Sonata is Hyundai's midsize entry, and faces some very stiff competition in this category. Ford's new Contour/Mystique populates this class of automobiles, as does the new Cirrus/Stratus duo from Chrysler, and perennial favorites such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda 626. Heady competition indeed.
Hyundai's forte to date has been budget prices and standard (or low priced) luxuries that couldn't be matched by competitors. It seems those days are over. The Sonata GLS we sampled ran nearly $21,500. True, it was well loaded with automatic, sunroof, leather and power everything, but a similarly equipped Contour SE or Chrysler Cirrus is priced less than the Sonata. Considering Hyundai's quality record, we don't find the GLS to be a viable option in this class, particularly since the Contour/Mystique twins are a real kick in the pants to drive.
That's not to say that the Sonata isn't a satisfying car. The doors thunk shut nicely, it is quiet and comfortable inside, and the leather makes it feel like a much more expensive sedan. Everything looks and functions as though quality has been built-in, but the radio and climate controls are a tad overdone. The back seat could benefit from better thigh and back support, but it isn't any more uncomfortable that the rear quarters of a Dodge Stratus. Overall, we are impressed with this roomy effort from Hyundai.
Unfortunately, the Sonata competes with many cars that feel as good and often cost less money. Factor in the depreciation that the Hyundai is sure to endure, as well as the questionable quality levels of past Sonatas, and this new one's shine begins to dull. At $18,500, the leather-lined Sonata GLS would begin to look like a bargain, but $21,500 is better spent on something else.