If you read the news, you’ll believe that midsize sedans are dead. People are shunning them in exchange for a high-riding crossover or sport utility vehicle. If that was the case, then it’d be absolutely silly to refresh or update a car that’s dead, right? Like most news stories, there’s more than just the headlines. With the updated Hyundai Sonata, there’s also more to the story.
The popular midsize sedan is refreshed and updated for 2018. To a layperson, it’s new. But it’s still riding on the 7th-generation Sonata that debuted in 2015. It’s a front-wheel drive only affair and has a variety of engines available depending on which trim level you choose. For the purpose of our drive program, we were in the 2.0L turbo — conveniently named Limited 2.0T — model making 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.
On our model, a new 8-speed automatic transmission handles the shifting duties. Paddle shifters let you choose the cog you want, and the new transmission shifts faster than the previous version. Hyundai went to great lengths to make their in-house transmission shift faster and prevent power loss while still maintaining efficiency.
All of that, of course, looks good on paper, but how does that translate to the drive? Hyundai sent us to San Diego to find out.
There’s a reason why auto makers choose southern California for drive programs. The weather is always predictable. The roads are always excellent. Tacos are usually on the menu. It’s everything an auto writer wants. But taking a midsize sedan that’s not designed to be a particularly sporty car to some of the best driving roads in the country is ambitious. At lot is on the line for the new Sonata, so the car needs to be good.
Hyundai need not worry.
While yes, it’s not a sports sedan — even the sportiest version — it’s a competent back road cruiser that can keep up with most of the traffic on your favorite mountain road. Under normal driving the suspension is a bit soft for canyon carving, with a bit more body roll than we’d like, but if you don’t drive flat out it’s more than capable of getting you up the hill to your destination.
The new transmission is a delight to use, with rev-matched downshifts and quick response from the paddles. In Sport mode the transmission does a decent job at picking what gear you need to be in, and will hold a gear when coasting down a hill that way you’d engine brake in a manual transmission. It’s clear to this author that a lot of time was put into that transmission and it shows out on the road.
Out on the highway the power is plenty for keeping up with the flow of traffic, and available technology like radar cruise control make California traffic less annoying. Hyundai’s full suite of safety technology is on board, and while it hasn’t been crash tested yet by the IIHS, we wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it earns the company’s highest rating.
Inside is typical Hyundai fare, which means the buttons and controls feel premium — apart from the shift paddles that are a bit ‘plastic-y’ — and the cabin is loaded with technology. The infotainment is easy to use the and the screen crisp. It’s a touch screen which just works. Support for Apple Car Play and Android Auto are on board, and the new Sonata will even connect to your Amazon Echo or Google Home for voice control of your car.
BlueLink telematics is now included for 3 years when you buy the car, which just adds to the overall value of the purchase. BlueLink has remote app support from your cell phone plus a litany of other features.
Interior niggles are few, but we’d like to see more USB charging ports up front. The before-mentioned paddle shifters would feel a bit nicer if they were aluminum. But overall the cabin is comfortable for long trips, and ventilated seats are a welcome joy in the 100° F climate.
Visually, the car looks more striking than the last version of the product. When the Sonata first came to the United States, it was an early 4-door coupe styled vehicle, while the last one was a bit more ‘mainstream.’ The changes for 2018, including the new front end are an attempt to bring a bit more excitement to the styling. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but we like the changes.
One thing we find quite cool is where the release is on the trunk. On the Hyundai logo, if you press the area in between the top of the H but below the circle, it presses in like a button. That releases the trunk lid. It’s a cool way to hide the important functional part of the trunk to make everything look clean.
Until we can live with the car for a week it’s hard to experience the car in the day-to-day, but our first impressions of the new car are quite solid. The last Sonata was a nice car to live with, and as long as Hyundai didn’t screw up that formula they’d be okay. Not only did they not screw it up, but the evolved it into an even more desirable car that still retains a ton of value.
Midsize cars are far from dead.