Hyundai’s midsize sedan has undergone quite the transformation in the last four model years. Take the 2011, for example – radically restyled compared to the car that came before it, the previous Sonata probably had the most pronounced impact on Hyundai’s catapult rise to the American mainstream. Glancing quickly at this new Sonata, it might be easy to label it a more conservative restyling of the same basic car. But to write it off as such would be doing the 2015 model a great disservice.
To start with, let’s talk about the design of this new car for a moment. Whereas the previous Sonata cut away from the midsize pack by being an overtly sporty shape, this one skews back in the other direction – though it’s no less successful. Our 2.4-liter Limited, sitting on its slightly benign multi-spoke alloys, looks subtly, ambiguously upscale compared to the rest of the “sport”-ified midsize field. Your neighbors could easily confuse it for something far, far more expensive – approach the car from a distance while squinting slightly, and you could imagine the shape to be one of any number of import luxury tanks. Audi A7 in the roofline. Mercedes S-class in the front-quarter view. And more than a bit of current Genesis sedan everywhere else.
In fact, were it rear-driven, this car could have easily substituted for the Genesis as Hyundai’s premium midsize model. It’s got the shape of a much more upscale car than it is, a trend I’d love to see continue in this segment. But where the Fusion successfully pulls off the sporty Aston thing, this design goes straight for the throat of understated German luxury. For those looking for bigger alloys and more suggestive body addenda, the Sport 2.0T Ultimate features all of the same upscale features of our tester with an added dose of power and flashier styling details.
The new interior, which looks so plainly styled in photos, actually feels well laid-out, modern and intuitive from behind the small-diameter steering wheel. Despite being flush with technology, there seem to be fewer ancillary buttons to clutter the space than the 2015 Legacy I drove last month, which felt positively littered with them. The seats are comfy, material quality is improved from the last generation, and interior space is on another level from most midsizers; in fact, it’s the only one in this class technically designated as a “large car” by the EPA, and it shows most noticeably in front leg and head room.
Content levels are typically a Hyundai strength anyway, but this one is a stand-out value at $32k; it’s hard for me to think of a car that offers more features for the money. Take a look at the equipment list for our Limited tester: a high-quality 8” touchscreen w/ navigation and “swipe-able” menu screens; a well-judged 400-watt Infinity sound system; another high-res, fully configurable 4″ screen in the gauge cluster; radar-based cruise control; forward collision warning; blind spot monitoring; a panoramic sunroof; proximity key and “smart” trunk opening; heated, cooled, power front seats with memory and four-way lumbar for the driver; a heated steering wheel and rear seats; rear side window sunshades – the list goes on and on.
The driving experience mimics the new styling, in that it hews closer to understated competence than sporty pretense. Without a Sport 2.0T on hand to drive, I can’t comment on whether the 2015 Sonata’s updated chassis has the chops to take it to the segment’s most competent handlers (widely recognized as the Mazda 6 and Accord). But the Limited can still be hustled down the road in a comfortable, unfazed manner, smoothing out large undulations and imperfections quickly and quietly, without any of the ride floatiness I experienced in the current Passat SEL. I kept the drive select mode in “Sport” most of the time, which brings weightier steering calibration and more responsive transmission settings. Though even in Sport, throttle response is fairly relaxed, and power delivery from the 2.4-liter four is smooth but forward progress never really rises above the level of “acceptable”. If brisker acceleration is needed, opt for the 2.0T.
By offering a little something for everyone and not just those who value sporty styling above all else, the 2015 Sonata improves on the previous generation in just about every way. If Hyundai continues this kind of rapid development, covering the ground on each new model generation that many manufacturers take in two, you’ve got to wonder just how good the next Sonata will be.
2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited
Base price: $27,335
Price as tested: $32,510
Options on test car: Tech Package ($3,500), Ultimate Package ($1,550), Carpeted floor mats ($125)
Powertrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 185 horsepower, 178 lb-ft torque
S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 29.0 mpg
Hyundai provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.