Full 2008 Hyundai Sonata Review
What's New for 2008
Hyundai shuffles the Sonata's trim levels for the second year in a row, making the four-cylinder engine standard on all and the V6 optional across the board. The sporty Sonata SE gains performance tires, a rear spoiler and a power driver seat, while the upscale Limited receives an Infinity stereo as standard.
Once a marginal midsize sedan that scraped by on its low price alone, the Hyundai Sonata is now a worthy player that measures up to the class leaders on nearly all fronts. Upon its debut two years ago, the current-generation Sonata immediately impressed us with its attractive design, fine build quality and spacious interior. In addition, newly competitive four-cylinder and V6 engines and the availability of a five-speed automatic transmission (with the V6) brought its performance up to par in the family sedan segment. To be sure, practical-minded consumers will find plenty to like in the 2008 Hyundai Sonata.
Besides matching the top Japanese-brand sedans in regards to cabin quality and comfort, the Sonata is notable for its packaging efficiency. It boasts enough interior volume for the EPA to brand it a "large" car. In reality, though, its rear-seat accommodations are comparable to what "midsize" competitors like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry offer. It's hardly a knock against the Hyundai, given that two adults or three children can easily get comfortable back here.
Additionally, the Sonata benefits from Hyundai's two trademark advantages. First, compared to its key rivals, a comparably equipped 2008 Sonata typically ends up priced a thousand or two lower. Second, Hyundai's warranty coverage extends to five years/60,000 miles basic and 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain, both the most generous in the industry.
Compared to the leaders in the family sedan segment, the Sonata could still use a little improvement in select areas. The steering, for instance, is vague in feel and transmits too much harshness to the driver's hands over some surfaces, and there are a few odd design elements in the cabin. Hyundai doesn't offer some of the latest techno gadgets, and the V6 returns lower fuel economy than competitors' six-cylinders. None of these flaws are terribly serious, but on the whole, the 2008 Hyundai Sonata feels a bit less refined than the leaders in this class. Still, that shouldn't stop you from scheduling a test-drive if you're in the market for a competent midsize sedan that's big on value.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize, front-wheel-drive sedan, the 2008 Hyundai Sonata comes in three trim lines: GLS, SE and Limited. The GLS comes with air-conditioning, full power accessories, a CD/MP3 player, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control and keyless entry. The midrange SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, automatic headlights, a telescoping function and audio controls for the steering wheel, leather and wood accents, a power driver seat and trip computer. The top-line Limited has those items plus leather seats, front seat heaters, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a premium Infinity stereo with a six-disc CD changer. Much of the SE's content can be added to the GLS, and the Infinity stereo can be ordered on the SE. A sunroof is available on all trim levels, but technology-oriented items like Bluetooth connectivity and a factory-based navigation system aren't available.
Powertrains and Performance
Both of the Sonata's engines are now available on all trim lines. Standard is the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 162 horsepower and 164 pound-feet of torque. It comes with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic on the base GLS, but only the manual on the SE and only the automatic on the GLS. The optional engine is a 3.3-liter V6 with 234 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque; it's paired to an exclusive five-speed automatic. Both automatics feature manual shift control.
The four-cylinder engine is competitive with class standards. The V6's output doesn't quite match the ever-rising standards set by the competition, but the engine is quiet enough and powerful enough to suit most buyers. The downside is that it's less frugal with fuel than other six-cylinders in this segment.
All Sonatas come well-stocked with antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, front side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. The 2008 Hyundai Sonata also scored five out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's front- and side-impact tests. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Sonata earned a "Good" rating (the highest) for frontal offset protection and an "Acceptable" rating (second-highest) for side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
While not exactly high on style, the Sonata's cabin exudes a fair amount of quality via the precise feel of most controls and an abundance of soft-touch surfaces. Much appreciated are the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and trip computer found on the SE and Limited. Many of our editors have taken issue with the odd placement of the audio head unit and air vents on the center stack. They are reversed from the usual positions, with the stereo controls placed too high and the air vents too low.
Although early Sonatas of this generation were criticized for their overly high seating position up front, Hyundai subsequently lowered the seat to provide a more natural driving position. Prospective buyers should also note that we've found the cloth seats in the GLS and SE more comfortable than the leather ones in the Limited. Rear-seat and cargo room are areas in which the Sonata truly shines. Space in back is generous in all measurements, with comfort levels to match, and the 16.3-cubic-foot trunk tops most members of the midsize class.
Hyundai aimed for a more balanced effort between ride and handling for this generation. While the suspension is still on the soft side and the steering remains a bit vague, the 2008 Hyundai Sonata smothers bumps well while handling precisely and keeping its composure in turns. Braking performance is also impressive for the class, with stopping distances from 60 mph taking less than 130 feet. Despite some tire noise, the cabin stays fairly quiet at all speeds. We've also been a little let down with the slow reactions of the automatic transmission when in manual mode, but that should be a minor issue for most Sonata drivers.