2015 Hyundai Sonata: Two Details Away from Being a Benchmark
by Dan Frio, Automotive Editor on October 23, 2015
I like our 2015 Hyundai Sonata. No, it's not the most inspired car, nor the classiest. Not a lot of brand cachet behind that badge and you're definitely not impressing the valet in the Sonata. But as a Monday through Friday car, I could live with the Sonata very nicely. It'll get me to work in comfort and quiet, it lays out all of my techy needs — music, podcasts, phone, navigation — in logical an comprehensive order within the center stack. It's got loads of room the backseat for when I need to ferry the kid, kid-friends, or adult friends.
I can even opt for the turbo "Eco" version if I want a little more sauce. Less horsepower, more sauce, you say? It's true. The Eco model we tested, with its wee 1.6-liter four-cylinder was quicker to 60 mph (7.5 seconds) than our long-termer with its larger engine and additional horsepower (8.2 seconds).
Even the Sonata's audio system is nice.
But there are two things that really hold back the Sonata from asserting itself in this class, both among wonky critics like us and perhaps among shoppers for whom midsize family sedans begin and end at Accord and Camry.
The Sonata's engine sound and ride quality are, I think, its two character flaws. Simply put — and these are very general, but, I think, tangible observations — the Sonata's four-cylinder just doesn't sound very good, especially when pushed hard or spurred to immediate action. Many of us have noted this.
On start-up, the four-cylinder clatters along to its direct-injection soundtrack. This in itself isn't a huge deal and is a sign of the times, as most engines start going the fuel-savings, emissions-reducing direct injection route. But the Hyundai's engine never develops into anything resembling a purr or even just a pleasant low-order hum that you might find in the Accord, for example.
Instead, it's just a scratchy buzz that only gets more prominent as you request more from the engine. It wouldn't cause me to write the Sonata off my list or recommend it to someone, but it's one of those details that I think keeps the Sonata out of that "elite" class, if you can call it that.
This also seems like a pretty fixable problem. Hyundai's engineers just need to figure out how to make the thing sound better, especially when stressed — and not just with intake honkus, exhaust or piped-in sound trickery. There needs to be a very real different timbre from the engine when it's creating and containing all those tiny explosions. Maybe they should consult with Dr. Dre.
Secondly, the Sonata's ride quality isn't quite up to par. That's not to say it's not comfortable. The Sonata is plenty comfortable for both short and long-hauls. But the suspension and chassis feel chatty and ragged in a way that the benchmarks in this class don't. You can count on a cushy, sophisticated, borderline luxury ride in an Accord. The Sonata isn't far behind, but still lacks that level of ride quality engineering, that dampening that results from number-crunching and materials testing, to vault it to that elite company.
Perhaps the Sonata's price point prohibits Hyundai from investing the additional time and R&D. Maybe it's just a knowledge gap that Hyundai is working actively to close. The Sonata's value proposition is undeniable. It's not cheap, but you can buy one for less than the benchmarks and you sacrifice very little. But Hyundai won't be able to cruise on the value proposition for long. Eventually they'll have to mind some important, subtle and elusive details to make the Sonata a benchmark itself.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor