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PREVIEW: 2015 HYUNDAI SONATA

  • Driver
HIGHLIGHTS
ENGINE
2.4L I-4 FWD
POWER
185hp @ 6,000RPM
CURB WEIGHT
1,475 kg
TORQUE
178 lb.-ft. @ 4,000RPM
FUEL TANK CAPACITY
70.0L
ECONOMY
6.7L/100 km
BASE PRICE
$23999
PRICE AS TESTED
NA

2015 Hyundai Sonata

Price: $23,999 base, $30,999 (Sport 2.0T) and $32,999 (Limited) as tested
Engine: 2.4 L naturally aspirated I4; 2.0 L twin turbo I4
Power/torque: 185 HP, 178 lb-ft @ 4,000 RPM (2.4 L); 245 HP, 260 lb-ft @ 1,350-4,000 r.p.m. (2.0 L turbo)
Fuel Consumption: L/100 km: 9.8 city, 6.7 hwy. (2.4 L); 10.4 city, 7.4 hwy. (2.0 L turbo)
Competition: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat, Kia Optima, Chrysler 200
What’s best: Enough engine and trim combinations to please almost any full-size sedan buyer.
What’s worst: Interior fittings are better quality than in previous version but still fall a bit short of some competitors.
What’s interesting: A decrease in the size of the spools on the turbo makes peak torque available earlier for a peppy driving experience.

Smooth sedan a tale of two engines

The seventh generation of the Hyundai Sonata has arrived, and while the 2015 edition is not a ground-up redesign, Hyundai is confident that their changes address the points that will matter most to consumers.

The new Sonata is the second vehicle to receive the styling treatment that the marque calls Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, which was introduced on the new Genesis earlier this year and aims to give Hyundai’s vehicles a more muscular and sculpted look than the initial version of the styling language that debuted in 2011.

The interior of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata is well laid out, but some of the materials fall a little short compared to competitors.

A heavy emphasis on interior quality and usability was incorporated into this refresh. Large, easy-to-navigate buttons are thoughtfully grouped by function around a standard five-inch or optional eight-inch touchscreen. The trunk has a self-popping function that will open it hands-free when a person with a key fob stands behind it for three seconds, meaning bags can be stowed without being put down first.

Ride quality improvements were also on Hyundai’s checklist, including a more stable, smooth, and planted drive through increases of 10 mm in wheelbase, 30 mm in width, and 35 mm in length combined with a better reinforced and more rigid body structure. Suspension components have been upgraded to make the ride smoother, and a greater focus on noise dampening creates a quieter cabin.

An array of safety features, many of them new, will be standard at all trim levels, including a rear-facing camera, driver knee airbag, lane departure warning with touch feedback, forward collision warning, and auto high beam assist. Trims above base also come with blind spot detection, a lane change assist system that detects when a car is closing at high speed from up to 70 metres behind the vehicle, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Seven trim levels will be available in Canada, five with the base 2.4-litre naturally aspirated I4 engine and two with the 2.0-litre twin turbo. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic, and the turbo also comes with paddle shifters.

But how does the new Sonata drive? On a recent test event, I learned that this question has two distinct answers ? one for each engine.

The story behind the new turbo is interesting. The 2015 iteration posts a decrease in horsepower ? 245 as compared to 274 from the 2014 version ? due to downsizing of the turbo spools.

The trade-off is that peak torque becomes available much earlier: 260 lb-ft. from 1,350 to 4,000 r.p.m., as opposed to 269 lb-ft. from 1,800 to 4,300.

The result is that the Sonata with the 2.0-litre turbo is genuinely peppy on throttle with a decently stiff suspension and planted stance to match. Its handling is stable enough if perhaps a bit unrefined ? granted, though, there’s only so much sporty one can expect from a budget full-size sedan.

Torque is the statistic that tells an engine’s real power story, but North Americans still struggle to let go of big horsepower numbers. If Hyundai can convince prospective buyers to get into these cars and try them, the difference is so immediately obvious that the gamble might just pay off and win over the young-at-heart with practical vehicle needs and a frugal mindset.

That said, Hyundai representatives are up front with their expectation that the 2.4-litre base engine in sport trim will be the Sonata’s bestseller, and they’re likely right. As enjoyable as the turbo is, it’s probably more car than most buyers looking for a large sedan will need or want, and the 2.4-litre sport delivers the lion’s share of the available features for under $30,000 ($28,399, to be exact).

The drive experience in the 2.4-litre is more laid back. The throttle response is more easygoing and the suspension is more relaxed, both of which contribute to a very smooth ride and quiet cabin, more so than the 2.0-litre turbo provides.

It also offers better fuel economy: the 2.4-litre uses 9.8 litres/100 km in the city and 6.7 on the highway under the new NRCan testing procedures, as opposed to 10.4 and 7.4 in the 2.0-litre turbo. But then, by going with the 2.4-litre you lose the slick-looking quad exhaust treatment that comes standard with both 2.0-litre turbo trims, and it’s really quite attractive.

The interiors on both are well laid out and the seats are very comfortable, but some of the materials still do fall a little short in quality when compared to those used by competitors.

Our test cars also had very twitchy and easily activated lane departure warning and collision warning systems that weren’t adjustable, though the cars were pre-production models and so these issues may be resolved before vehicles hit dealerships.

The base models are available now at $23,999, but don’t necessarily jump into one of those in a hurry. The remaining trims will all have arrived by the end of August, and going even one level up from base costs just $2,300 more and delivers far more in the way of features.

One more point worth mentioning: the hybrid version of the Sonata is not included in this refresh. It’s treated as a separate model by Hyundai, so it will continue as is until its next scheduled update for 2016.

If you’re in the market for a sedan with a gasoline engine, though ? especially if you’re keen to try out the turbo’s bit of spunk ? the 2015 Hyundai Sonata is definitely worth a look.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Stephanie Wallcraft was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

  • PREVIEW: 2015 HYUNDAI SONATA
  • PREVIEW: 2015 HYUNDAI SONATA
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