2015 Hyundai Sonata first drive
Sonata tones down the looks, tones up the drive for 2015
Ann Arbor, Mich. -- As many Canadians probably know, Hyundai made its North American debut in Canada first. Using the Great White North as a glorified beta test, the Korean automaker released the compact Pony here several years before the firm’s planned debut in the U.S.
Less well known is that Hyundai used to have an entire assembly plant in Canada. Starting in about 1989, the Sonata midsize sedan was assembled in Bromont, Quebec, for the Canadian and U.S. markets.
It didn’t end well. The car wasn’t very good, and neither was its quality. Head office in Korea mothballed the plant in 1993 and that was that. When Hyundai was ready to attempt its next North American “transplant,” it chose Montgomery, Alabama. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing America has been building Sonatas and Santa Fes there since 2005.
Too bad for Canada, because after 15 or so years of mediocrity the Sonata has raised its game to become a successful and respected player in the intermediate sedan segment. Its big breakout came with the 2010 launch of the boldly styled sixth-generation design. In 2011, its first full calendar year in Canada, the Sonata-with-style climbed as high as second place in segment sales.
Rivals ramping it up
But the competition has been moving on, so time for a re-do. And the Gen-7 Sonata is more than just a superficial re-skin. The new body is bigger than last year’s and, thanks to more use of high-strength steel, much stiffer. The claimed drag coefficient has been pared from an already sleek 0.28 to 0.27 – more than enough to offset the increased frontal area generated by 30-mm more body width.
Stylistically, the arching roofline is familiar, but the window line and body-side character line are straighter and the nose is less wedgy, the latter to help meet Europe’s pedestrian-impact rules. The trapezoidal slatted grille echoes the new corporate look.
The aim: a more sophisticated, refined and mature appearance – “handsome rather than beautiful,” as one official put it – that would have timeless staying power. The interior makeover focussed on increased premium-ness, an enhanced human-machine interface, and class-above on-board technology.
The previous Sonata was the only car in its peer group officially classified as a large car. The 2015 is the same only more so. Passenger volume has expanded 2.2 per cent, mainly courtesy of increased headroom and even more rear-seat legroom. Trunk volume has shrunk a smidge but remains best in class. Yet despite a 35-mm increase in exterior length, on a 10-mm wheelbase stretch, the Sonata’s outside dimensions remain par with its midsize peers.
Less power, more useable performance
Photo: Jeremy Sinek
Underhood choices still comprise 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated or 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines mated to six-speed automatic transmissions. But for 2015 both engines have been significantly re-tuned to boost low-end torque. Peak power outputs are down, but the enhanced real-world performance feel should more than compensate for any loss in extreme test-track velocity. Specifically, the 2.4 drops five horsepower to 185 and one lb.-ft. of torque to 178, but yields significantly more torque in the basement of the rev range. A similar trade-off cuts the 2.0T’s peak power from 274 to 245, and peak torque from 269 to 260, but turbo thrust builds faster off idle and torque now peaks at 1,350 rpm, versus 1,750 last year.
Other mechanical hardware alterations include a reconfigured rear suspension, and significant upgrades to the electric power steering; not only is the base system more rigid, for enhanced response and on-centre feel, but the 2.0Ts get completely different steering hardware with the electric assist motor on the rack instead of the steering column; this “premium” solution is typically chosen by automakers that prioritize steering and handling talent.
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