Hyundai has invested a lot in this mid-model refresh of the Sonata. But does the 2018 Hyundai Sonata carry the challenge to the coming 2018 Toyota Camry and the 2018 Honda Accord?
Yes we know. What with the economic pressures of the GCC region over the past couple of years and the stubborn refusal of the oil price to peak like in the past, buying a new car may be the last thing you have on your mind. It isn’t as if everyone’s stopped – just you. And the droves of people like you who see a lot of sense in just hanging on to your serviceable four year old sedan, that can serve just fine for another 40,000 kilometres with just a little bit of tender loving care. It’s people like us who are causing this massive drop in sales of new cars.
So, the market seems to be just a tad too challenging at times, but this doesn’t either stop the arrow of time or the wheels of the car manufacturers upgrades and roll-outs. We’ve seen more activity happening in the recent past than… no, not quite ever, but it’s close.
The Hyundai Sonata introduction is a sign of that mixed market message. Hyundai has been doing very well over the past years, growing into the slot of market lead challenger in many countries. The Sonata has been one of its signature growth models – usually also setting a styling benchmark that even the Japanese majors have had to emulate. Any wonders then that the 2018 Hyundai Sonata has the feel of an all-new model rather than a minor model upgrade?
The Design conundrum – applying styling that engages you
There are some immediately winning points that draw you into the offering. While not touching the underlying platform, the car has been completely re-skinned in the front and rear. According to Minchul Koo, head of Hyundai’s exterior design team 2, the new way of thinking was to move away from the traditional redesign of elements like head and taillights and skirting to a more holistic method that actually saw the new car receive a completely new look. This has been achieved without having to change major components like the doors – the grille is now a bold hexagonal maw that pushes outwards to give a feel of width and the headlights have received a new form, complete with a new DRL light signature as well as the option for LED projector lamps on the top of the line Turbo.
The Turbo is immediately identifiable by its black mesh form as opposed top the bold, chrome ‘cascading waterfall’ (their term, not mine) treatment of the 2.4 GDi. The tail is less differentiated between the two, but does stand visually distinct from the older car. The number plate has been dropped to the bumper and the chrome that used to run across the slot has disappeared, leading to a large blank space opening up on the rear fascia. The taillights seem sleeker than before – only drawing your eyes to the area that much more. But all is not lost – now the Sonata badge is enlarged and spelled out in standalone letters across the expanse, reminding you of many older American cars. The connection is tenuous, and the result is a design that could either appeal or feel slightly incomplete. The boot release (hands-free with a proximity sensor available on high specs) has been moved into the Hyundai logo, in the top hollow of the ‘H’.
Why change the interiors when you can make them look new by a clean up?
The main changes to the interior are a new three-spoke steering wheel and a new look of the switchgear on the air-conditioning and audio consoles. The 7” colour display in the centre now integrates Apple CarPlay and you get a wireless charging mat for compatible mobile phones. The Turbo tries to visually stay apart, by overt seat lining stitches, a new gear knob and a pseudo carbon fibre treatment of the garnishes (using a film overlay). And you get Turbo embroidered on the seat backs.
The feature pack has definitely moved upscale. You can get BLIS, rear cross traffic alert and front and rear parking assist. You also get remote engine start (useful if you want to run the aircon for a while before entering) and keyless entry and button start. The usual large panoramic sunroof is available too.
Get the most out of ‘Turbo’ – the new engine offering
The new engine on the Sonata is the next deviation from a minor model upgrade. The turbocharged 2.0-litre GDi is a variant of the Theta engine platform used by the 2.4-litre GDi. It generates 245 horsepower with 353 Nm of torque and has the advantage of the turbo’s low and mid-range torque band along with the eight speed automatic gearbox derived from the Azera. It puts the car in a new segment performance wise to the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated units 186 hp and 240 Nm of torque and six-speed auto. If you are looking at sport sedan performance, don’t. The Turbo does enjoy the benefits of the reengineered steering column that has a stiffer response (the motor-driven steering assist still offers its multi-mode approach), but the chassis still remains soft and pliant, although a lot of the road noise has been dialled out. The entry level on the Sonata is still the base 2.0-litre Nu MPI engine.
A greater range of trimline is on offer
You don’t have to stick to the offerings in either the 2.4 or Turbo. While the car comes standard with 16” alloys and goes into 18” territory, you can see that the Turbo gets its own wheel design. You can buy into LED taillights, and the interior packages too.
Does it drive any different to the older car?
That’s really where the Turbo comes in – the extra grunt and the wider gear range are appreciated on the climbs and you can tap for finer control using the paddleshifts. The engine braking is excellent – although the turbocharged engine of the 2018 Hyundai Sonata can get a little petulant under high revs as you load the engine – its whine comes through the excellent NVH treatment that dampens out the rest of the low frequency noise of the engine. But we would still take the engine over the regular GDi unit purely for all the extra torque on offer. As we mentioned before – the steering is just a little bit more immediate and the suspension has been tuned for a finer ride, without being reengineered in a major manner. The seats are pliant without being cossetting and the car feels just a bit more suited to long drives than before.
The big question – is it worth upgrading into the 2018 Hyundai Sonata?
If you’ve been looking at the D-segment sedan, the Sonata is a segment definer in many ways. It still gives you the impression of offering more car than you paid for – while narrowing the gap with the Japanese competition. It is no longer the cheaper alternative, but it still could be the choice that gives you something extra. There is nothing about the 2018 Hyundai Sonata that will on its own draw you into trading in your 2015 model. But there are standout individual features like the new drivetrain and design that could do it. And the new approach will help the model remain relevant over the next couple of years until the all-new version comes about. It’s grown up over the years and more customers are likely to be drawn in from competing showrooms.