The Hyundai Sonata is a comfortable and likable midsize sedan that proves Hyundai can build cars that are not just easy on the pocketbook but easy to live with as well. Like most vehicles in the midsize sedan class, the Sonata offers front-wheel drive, numerous safety features, and a choice of trim levels that include sporty and plush variants. Setting the Sonata apart, however, is Hyundai's lower pricing and outstanding warranty coverage.
For the most part, the Sonata has kept getting better. Recent generations are very competitive in the segment and a solid value proposition. Hyundai may have toned down the styling a bit in the newest generation, but it continues to improve performance and add more and more content. Newer pre-owned Sonatas are worth looking into, but models prior to 2006 make for a less appealing used-car proposition.
Current Hyundai Sonata
The latest Hyundai Sonata builds on the company's winning formula of packing its vehicles with features, installing fuel-efficient engines, and offering a range of trims that begin to approach luxury-car territory with their interiors and equipment. The Sonata is available in seven trim levels: SE, Eco, SEL, Limited, Sport 2.4, Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T.
Three engines are available for the Sonata. A 2.4-liter four cylinder making 185 horsepower and mated with a six-speed automatic motivates the SE, SEL, Limited and Sport 2.4. The Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder making 245 hp paired with an eight-speed automatic. The Eco, which is the most fuel-efficient Sonata, gets a turbocharged 1.6-liter four cylinder (178 hp) and a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Sonata offers some appealing features as standard equipment on even the base SE: a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and blind-spot monitoring, along with old standbys such as air-conditioning and full power accessories. Moving up through the trims gets you more luxury-oriented features such as keyless entry and ignition, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered power front seats, a hands-free smart trunk opener, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, navigation and extra driver safety aids. The Sport models have more sporting trim and styling pieces, and the Sport 2.0T also gets a sport-tuned suspension.
In reviews, we praised the Hyundai Sonata for its roomy interior and smooth and quiet ride. The front seats are comfortable and well-padded, and the rear has more than enough room for all but larger than average adults. Unfortunately, the driving experience isn't as engaging as what some competitors offer, even in Sport 2.0T trim, and acceleration lags behind the class. Still, there's also no denying the quality of the technology — or its abundance. The Sonata offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Used Hyundai Sonata Models
The current Hyundai Sonata represents the seventh generation in the car's lineage and was introduced in the 2015 model year. Along with a comprehensive redesign of both the body and cabin - which added extra interior room and new technology and convenience features - the Eco trim was introduced with its turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, and the GLS dropped from the trim lineup, making SE the base trim. Output from the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine also fell 30 horsepower.
Since then, the Sonata has received a minor updates. Cars for 2015-'17 has slightly different styling and less standard safety equipment than the newer years, but overall you should be able to shop this Sonata based on your budget without worrying about missing out on anything.
The previous, sixth-generation Sonata was produced from 2011 to 2014. It was available in GLS, SE and Limited trim levels. The standard engine on every Sonata trim level was a 2.4-liter direct-injected inline four-cylinder rated at 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque, while the dual-exhaust SE with the same engine made 192 hp and 181 lb-ft. A 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque was available on SE and Limited models. All Sonatas came with a six-speed automatic as standard, although a manual transmission was available for the GLS trim for 2011 and 2012.
The GLS offered relatively bare-bones motoring but still provided Bluetooth, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, air-conditioning, and other necessities. Lots of appealing tech including navigation, a power driver seat, upgraded stereo and automatic headlights could be added with options packages. The SE received all of the GLS' optional upgrades, plus sport-tuned suspension and sporty styling cues. The Limited, meanwhile, offered leather, heated seats, and dual-zone climate control, and could be upgraded with a sunroof, backup camera and premium sound system. In 2012, the Sonata picked up the Blue Link telematics service and a higher-resolution navigation system display. The steering system was also updated and included driver-selectable steering effort.
This generation of Sonata was a major stepping stone for Hyundai, debuting new styling, technology, and a more upscale interior that helped raise the brand's image from its bargain-basement roots. In reviews, we praised the sixth-generation Sonata as a nice place to be thanks to its spacious cabin, comfortable seating, solid build quality and quiet highway ride. Fuel mileage was also impressive, with 30 mpg being a realistic number for conservative drivers in mixed conditions. Our only notable gripes concern the relative lack of rear-seat headroom for adults and a somewhat rough ride for the SE model. Performance, handling and driver engagement also lagged behind some competitors. Overall, shoppers in the market for a used family sedan at a reasonable price should give the sixth-generation Sonata a look, especially those produced from the 2012 model year on.
The fifth-generation Hyundai Sonata was produced from 2006 to 2010. While it feels significantly cheaper and less modern than the sixth-generation Sonata, its low prices as a used vehicle still make it an appealing choice for buyers who just need a basic family sedan. Initially, three trim levels were offered: GL, GLS and LX. The sophomore year saw a shuffling of the trim levels to the current format. Most notably, the sporty SE version debuted, wearing 17-inch alloy wheels and foglights.
Originally, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder produced 162 hp and was standard on the GL and GLS trims. A five-speed manual was standard (GL only for 2006) and a four-speed automatic was optional with this engine. Optional on the GLS and standard on the LX, SE and Limited was a 235-hp version of the 3.3-liter V6, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. For 2008, the four-cylinder became standard on all trim levels and the V6 became optional. That year also saw a few more standard features added to the SE and Limited trims.
The biggest changes occurred in 2009 when engine outputs were increased (175 hp for the inline-four and 249 hp for the V6) and the interior was spiffed up with a new dash and higher-quality materials. There were also two notable additions to the features lists - a standard auxiliary audio jack and an optional touchscreen navigation system.
Prior to that, the cabin had respectable build and materials quality along with a precise feel to the controls. But it wasn't nearly as top-notch and had odd placement of the audio and climate controls -- the former was placed too high and the latter too low. Beyond that, the spacious cabin remained unchanged, and although the exterior had a few nips here and tucks there, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Sonatas of this generation.
At the time, we found that the fourth-generation Hyundai Sonata prioritized ride comfort over precise handling. It smoothed bumps well and delivered a near-luxury highway ride, but with its significant body roll and vague steering, it wasn't particularly fun to drive.
Power from the efficient four-cylinder engine was competitive, and although the V6 wasn't quite as potent as those in rival sedans, it still got the job done while returning good fuel economy. Inside, soft, high-quality plastics were plentiful, and the overall design was eye-pleasing.
While we don't recommend pre-2006 Sonatas as a used-car proposition, depreciation means they can be found at a bargain-basement price. The fourth-generation Hyundai Sonata was originally introduced for 1999 with a vastly improved appearance, far better engines, and significant improvements made in noise and ride quality versus its lamentable predecessors. The base car featured a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (138 hp) and the GLS had a 2.5-liter V6 (159 hp). These numbers may be different from what you'll find elsewhere, since Hyundai misstated its horsepower ratings prior to 2002, giving the Sonata 11 more horses than it actually had. As such, you'd be best to stick with Sonatas from 2002 or later. Thanks to a midcycle refresh, these cars were characterized by even nicer styling, a better interior and a legitimately more potent V6, which was upgraded to 2.7 liters and had an output of 170 horsepower.
The third-generation Sonata was introduced for 1995 and offered improved fit and finish compared to its predecessor, but that's not saying much. It now had dual airbags but no more power under the hood. For instance, the V6 only produced 5 more horses than the four-cylinder. For 1997, the Sonata was restyled dramatically, but not necessarily for the better. All in all, we'd avoid this car.
The same goes for the second-generation Hyundai Sonata, first launched in the United States in 1989 to give Hyundai a player in the midsize family sedan game here. Aggressively priced but sloppily built and saddled with weak, unrefined powertrains, the boxy first-generation Sonata did little to change the public's perception of Hyundai cars as cheap in more ways than price.