competitors such as the Honda Accord or Mazda6, the Sonata prefers to be driven in a relaxed manner. A number of clever and useful driver assist features are offered which help to further ease the driving experience. In addition to a lengthy list of standard active safety features, the Sonata offers a highly effective highway driving assist system which allows for hands-free driving similar to Tesla’s Autopilot system. A clever blind view monitor helps ease lane changes by displaying a live video feed of the blind spots in the digital instrument cluster. In addition to the commonly available 360 surround view monitor and reverse collision avoidance, the Sonata even offers remote parking assist which allows you to move the car forward and backward with the push of a button on the key fob.

The Sonata offers a number of drivetrain choices. The entry-level Preferred model comes with a naturally-aspirated 2.5L 4-cylinder engine with 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Oddly enough, higher models swap the 2.5 for a smaller, less powerful, 1.6L turbocharged engine that offers a similar level of performance and fuel economy. Although the 1.6 feels perfectly adequate, it is a bizarre move to ask buyers to pay extra for a more complicated engine design that offers no significant advantage over the base engine. Since the Sonata is mostly about comfort and ease of use, it makes sense to consider to optional hybrid model, which should offer a relaxing driving experience along with better fuel economy.

Although the Sonata has a lot going for it in terms of styling and features, Hyundai’s traditionally high-value pricing seems to be somewhat absent here. The standard Sonata ranges in price from $26,999 for the Preferred model up to $38,599 for the Ultimate model packed with all the previously mentioned technology and safety features. That’s about equal to or even higher than best-in-class rivals such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Mazda6. The Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy, and Nissan Altima even offer all-wheel drive for a lower price point compared to the Sonata’s front wheel drive-only layout.  Most rivals also offer much more powerful engine options for similar price as well.

Hyundai managed to do a lot of things right with the Sonata. It has one of the most attractive designs in its segment along with a comfortable driving experience, excellent safety technology, and a feature-packed interior. By neglecting to offer a bit more value for money with a few bonuses such as all-wheel drive, the Sonata still falls short of that extra mile which would help elevate it above its well-established rivals. It’s a solid player, but one that might not stand out as much as its stylish looks would suggest.