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Hyundai Sonata Leapfrogs Competition

Njuguna Kabugi | 7/2/2013, 3 p.m.
The automotive press, oblivious to real facts on the ground, has been heralding for several years the imminent ascendancy of ...
Over the years, Hyundai has consistently tweaked the Sonata recipe, creating a comfortable and likable mid-size sedan that is not just easy on the pocketbook, but also easy to live with as well. (Courtesy of Hyundai Motor America)

The automotive press, oblivious to real facts on the ground, has been heralding for several years the imminent ascendancy of the crossover as the de-facto family hauler. But despite the cheering squad chatter, the buying public has continued to reward mid-size sedans for their all-around family usefulness and respectable fuel economy.

This week’s featured model, the Hyundai Sonata, provides even more proof why these sedans still represent the biggest auto sales category. Like most vehicles in the mid-size sedan class, the Sonata offers front-wheel drive, numerous safety features and a choice of trim levels that include sporty and plush variants.

It's as big as an Accord, more fuel efficient than a Camry, and is as fun to drive as both best sellers. Though the Honda and Toyota sedans tend to be generally stylistic timid, the 2013 Sonata is anything but. With wedgy sheet metal, a bold grille, fashionably oversized headlights, and a distinctive chrome spear that starts at the headlight and runs back along the base of the greenhouse to the steeply raked C-pillars, the Sonata is a standout among its peers.

The current Hyundai Sonata represents the fifth generation in the car's lineage. It is testament that Hyundai, mired at the bottom of quality rankings throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, has made a remarkable reversal. Unlike the early Sonatas that were essentially “disposable” cars – that is, cars that were cheap to buy and cheaper to throw away when they were broken, like Wal-Mart DVD players, the Sonata is well-designed and assembled.

Earlier this year, the car received the most dependable mid-size car award by J.D. Power and Associates in their 2013 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). It was also awarded Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com’s coveted “5-Year Cost to Own Award” and named one of the “BEST BETS” by The Car Book, America’s first consumer car buying guide.

The Sonata’s interior is also dramatic, with strong shapes and flowing surfaces to complement the exterior design and wrap around the driver and passengers. The center stack features simple controls and relatively few buttons.

With a new lineup of only direct-injection four-cylinder engines – combined with a lighter body structure – the Sonata performs as well as the V-6 versions of some mid-size sedans, all while getting up to 35 mpg in base form or up to 33 mpg highway with the upscale Turbo model.

Most Sonatas come with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, making up to 200 horsepower, with a six-speed automatic transmission. There are also two additional models: a 2.0T with a twin-scroll turbocharger, providing 274 horsepower and a 2.4-liter four hybrid that lets the Sonata Hybrid run on battery power alone at highway speeds. This version can hit 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, well within the acceptable range for a family sedan, while delivering gas mileage of 36/40 mpg.

Sonata SE now comes with standard heated front seats and Sonata Limited comes standard with a traditional sunroof, while a panoramic sunroof is now part of the Limited Premium Package for 2013. Starting at $21,720 for a GLS, Sonata offers one of the best values in the mid-size segment.