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It's been five years since Hyundai put its stamp on the midsize segment in a serious way with a Sonata that set new standards for space, styling and fuel economy. The 2015 Hyundai Sonata, though not revolutionary, stands to build on the sedan's existing strengths while infusing it with better value.
What Is It?
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata is a five-passenger midsize family sedan. For 2015 the Sonata increases in length, width, height and wheelbase, giving it easily the biggest footprint in the class. Overall length increases 1.3 inches, wheelbase increases 0.4 inch and width bumps up 1.2 inches. Though it doesn't have the longest wheelbase in the segment, the Sonata does offer more passenger volume than its primary competitors.
The Sonata's exterior styling also takes on a more stately appearance that leans toward the luxury-focused Genesis sedan. On the inside, the Sonata gets the same treatment, with improved materials and a list of options that we're more accustomed to seeing in premium luxury vehicles.
There are five trim levels: SE, Sport, Limited, Eco and, featured in this test, the Sport 2.0T. Three different four-cylinder engines are available, and all trims are front-wheel drive. A redesigned hybrid model will be added in 2015, but until then the hybrid version of the 2014 model will be sold alongside the new models.
What Engines and Transmissions Are Available?
Our Sport 2.0T test vehicle represents the most powerful engine choice in the Sonata lineup, generating 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It is designed to challenge the V6 offerings from competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is good for 185 hp: 5 fewer than last year. Both the 2.4-liter and 2.0-liter engines are paired to a six-speed automatic with manual shift capability. With the 2.0-liter turbo engine you get steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, which is both welcome and unusual in the segment.
The third engine is new to the Sonata lineup. It's a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 177 hp. It also boasts 195 pound-feet of torque, significantly more than the 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine with which it overlaps. Offered only on the Eco trim level, the new engine is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automanual transmission for maximum mileage.
How Does It Drive?
Possibly the most striking characteristic of the Sonata's character (across all trims) is the utter silence with which it goes about its business. This is a quiet car. Swallowing road irregularities with hushed damping and quiet confidence is this sedan's biggest strength. Ride quality, regardless of trim, is well controlled but never harsh.
Though there's nothing to complain about when it comes to its driving dynamics, there's also little that's exciting about the way it drives. Even the big-gun Sport 2.0T trim lacks serious power, though it will hit freeway speeds significantly quicker than the base model. In Edmunds testing, the Sport accelerated to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, which is an average result among other four-cylinder-powered cars in the segment. The V6 versions of these rivals hit 60 mph about 2 seconds quicker.
In Edmunds panic braking tests from 60 mph, the Sport 2.0T required 125 feet, which is an acceptable distance for a midsize family sedan. With maximum brake effort applied, the car remained composed, with very little nosedive while tracking straight. The pedal also remained reassuringly firm over multiple runs, though distances increased by about 5 feet.
The Sonata Sport 2.0T also features handy wheel-mounted shift paddles and a flat-bottom steering wheel, which feels better than the round wheel in other trims. It's still no driver's car, though. Honda's Accord Sport, which offers a six-speed manual transmission, is far more involving.
It's the Eco trim that's the real surprise to drive. With discernibly more power than the base engine and similar road manners, it offers the best fuel economy of the group and costs less than the 2.0T. And it doesn't have to be a complete stripper, either. It can be had with the Technology package, which adds navigation, blind-spot detection, heated front seats and more.
All trims offer three driver modes: Normal, Sport and Eco, which adjust the transmission and throttle calibrations according to your needs. Steering weight increases in Sport mode as well. The difference between Normal and Sport mode is modest at best and unless you're more patient than everyone else who's ever driven a car, you'll avoid Eco.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
If you're buying the Sonata simply to save fuel, the Eco model is the seemingly obvious choice. It has the highest EPA rating of the three engines at 32 mpg combined (28 city/38 highway). Problem is, that's only 3 mpg better than the base model with the 2.4-liter engine, which costs $2,125 less to start. At 12,000 miles annually and an average fuel price of $3.70 per gallon, it would take more than 15 years to earn your money back in fuel cost savings.
There's more to the Eco model than just good mileage, though, as it's more enjoyable to drive thanks to its extra helping of torque. We preferred its power delivery and overall drivability compared to the base engine, so it could be worth the extra money on that aspect alone.
Keep in mind that Sport and Limited trim versions with the 2.4-liter are rated lower (28 mpg combined/24 city/35 highway) than the base SE trim (29 combined/25 city/37 highway) with the same engine. This, says a Hyundai representative, is because of their bigger wheels and tires and the weight of additional content.
The Sport 2.0T we tested is rated at 26 mpg combined and 23 city/32 highway. These numbers represent a 2 mpg increase in the city and a 1 mpg increase in combined fuel economy over last year's 2.0-liter turbo-powered Sonata. Highway mileage is the same. In its tenure with us, the Sport 2.0T averaged 23 mpg in mixed driving conditions, with a peak of 31.4 mpg on one highway journey. On the Edmunds evaluation loop that included some pockets of heavy traffic, we averaged 28.4 mpg.
How Much Does It Cost?
Base trim SE Sonatas start at $21,960 including destination fees, which represents a $300 reduction vs. the 2014 base (GLS) model. And in an effort to rebuild the brand's value statement versus its Japanese rivals, it has additional equipment. New base-model standard equipment includes a driver's knee airbag, rear lip spoiler, a height-adjustable passenger seat and a driver blind-spot mirror plus LED daytime running lights.
At the top of the lineup, the Sport 2.0T starts at $29,385. With the optional Ultimate package added (feature highlights include a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and forward collision warnings, automatic high beams, rear parking sensors, heated seats, ventilated front seats, a navigation system and premium audio) along with floor mats, our as-tested price rose to $34,460. Fully loaded Camry and Accord models cost between $1,000 and $2,000 less, but don't offer some of the Sonata's premium features.
What's the Interior Like?
Put simply, it's huge inside. You'll likely never feel like you need more space. Large adults will be comfortable in the backseats, and the Sonata's class-leading front head- and legroom speaks for itself.
A freshly designed interior further enhances the already utilitarian layout we've come to appreciate in most Hyundai vehicles. A more horizontal design replaces the old car's vertical secondary control arrangement, further enhancing the cabin's width. Though there's nothing ground-breaking designwise, the abundance of space provides a sense of roominess not present in all competitors.
The control layout is straightforward and easy to use, with dedicated buttons for primary functions like navigation, phone, radio and media. Climate control is handled with knobs, and Hyundai's intuitive touchscreen interface remains. Full leather seats are available at the Limited trim level, though those on the Sport 2.0T with orange leather piping look the best.
At 16.3 cubic feet, the Sonata's trunk ties the also massive Volkswagen Passat for sheer volume. A wide opening and remote releases for the folding rear seats further increase the Hyundai's convenience and utility.
What Features Set It Apart?
With fuel economy being the primary factor by which midsize sedans live and die, feature content has become a prominent secondary means of setting one car apart from another. Though you'll have to opt for more costly option packages to get most of them, the Sonata makes available several unusual, if not completely unique, features. Sunshades on the rear side windows are a perfect example.
Adaptive cruise control with the ability to bring the car to a full stop is a feature only available on premium brands until recently, and the Sonata adds it for 2015. Hyundai's Smart Trunk feature, which offers a hands-free trunk release, is something many will either love or hate since it opens the trunk when it senses the key is within the prescribed proximity. Walk near the trunk, wait 3 seconds and it opens. The jury is still out on how useful this will be in practice.
This Sonata also offers heated and cooled seats for both the driver and front passenger, while the rear seats offer optional heating only. Add the Tech package to the Sonata Limited and you also get a heated steering wheel.
Bluetooth, USB and an auxiliary jack are standard. Apple CarPlay, which mirrors specific apps (texting, music, maps, etc.) from a user's iPhone on the 8-inch navigation screen, will finally provide the interface most users want later this year. An Android version will eventually arrive as well.
How Safe Is It?
Standard safety features for all 2015 Sonatas include seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag. It's also worth noting that the new chassis is 41 percent stiffer torsionally and 35 percent stiffer in bending strength for a more robust passenger space. Available options include forward collision warning, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and a lane departure warning.
In government crash tests, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata earned the highest rating of five out of five stars for overall, frontal and side impact passenger protection and four stars for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's testing resulted in similar findings, earning it a Top Safety Pick + rating with the top score of "Good" in all categories except for the very challenging small overlap frontal crash test, where it attained the second-best "Acceptable" ranking.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
It's no secret that the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are the best-selling cars in the country. Their reputations for durability and reliability help, but both are for-real family haulers that will serve buyers well with proven powertrains and simple practicality. The Nissan Altima, with striking fuel economy and genuine comfort, won our last midsize comparison test, so it's worth a look as well.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
If you want a midsize sedan with plenty of passenger room and a quiet, easy-to-live-with cabin, this Sonata definitely has what you're looking for. A long list of available features at competitive prices and a very generous 10-year/100,000-mile warranty is also another reason to take a long, hard look at the Sonata.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata's revised 2.0T makes significantly less power than all V6-powered competitors, so if you like your family sedan with a stout engine under the hood, this Sonata may disappoint. This Sonata isn't particularly fun to drive either regardless of engine or trim level, so if that's something you value there are competitors that offer more to like in this area.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.