2019 Hyundai Sonata- The Pendulum Swings

There’s an old adage that “you can’t please everyone.” Hyundai knows that all-too-well when it comes to its long-running family sedan; the Sonata. Picture it…….the United States….2010. Hyundai debuts its radical fifth generation Sonata to much fanfare. For the first time ever, there were waitlists for……a….Hyundai sedan. Annual sales nearly doubled by the time I tested that Sonata in 2013 and the car became a true force to be reckoned with. But alas, all was not well in the kingdom and back in Hyundai’s home market, the new look was too showy for Korea’s conservative tastes. To win those buyers back, Hyundai went a conservative route with the all-new sixth generation in 2015. The tactic worked, initially. But like the little Dutch boy plugging the hole in the dike with his finger to save Haarlem, another leak sprung and demand in America dropped to pre-2010 levels. Desperate to find middle ground, Hyundai did a major refresh in 2018 to liven up the Sonata’s personality in an effort to make everyone happy. But can they, and did they, succeed?

For the record, the 2019 Sonata you see in these photos is one of the last examples of this generation. In true Roorentalcarreview fashion, I finally obtained the keys to this car just as its replacement, an all-new 2020 seventh-generation, was already hitting showroom floors. That profound new model rekindles some of the excitement of the 2010 model. But this outgoing red Sonata still has legitimacy and deserves a second look to see if Hyundai did, in true Johnny Cash fashion, walk the line.

Styling has been the most subjective influencer to the Sonata’s prosperity. Despite being dubbed a refresh in 2018, every body panel except for the doors was all-new from the prior year. The overall look is classy and there’s a simple elegance to the arched roofline and short decklid that echo the outline of a coupe. From some angles, there is a resemblance to a hatchback. The most prominent change were the large, teardrop headlights that flank a massive cascading grille. It’s much more dynamic than the forgettable original 2015 fascia and hints at the theme of the upcoming 2020 model. The chrome strip, a Sonata trait since the fifth generation, still effortlessly flows from the headlights to the D-pillar while forming the edges of the bonnet and base of the greenhouse. It’s a simple, tasteful touch that pays homage to prior Sonatas. The rear has slim, more angular taillights and the license plate was moved to the bumper. In place of it on the decklid is a large SONATA badge that stretches the width between the taillights. I find it gaudy, but you’ll never forget what you’re driving, or what you’re stuck behind in traffic. Aside from that, the outgoing Sonata is still attractive with elegant, clean, yet more aggressive, lines. It’s a good looking car, particularly in our tester’s scarlet red.

Inside, there were fewer dynamic revisions and the understated theme remains intact. The same all-business, hexagonal theme as the 2015 model continues with a few adjustments to the button and air vent placement. There’s more straight edges than the swoopy fifth generation and my theory is that the designers only had a T-square and triangle tool to work with. It’s a clean and graceful look that may be unexciting to look at, yet will likely age well with no gimmicks.

The first impression from within the Sonata is the interior space that matches the great expanses of Texas. Thanks to commodious dimensions and an abundant glass area, the cabin feels airy compared to most cars in this class. The front seats extend so far back that my 6’4” frame couldn’t reach the pedals. Rarely do I ever have to pull the seat forward, but in the Sonata, I did and it felt so wrong and so right at the same time. Even with the front seats pushed as far back as their rails allow, there’s still enough acreage for rear passenger’s knees to easily clear the seatbacks. Under the seats is enough space for toes to have headroom. The interior’s volume is more befitting for the upscale Genesis brand than the mainstream Sonata.

The front seats are cushy and offered enough shape and support to be comfortable after several hours on the road. There’s just enough bolstering and they’re a good place to rack up the miles. Finding a comfortable driving position is effortless thanks to a height adjustable seat, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with generous flexibility, and excellent visibility all around due to thin roof pillars and sizeable side mirrors. The rear window does rake steeply in the back, hiding the trunklid from view, though the crisp view from the backup camera compensates for that. With the redo, a cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring system are standard on all Sonatas.

The 2 1/2 kids in the average family can fit across the rear bench in relative comfort and two will feel like they are being chauffeured. The use of space is smart and makes the Sonata feel larger than its 191.1 inch length suggests. However, there were a few minor complaints. That stylish, sloping roofline eats into headroom and my head would brush against the scalloped headliner. Against my chiropractor’s suggestions, slouching resolves the issue. That low profile also hampers entry and exit. Taller passengers will find themselves ducking while entering through the back doors. Lastly, Hyundai’s choice of light cloth on the Sonata for the past decade is baffling. These seats will be doing grueling family duty and show every stain. Our still-relatively-new tester touted a diverse array of suspicious blemishes from prior renters on each seat. The team from CSI will appreciate how easy they were to locate. The contrast of the light seats with the coal-black carpeting is glaring; kind of like wearing white socks with black sneakers.

Despite these minor issues, the Sonata is an excellent people hauler and the interior feels immense. Inversed to the back, getting in and out of the front seats is easy thanks to wide opening doors and a higher peak on the door frame. Headroom is also generous up front. The centre console doesn’t eat into knee room and the dash curves away, providing a sense of spaciousness.

Like the rest of the interior, the control layout is straightforward and to-the-point. There’s a horizontal motif with the presentation, and in an age when manufacturers are turning to touchscreens for any operation, there’s no less than 16 physical buttons for the radio and ventilation in the centre stack. They seem cluttered initially, but have a logical design and a funky metallic toggle switch theme complete with thoughtful ribbed grooves to help with touch. Two primary dials control the most essential adjustments; fan speed and temperature. The arrangement isn’t earth-breaking, but is an example of smart ergonomics. Those radio buttons compliment a standard seven-inch touchscreen that replaces a traditional unit on the base SE model. The interface is the same that’s shared with many Hyundai models, which is a good thing. The menus are easy to navigate, it’s quick to respond to input, and the layout is logical. Linking the radio to Bluetooth is a breeze and can be done by a cross-eyed baby. The physical controls for the volume and tuning are greatly appreciated.

In front of the driver is a new three-spoke steering wheel that looks more esthetically pleasing than the old, chunky four spoke design and feels more sporting to the touch. The primary switches for the radio and cruise control remain where they were before, with the stereo dials on the left and cruise on the right. And as they were before the refresh, they’re effortless to learn. The gauge layout has been shuffled ever so slightly, yet are still large, sensible, and easy to read at a glance.

The beauty of the Sonata’s interior is that there’s no learning curve when getting into the car the first time. Anybody can jump in and will feel at home after a few miles behind the wheel. Interior quality is a mixed bag. The dash top and armrests are covered in a soft plastic and the centre stack has a classy, piano black finish. But the lower dash, console, and especially the door panels, are all big swathes of hard plastic. To Hyundai’s credit, they did try to liven up the mood with silver, pseudo carbon fiber inserts that extend into the doors and those hard surfaces do sport a two-tone theme. All of it felt well-assembled, solid, and it’s obvious the details were sweated.

Storage utilisation is generous with large door pockets complete with cupholders in all four doors, multiple nooks for mobile phones between the front seats, a good-sized glove box, and a deep storage bin under the center console armrest.

If more storage is needed, the trunk volume is above average in this class measuring 16.3 cu. feet. That beats the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion, but falls slightly behind the crafty Honda Accord. The cargo area is a usable shape with minimal wheel intrusion and can easily swallow several suitcases. Although not upscale, the trunk lining seems durable and [finally] hides a spare tyre below (it was added in 2016). The opening is wide and low, resulting in easy loading. However, that short, stylish decklid doesn’t give the opening much depth. The back seats do fold 60/40, yet like I noted with the 2013 Sonata, the tiny pass-through is unproportionate compared to the substantial capacity of the trunk. The Hyundai badge on the decklid has a neat party trick and doubles as a button for access. One oversight is the omission of an inside assist grip to close the boot, resulting in dirty fingers and hand prints imitating Jack Dawson’s on the back of the car.

Driving the Sonata is as uncomplicated as the rest of the car. Three engines are offered within the lineup, two of them with a turbo, but ours came with the standard normally-aspirated 2.4 litre four-cylinder. It’s part of Hyundai’s “Theta” family of engines offered on a variety of models across the globe. It’s a modern, all-aluminum unit equipped with direct injection that churns out 185 horsepower. That’s about the norm for this class. The power delivery is smooth, linear, and once again, requires no learning curve. Several of our 0-60mph sprints returned an average time of 7.9 seconds, which is more than sufficient for a family car. Getting up to speed on the highway is effortless and hills don’t pose much of a challenge. Only when accelerating on a steep grade does the Sonata ever feel remotely out-of-breath. A car load of passengers doesn’t hamper the engine’s capabilities.

Within the cabin, the engine note is well hushed and inaudible at idle As a whole, the cabin could be described as “chapel-like” suppressing almost all noise from under the hood, the road, or the wind. The only intrusion is the faint, distant hum of tyre noise from the 16” Hankooks. The low noise levels are worthy of anything with a Genesis badge.

Teamed to the 2.4 litre is a six-speed automatic. No manual transmission is offered. The six-speed may not be the most advanced, but it does the job brilliantly. It’s a slick unit with well-sorted ratios, silky smooth shifts, and quick responses. The gear changes were so transparent that it was easy to forget that the transmission was working behind the scenes.

The underlying theme of driving the Sonata is isolation as opposed to driving excitement. The relaxed ride highlights that. Hyundai reworked the suspension during the 2018 refresh and their work paid off. Road imperfections are smoothed out without the car feeling floaty. It’s compliant and does a fantastic job of keeping bumps out of the cabin. Only a major pothole can offset the Sonata.

Handling is sure-footed, safe, and hunkered down. Through turns, there’s no body roll and the car remains predictable through an apex. The tyres grip well enough and only give in to understeer when pushed to the limit. It’s perfectly suitable for the average customer in this class. However, the Sonata doesn’t beg to be driven harder. Some cars in this segment have a knack of feeling smaller than they are and become more nimble than their size suggests. The Sonata, with its wide expanses and laid-back approach, has a barge-like feel that lacks athleticism. The majority of Sonata owners won’t notice or care, but driving enthusiasts should move along.

Steering is the greatest performance downfall, and it’s an ongoing trait. Back in 2013, I wrote that the Sonata’s road feel was “comatose” and had the feedback of “soggy English teabags.” Things have improved, and the electric steering is effortlessly light in parking lots making it easy to park. The resistance through the wheel tightens up as speeds increase. There’s still not enough communication through the wheel to encourage spirited driving and the dead on-centre feel on the highway remains. Yet again, few Sonata drivers will be so discerning or care.

The EPA states the 2.4 litre is capable of achieving 26mpg in the city and 35mpg on the open road. Not bad for a full-size car, but we easily trumped those numbers. On a highway run, we scored up to 42mpg and over the course of 700 miles in a variety of landscapes, averaged 36mpg. That efficiency was once reserved for underpowered, tiny economy cars and not a family sedan. The joy in the Sonata is that there’s no compromises to save at the pump.

Our tester had 22k miles of rental duty under its belt when we obtained it. With the exception of an occasional rattle in the driver’s door, it felt solid, well-built, and there were no mechanical issues. There is still debate as to how well those delicate seat fabrics will age with the punishing task of family hauling.

Prices for the Sonata in base SE trim start at $22,500. Even in the most basic form, it comes well-equipped with standard automatic headlights, power-folding mirrors, cruise control, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a 7-inch touchscreen display, a six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and USB/auxiliary jacks, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a rearview camera, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Our Sonata had no options and once destination was added, totaled $23,420. That undercuts the Camry and Accord, and with Hyundai’s generous warranty, represents an excellent value.

The Sonata is a fantastic family car. It’s roomy, comfortable, refined, efficient, value-packed, drives nicely, and looks good. It’ll faithfully do everything that its buyers will expect. Most of all, it’s an easy car to adjust to. Sure, there are more exciting options out there for enthusiasts and the last Sonata we tested had more pizazz. Yet few full-size cars are as well-rounded as this outgoing Sonata. It may have taken Hyundai a few tries, but they finally have swung the pendulum towards everyone’s tastes. A very solid 4.5/5.0 boomerangs.

The side profile is elegant with a flowing roofline and short decklid.
Aside from the doors, all body panels were new in 2018
The large cascading grille is large, but not as overdone as some Japanese competitors.
Although restrained, the front has more personality than the 2015-2017 series.
You’ll never forget what you drive with this large badge
The greenhouse is expansive, boasting vast ocean views
It’s a classy design that I predict will look fresh for years to come
The rear roofline is so steeply raked that the Sonata could pass as a hatchback
The 16” inch alloys are standard and look great
Headlights are larger than before, and glisten beautifully
The daytime running lights recessed in the bumper and pose as foglights
The continual chrome strip from the D-pillar to headlights has been a Sonata trait
The hexagonal theme is subtle on the outside, but makes itself known inside
The Sonata sits low, going back to the days before CUV’s.
The standard rear camera is crisp with guidelines and has a good view of the license plate
The trunk space is generous and deep, but the pass-through is narrow for larger items

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