By MALCOLM GUNN
Many mainstream car companies prefer making evolutionary rather than revolutionary adjustments to their more popular models. In Hyundai’s case that axiom doesn’t apply, as witnessed by the Sonata’s significant makeover for 2015.
When the preceding Sonata was launched for the 2011 model year, the stylists took the trendy route, devising (some would call it borrowing) a coupe-like shape along with a boldly shaped grille and headlight treatment as well as a sharp, prominent and swoopy body crease.
Although the Alabama-built sedan has been a hit with buyers, it hasn’t come close to knocking off the class-leading Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion.
Physically, the recently arrived seventh-generation Sonata is toned-down and now shares a strong affiliation with the bigger Genesis sedan. The front end, in particular, is much tamer and ties in with changes to rest of the sheetmetal. Hyundai describes the Sonata as possessing a “more refined look” and represents the latest iteration of its “Fluidic Sculpture” design. Whatever it’s called, the car’s classy, yet conservative appearance is likely to click with the family-sedan crowd.
The interior has been fitted with a completely new dashboard and control panel with an integrated display screen and numerous, but logically positioned, buttons (but fewer twisty knobs).
Overall passenger space has increased just enough so that the Sonata now counts as a large car (as opposed to mid-size), as determined by federal government standards.
By contrast, what has been reduced is the output generated by the Sonata’s two returning engines. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, down from the 2014 version’s 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet.
Similarly down on power, the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque (previously 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet). In each case, the front wheels are driven by means of a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Slotted between the two engine choices, and exclusive to the new Sonata Eco model, is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It connects to new seven-speed automated manual transmission that promises rapid-fire electronically activated upshifts. The combo also achieves the best fuel-economy rating of the bunch at 28 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway, which bests the 2.4’s 25/37 numbers as well as the 2.0 turbo’s rating of 23/32.
Note that the gas-electric Sonata Hybrid will skip the 2015 makeover, but will be reissued sometime in calendar year 2015 as a 2016 model.
The drivetrains and updated front and rear suspension pieces are connected to a platform that Hyundai claims is significantly more resistant to twisting and bending. The normal corporate rhetoric is that this aids ride and handling qualities, but in this case it’s noticeable. The way it steers and takes the bumps is much improved. It’s eye-opening, in fact.
Sonatas equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo come with their own dedicated sport-tuned suspensions and power-steering systems.
The base Sonata SE starts at $22,000 (about a $300 price reduction), including destination charges, and arrives with the usual power and convenience features a rear spoiler and LED running lights.
The Sport gets its own grille and front bumper and added rocker-panel and chrome side moldings, but to move up to 18-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard on base cars and 17s are standard on Sport and Limited) you’ll need to order the Sport 2.0T. Both it and the Limited steal the content show with luxury-class amenities such as dual-zone climate control and leather seat coverings.
A panorama sunroof is optional, as are a number of popular electronic safety intervention aids that can help keep passengers safe and the Sonata from receiving unwarranted body blows.
Figuratively speaking, the 2015 Sonata now sings in a lower key and is no longer the solo standout it once was. Even so, it can still hit the sweet notes, even if some of its performance edge has been curtailed in favor of improved fuel efficiency.
What you should know: 2015 Hyundai Sonata
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (185); 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (245); 1.6-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (177).
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic; seven-speed automated manual (1.6 turbo)
Market position: Mid-size sedans are the backbone of the auto industry, which makes it one of the most highly competitive categories, which means a careful, methodical and perhaps non-controversial redesign.
Points: Conservative stying, but still attractive, borrowing much from the Genesis sedan; should please buyers who shun trendy, but quickly dated designs; Base 2.4 engine and optional 2.0 turbo down on power from 2014, while the “Eco” 1.6-liter turbo looks to be a winner; Plenty of standard content at a competitive price.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver’s knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 25/37(2.4); Base price (incl. destination) $22,000
Base price: $22,700
New model looks sharp, has standard nine-speed automatic transmission.
Base price: $23,700
U.S.-built sedan has four- and six-cylinder engines plus a turbo-diesel.
Base price: $22,000
Beautifully styled, roomy sedan specializes in carving the curves with ease.