What's New for 2006
The Hyundai Sonata is completely redesigned for 2006. It's also the first Hyundai car to be built in the U.S.
Hyundai has had a tough road in America. Despite the fact that its more recent cars are competent and competitively priced, many people still remember the Hyundai Excel which earned a reputation for being both underpowered and unreliable. Almost two decades later, J.D. Power gave the 2004 Hyundai Sonata top honors for initial quality, rating it the "Most Appealing Midsize Car" two years in a row.
Hoping to capitalize on the previous-generation car's relative success, Hyundai has completely redesigned the Sonata for 2006. Unlike Sonatas before it, this one is built in America at Hyundai's new factory in Alabama. The new car is bigger than the old one and offers a more spacious interior that's filled with higher-quality materials than we've seen in any previous Hyundai car. The roomy rear seat even has an inch more legroom than the family-friendly Camry. Officially, the Sonata is classified by the government as a "large car" due to overall interior volume. Still, from behind the wheel, the 2006 Hyundai Sonata doesn't feel appreciably larger than other midsize sedans like the Accord or Altima.
The exterior look is a big departure from the old Sonata's conservative sheet metal. We especially like the '06 version's dual exhaust outlets and the 17-inch wheels on the LX model. All in all, though, the Hyundai Sonata looks a lot like the current-generation Accord, especially from the rear. We're not sure this is an altogether bad thing, but Hyundai would probably be better off giving the Sonata a more distinct look. Like previous Sonatas, the '06 model is available with two engines, a four-cylinder and a V6. Both are all-new engines and both will be built at the Alabama factory, though early versions of the smaller engine will be built in Korea. The V6 comes standard with a new five-speed automatic transmission.
With competitive prices, long warranties and stylish new products, Hyundai is looking more and more like a young Toyota than the company that intentionally sold the Excel. The 2006 Hyundai Sonata represents an excellent value for family car shoppers. Even without its price advantage, the car still holds its own by offering an inviting interior, lots of standard features and capable engine choices, all wrapped in an attractive body. With the 2006 Hyundai Sonata's many improvements, midsize sedan shoppers will now have to stop at one more dealership before making their final choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Hyundai Sonata is offered in three trim levels: base GL, midlevel GLS and loaded LX. The GL comes with features like six airbags, cruise, ABS, stability and traction control, remote keyless entry and an MP3/CD player. The GLS has extras like 16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and automatic headlights. The LX adds features like a V6 engine, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, seat heaters, a sunroof and 17-inch wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
The GL and GLS come standard with a 162-hp, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the GL, while the GLS has a four-speed automatic. A 3.3-liter V6 is optional on the GLS and standard on the LX. The V6 makes 235 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V6. Both automatics offer manual-shift capability.
For 2006 even the base GL comes with a host of safety features. ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, front side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active head restraints are all standard equipment on every Sonata. In NHTSA crash tests, the Hyundai Sonata was impressive, scoring five stars in both frontal- and side-impact tests. In the IIHS frontal-offset crash test, the Sonata received a score of "Good," the highest possible rating. Side-impact testing resulted in an "Acceptable" rating, the IIHS' second highest.
Interior Design and Special Features
GL and GLS models come with cloth seats, while leather is standard on the LX. The leather looks nice, but in our experience, the cloth seats are more comfortable. The interior of this midsize sedan is filled with lots of soft-touch surfaces and comes off as being much higher in quality than any Hyundai car to date.
The power and refinement of both engines is notable, though the V6 is the more fun and responsive of the two. Still, the smaller engine doesn't sound or feel harsh and those who prefer the fuel economy and lower price of a four-cylinder car won't get shortchanged by choosing the GL or GLS. The ride is pleasing and especially refined on the LX. The Hyundai Sonata remains quiet on the highway even at very high speeds.
Read our Hyundai Sonata Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test