Used 2002 Hyundai Sonata
Edmunds' Expert Review
If you're willing to take a gamble on a non-cachet brand name for your midsize sedan, the Sonata just may pluck at your heartstrings.
The Sonata is a thoughtfully designed family sedan that makes for a viable alternative to the more expensive and popular Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Three trim levels are available for 2002: base, GLS and a new top-of-the-line LX.
Under the hood of base models is a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 138 horsepower. Buyers can upgrade to a more powerful V6 or get it standard if they spring for either GLS or LX trim. This V6 is an aluminum 2.7-liter motor making 170 horsepower. Sonatas come standard with a manual transmission in base and GLS trim, or can be ordered with a four-speed automatic (standard on LX) that includes a Shiftronic automanual feature.
The Sonata offers decent steering feedback, and body roll is kept to a minimum. Road and wind noise are adequately muffled, and the brakes stop the car with confidence. Riding on a front double-wishbone suspension and a rear five-link setup, the Sonata's ride and handling can be characterized as stable, smooth and responsive.
Inside the monochromatic cabin are plush seats, an adequate driving position and a nice-looking dashboard. Drivers will also find well laid-out radio and climate controls, a nifty penholder and a leather shift knob on GLS and LX models. The trunk is spacious with an extremely low lift-in height for ease of use, and the rear seats on higher trims fold down conveniently in a 60/40 configuration to expand the cargo area.
Standard safety features such as side airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and a passenger-presence airbag detection system all contribute to a safer environment in the Sonata. Optional ABS with traction control is offered, as is a power sunroof.
Hyundai has one big advantage over most other manufacturers peddling bread-and-butter sedans these days. Aptly called the Hyundai Advantage, the company's warranty program is a great incentive to buy a Hyundai over one of the many other choices on the market. With the purchase of any Hyundai vehicle, consumers will receive an awesome 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, 5-year/100,000-mile corrosion coverage and a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Roadside assistance is part of the deal, too, for 5 years and unlimited mileage.
Incorporating dependability and cutting-edge style in affordable packaging, Hyundai has come a long way lately, and the Sonata is proof of it. Desirable, safe and well equipped, the Sonata is perfect for hauling the family around town. If you're still not convinced that the Sonata could lure you away from that bare-bones Camry, Accord or Passat you've been salivating over, go drive one. You'll be surprised by what you discover.
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The word sonata has negative associations for me. It is a universally acknowledged truth that all good, obedient Korean girls must take piano lessons from about the age of five. If they are good and obedient enough, they'll have garnered skills to play for Mom's friends (well enough not to embarrass her) when they come over for coffee. If they are exceptionally fine daughters who really love their mothers, enough to bring honor and glory to the family name, they will become world-renowned pianists, playing in front of enraptured audiences while wearing flowing white gowns (picked out by their mothers, of course).
Inherently lazy as I am, I hated practicing. What's more, I wasn't too fond of my piano teacher, possessed of a sharp tongue and a stiff ruler with which to rap my knuckles if I got a note wrong. "Play the Czerny Sonata! Again! Perfect this time! Ugh, you're hopeless!" To this day, every time I hear the word sonata, I can almost feel the stinging on my poor hands and hear the ghostly feint of mental abuse, yes, mental abuse that permeated my Thursday afternoons.
Similarly, some may have unhappy associations with Sonatas, not for any musical compositions for which they are named but for the less-than-illustrious cars that have borne that name. Introduced in 1989, the Hyundai Sonata was a step up from the Excel, yet its shoddy build quality and unrefined powertrain could do little to entice the American buyers away from their beloved Accords and Camrys, which cost a little more but were years ahead in terms of overall quality and performance.
The second-generation version, introduced in 1995, was a bit better in terms of fit and finish and Hyundai reported a 25 percent increase in sales. But it was in 1999, a watershed year for Hyundai, that a truly drivable car emerged, with new styling, engines and increased attention to eliminating the bugaboos of family sedans: noise and harshness. This is the one that nearly tied for third place in our Bread-and-Butter Sedan Test. Call it the law of diminished returns, but most of our editors were pleasantly surprised by this iteration.
Now comes the 2002 Sonata, sporting what Hyundai likes to refer to as a "major minor change," with small refinements and improvements to make the Sonata that much more palatable. In a look that they cutely call "neo-retro," its sheetmetal has been revised; we see that Hyundai designers have been looking at the "single-cell organism undergoing asexual reproduction" headlamp styling cue of the Mercedes C-Class. Actually, it's somewhat reminiscent of the second-generation Sonata. The rear fascia has also been revised; it keeps the crease on the decklid but drops the chintzy nameplate splashed across its behind.
While the 2.4-liter inline four engine, with 149 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, soldiers on without alteration, the V6's displacement has been increased from 2.5 to 2.7 liters. The horsepower rating is improved from 170 to 181 at the same 6,000 rpm, while 10 more pound-feet of torque are available, totaling 177 at 4,000 rpm in order to achieve a flatter torque curve. This is a smooth, quiet motor that won't necessarily inspire you to don racing gloves, but it provides decent acceleration and enough thrust to merge with confidence on the highway.
These numbers are lacking compared to the output of the six-cylinder models of its Japanese competitors and actually exceeds those of most of its American rivals, such as the Ford Taurus or Chevy Malibu, but, as Hyundai contends, the price point of the Sonata with the V6 engine is less than that of the four-cylinder models of its rivals. Thus, a comparison between the Sonata's V6 and the Japanese models' I4s is more apt, in which case, the Sonata has them all beat. Given the choice, aside from the issue of decreased gas mileage, why not get a V6 over an I4?
Tempering both engines is your choice of a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The latter comes with a Shiftronic automanual unit, which is more of a gimmick in a basic midsize sedan than an actual positive attribute. But it holds third gear on inclines and allows you to merge with bravura in traffic.
Ride quality is slightly improved, as Hyundai fiddled with the rear multilink suspension. It's tuned with a bias toward comfort, although bumps in the road are transmitted a little more harshly into the cabin than they should be. Steering, although light and somewhat flighty on the highway, is linear and direct, with a tight turning radius of 34.4 feet. Front and rear disc brakes stopped the car with confidence.
Inside, we found interior materials to be on the economy side, but perfectly acceptable for a car of this price. Additionally, even your basic Sonata boasts an impressive list of standard equipment. Included are a CD player; air conditioning; foglamps; power locks, mirrors and windows; 60/40 split folding rear seats; remote keyless entry; side airbags and cruise control. The trunk opens and closes with struts rather than parcel-crushing hinges, and cargo capacity has been increased to 14.1 cubic feet, a 1.1-cubic-foot improvement.
If you choose to equip your car with the V6, available only in GLS and LX trim, you get 16-inch wheels, a dual-tiered center console, a power antenna, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated mirrors and a cassette player along with the CD player. You also get front and rear disc brakes (optional on the base model) and the option of traction control. The LX, a new trim level for 2002, comes with leather trim, power driver seat and climate control. Disappointingly, though, ABS is an option on all trim levels.
The Hyundai Sonata lacks the polish and heft of several of its Japanese counterparts; for example, some of the plastics around the front passenger footwell area are unfinished and could use a bit more attention to detail. Plastic moldings that are imprecisely cut, with visible seam lines on some of the trim pieces, detract from a high-quality look and feel. But choosing a Sonata, with these few minor quibbles, will run you a few grand less than comparably equipped Japanese models.
Most midsize import cars, once seen as economy cars, seem to be inching toward the entry-level luxury sedan level in terms of content, with such once-highfalutin' features as navigation systems, side curtain airbags and in-dash six-disc CD changers on the options list. One once-humble sedan, the Nissan Altima, gets a fire-breather of an engine, with 240 horses for 2002. The Passat is awaiting an eight-cylinder powerplant. Those puppies can drive up the price of a vehicle to prohibitive levels.
Which means that if you don't have more than $20,000 to spend on a car, you'll have to settle for a used car or the very basic model. With a Hyundai, the same amount of money will get you an all-frills-included car.
At one time, buying a Korean car necessarily meant that a compromise had to be reached; you bought a Korean car because you couldn't afford anything else. No longer. The choice is almost on an even-keel now, and the Koreans are steadily gaining.
Used 2002 Hyundai Sonata Overview
The Used 2002 Hyundai Sonata is offered in the following submodels: Sonata Sedan. Available styles include GLS 4dr Sedan (2.7L 6cyl 4A), 4dr Sedan (2.4L 4cyl 4A), LX 4dr Sedan (2.7L 6cyl 4A), 4dr Sedan (2.4L 4cyl 5M), GLS 4dr Sedan (2.7L 6cyl 5M), and LX 4dr Sedan (2.7L 6cyl 5M).
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Should I lease or buy a 2002 Hyundai Sonata?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.