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PowerSteering: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Review

By Liz Kim, November 08, 2017

Introduction
For better or for worse, we are witnessing the dusk of the family sedan. Year over year, sales have declined precipitously, accompanied by a commensurate increase in the popularity of compact and midsize crossover vehicles. Midsize cars have been the bread and butter of most carmakers for decades, but as more consumers are answering the siren call of greater cargo flexibility and a higher driving position, all sedans are experiencing faltering sales.

It’s too bad, as the current crop of family-sized 4-doors, almost without exception, is nothing short of excellent. And while sales leaders Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are the cars that immediately come to mind, lesser-known models are also better than they have ever been before.

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T front quarter right photoTake, for instance, the Hyundai Sonata. Roomy, reliable, and stuffed full of the latest in technological and comfort features, it’s always worth mentioning to those who are looking for something a little beyond the mainstream. And for 2018, it gets a nice facelift and some improvements in ride quality, along with newly standard safety equipment to make it an even better value.

For this review, we evaluated a 2018 Sonata Limited with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a set of floor mats. The price came to $33,460, including the $885 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the refreshed 2018 Sonata, it’s helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this midsize car and what they like most and least about it.

Compared with the Midsize Car segment, Sonata buyers are slightly older and less affluent. J.D. Power data shows that 62% of them are male (vs. 61% for the segment), that their median age is 58 years (vs. 56 years), and that they have a median annual household income of $86,591 (vs. $88,919).

Sonata buyers align with Midsize Car buyers in terms of most psychographic sentiments, but they are slightly less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay more for the latest safety features (75% vs. 78%) or pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (52% vs. 57%). That could explain the relative rarity of Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid cars on American roads.

Furthermore, Sonata buyers are less likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (54% vs. 59%). When it comes to characterizing a vehicle as just a way of getting from place to place, 50% of Sonata buyers agree with the statement compared with 47% of buyers within the segment.

Buyers say their favorite things about the Sonata are (in descending order) the exterior styling, storage and space, interior design, visibility and safety, and driving dynamics. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Sonata are (in descending order) the seats, engine and transmission, infotainment system, climate system, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the new 2018 Sonata performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
Sonata buyers love the exterior design of their car, yet Hyundai needed to better align the sedan with the company’s emerging styling ethos. This requirement is the reason for the rather significant exterior update.

Based on the appearance of the test car, Hyundai did a great job of refining the 2018 Sonata’s appearance. Upscale and handsome, the new Sonata even reflects a hint of Kia, which is a good thing. The Sonata 2.0T’s 18-in. polished aluminum wheels also give its stance some heft.

My only criticism is that its gill-like fog lamp treatment is a bit overwrought, but it tucks into the new hexagonal grille so it’s not as obtrusive as it could be.

Interior
The Sonata’s cabin features an appealing mix of textures and patterns, with nice-to-touch materials covering all the surfaces where your hands would naturally land.

For the 2018 model year, Hyundai upgraded some of the switchgear to give it a more premium look and feel. The new aluminum trim on the dashboard lends a modern touch, and while the cabin isn’t what I’d call posh, little touches like blue stitching on the black leather upholstery add flair to a simple but upscale environment.

Seats
I always have trouble getting into and out of vehicles with steeply slanted windshield pillars, such as the Sonata’s. I like to sit tall behind the wheel, and that means my seat is usually raised to the highest position. As a result, I have to duck in order for my head to clear the roof. On more than one occasion, I nearly clobbered my noggin entering this car.

Once ensconced behind the steering wheel, though, the front seat proved comfortable with a good amount of cushioning, and I appreciated the heated and ventilated seats during California’s early fall, with chilly overnight temperatures and unseasonably warm afternoons.

You’d never know it by the Sonata’s market position and competition, but technically the EPA calls this car a large sedan. That’s how roomy it is inside.

As soon as you slip into the rear seat, you’ll be convinced that this description is accurate. Shoulder and leg space is generous, although headroom leaves a bit to be desired for the long of torso. My loaded Limited 2.0T test vehicle was equipped with such niceties as rear-seat heaters, manual side window shades, and air vents, making the back seat even more appealing than the front passenger’s chair.

Climate Control System
Big knobs and clearly marked buttons are always appreciated for their simplicity and user friendliness, and the Sonata did not disappoint. Plus, the climate system proved effective in warding off the effects of a mercurial week of Southern California weather. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why buyers cite the climate system as their second most significant source of dissatisfaction with their Sonatas.

Infotainment System
Buttons and knobs are also on deck for the Sonata’s radio, looking like they belong in a luxury car instead of a mainstream family car. Infotainment details are shown on an 8-in. touch-screen display, which looks increasingly small in a modern vehicle.

For 2018, the Sonata gets a new Qi wireless charging pad that is compatible with a variety of devices—including the new iPhone 8 or X (finally!). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection is also standard, along with USB connections up front and a USB charging port for rear-seat occupants.

Hyundai also provides its Blue Link subscription services for Sonata SEL, Sport, and Limited trim levels, and starting in 2018 it is free for the first 3 years of ownership. Highlights include safe teen driver functions related to geographic boundaries, driving speed, and curfews. The system is also Amazon Alexa and Google Home compatible, allowing owners to use those devices from inside the home to remotely start the car and set a temperature, or to lock the doors, among other items. Also, Blue Link provides features such as automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling.

Storage and Space
The Sonata’s trunk measures 16.3 cu. ft., which is generous in this class. While we prefer a wide and shallow space, which is easier to use than the deeper and somewhat narrow trunk the Sonata provides, it can accommodate plenty of cargo.

A 60/40 split rear seat supplied greater flexibility, while the proximity-sensing, hands-free feature opens the trunk automatically when you stand there for 3 seconds. It’s a nice feature to have when the ground is wet or dirty and you don’t want to risk standing on one foot to wave it under the back bumper, as is commonly required by many of these systems.

There’s lots of space for stuff inside the Sonata, too. The center console is generous, as are the glove box, door bins, and thoughtful storage solutions placed throughout the cabin.

Visibility and Safety
I’ve mentioned that the Sonata’s windshield pillars are steeply raked. They’re also a bit fat, so they take a little getting used to in terms of outward visibility. Otherwise, it wasn’t hard to see out of this car.

For 2018, Hyundai makes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert standard equipment for all trim levels on the Sonata. Kudos, Hyundai. Additional active driver-assistance and collision-avoidance features are available, depending on which trim level you choose.

If you can’t avoid an accident, know that the Sonata shines in almost every safety crash test. It gets a 5-star (out of 5) rating in all parameters from the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a “Top Safety Pick+” designation.

Engine/Transmission
Hyundai offers a multitude of powertrains for the 2018 Sonata. Most have a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. My Limited 2.0T test vehicle came with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 245 horsepower. A hybrid and plug-in hybrid are also available, along with an affordable Eco trim featuring a smaller, turbocharged, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine.

Between the horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque from just 1,350 rpm, the Sonata 2.0T’s power band was nice and broad, almost negating any trace of turbo lag. Acceleration from a standstill proved robust, and passing power was in plentiful supply.

For 2018, this engine is mated with a new 8-speed automatic transmission that Hyundai says should improve gas mileage. It behaved itself, but as to whether it is successful in its stated mission is certainly up for debate.

Fuel Economy
According to the EPA, the Sonata 2.0T should return 26 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 24.1 mpg during a week of mixed driving conditions.

It is worth noting that almost every Hyundai vehicle I’ve driven the past few years has failed to meet the EPA’s average fuel-economy expectation. When it comes to the Sonata, many existing buyers are not happy about the fuel economy, and it appears the 2018 Sonata continues the unfortunate trend.

Driving Dynamics
Hyundai tinkered with the 2018 Sonata’s suspension in order to provide an improved ride quality and better handling, but overall, the Sonata is still among the softer family sedans—even in sport-tuned 2.0T guise.

Though it’s not the kind of car that urges extra bravado on twisty roads, it does a fine job around town, while commuting, and on longer highway drives. In these situations, the rather supple suspension shines, delivering a comfortable ride. I did, however, notice more road noise making its way into the cabin than I recall from drives in previous Sonatas.

Additionally, the Sonata 2.0T’s steering is improved, supplying an appreciable amount of heft and providing extra precision.


Final Impressions
In the ancient days, even before the dawning of social media, Hyundai had to shill its class-leading warranty in order to sell the Sonata. And while the warranty is still noteworthy, as well as the company’s impressive Blue Link offering and its new Shopper Assurance buying program, the Sonata of 2018 is worthy of recommendation for other reasons.

This is a handsome, comfortable, safe, high-quality, and well-equipped vehicle that has rightfully earned its place among family sedans that I’d personally recommend to my friends and family.

Hyundai Motor America supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Hyundai Sonata review.


Additional Research:


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