Full 2009 Hyundai Sonata Review
What's New for 2009
The Hyundai Sonata receives minor exterior styling updates and an all-new interior for 2009, giving it one of the most upscale cabins in the midsize sedan class. Power and fuel economy have also been increased for both four- and six-cylinder engines, while the automatic transmission has been retuned for smoother shift quality. An auxiliary audio jack has been added to the standard features list, while the Limited trim level adds two-level heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and an optional navigation system.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But what happens when the imitator becomes better than the imitated?
For years now, Hyundai has had its sights set on Toyota. The Japanese giant's strategy for its vehicles is to make them reliable, impeccably made, conservative in style and comfortable to ride in. Hyundai has taken that approach to heart, and the 2009 Hyundai Sonata is proof positive that it has gotten it right. In fact, not only has the updated Sonata caught up to the mighty Camry, it's driven past it.
For 2009, Hyundai's midsize family sedan sees several key changes. Both the four- and six-cylinder engines have received an influx of power, while raising fuel economy at the same time. That's worthy of a thumbs-up any day. The biggest news, however, resides inside. While this generation Sonata's original cabin was hardly an environment worth shaking a finger at, Hyundai was never pleased with it from the get-go. This year's complete makeover performed on the center stack, gauges and center console has led to an overall design that is more user-friendly and better looking. Materials have also been improved, while the top-level Limited trim boasts a tasteful blend of color combinations, wood-grain accents and alloy trim. To be frank, this is the Lexus-lite interior we were expecting when Toyota's all-star was last redesigned. Hyundai has delivered it instead.
When the Hyundai Sonata was redesigned three years ago, it gave the top family sedans a run for their money -- in fact, we ranked it over the Accord and Camry in a 2006 comparison test. Since then, both of those rivals have been completely redesigned, as have the impressive new Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Malibu. The changes for 2009 bring the Sonata back closer to par. Although we're not sure it's still the class beater, the case can certainly be made that Hyundai has built a better Camry than Toyota did. Perhaps the imitated should become the imitator.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Hyundai Sonata is a midsize family sedan available in GLS, SE and Limited trim levels. Standard equipment on the GLS includes 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated sideview mirrors, a tilt steering column, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob (V6 only), a 60/40-split rear seatback and a six-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. Optional features include an eight-way power driver seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a trip computer.
The SE adds those items plus 17-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, a tilt-telescoping steering column and leather/cloth upholstery. Optional features include an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a sunroof (also optional on GLS), a universal garage door opener and an upgraded stereo with six-CD changer and subwoofer.
The Sonata Limited has the SE's features plus 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, chrome exterior trim, full leather upholstery, two-level heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood-grain trim and a premium Infinity sound system. A touchscreen navigation system is optional on the Limited.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine on all Hyundai Sonata trim levels is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine good for 175 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on GLS and SE trim levels with the four-cylinder, while a five-speed automatic is standard on the Limited and optional on the other trims. Optional on all Sonatas is a 3.3-liter V6 producing 249 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available with this engine.
The Sonata's fuel economy is good for the family sedan segment; the four-cylinder Sonata earns 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway ratings, while the V6 returns 19/29 mpg ratings, respectively.
All Sonatas come well-stocked with antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, front seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. The 2009 Hyundai Sonata 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
Hyundai interiors just keep getting better and better. Soft, high-quality plastics abound, switchgear is excellent and the overall design is eye-pleasing. The topsy-turvy ergonomics of the outgoing design have been replaced with stereo and climate controls placed high atop the center stack, leaving room for a spacious bin below. The Limited trim level is particularly upscale, and is certainly the most elegant environment one can inhabit for less than $25,000. As before, the 2009 Hyundai Sonata boasts an especially spacious backseat and a trunk that measures a class-best 16.3 cubic feet. If interior space and perceived quality is a top priority, it's hard to beat the Sonata.
Like most other Hyundais, the Sonata has been designed to prioritize ride comfort over precise handling. It smothers bumps well and delivers a luscious highway ride, but with significant body roll and vague steering, it won't be challenging sportier competitors like the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima to a corner-carving contest any time soon. With the infusion of additional power for 2009, the Sonata now features more competitive acceleration. This is particularly true with the four-cylinder versions, but in a class where horsepower wars are at full Blitzkrieg, the optional V6's respectable 249-hp output still comes up a few Panzers short.