There’s often a taboo surrounding the words ‘Korean cars’, especially when it involves paying almost as much as what you would for your regular Japanese D-Segment sedan (read: Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Toyota Camry). Good looks aside, the Koreans have always faced the gun’s barrel in what appears to be a deliberate case of unaddressed social stigma.
|Name||Hyundai Sonata 2.0L Elegance B||Hyundai Sonata 2.0L Elegance||Hyundai Sonata 2.0L Executive|
|Engine||1,999cc; inline-4 cyl with DVVT technology||1,999cc; inline-4 cyl with DVVT technology||1,999cc; inline-4 cyl with DVVT technology|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic||6-speed automatic||6-speed automatic|
|Max Power||152 hp @ 6,200 rpm||152 hp @ 6,200 rpm||152 hp @ 6,200 rpm|
|Max Torque||194 Nm @ 4,000 rpm||194 Nm @ 4,000 rpm||194 Nm @ 4,000 rpm|
|Price (OTR with insurance)||RM143,163.30||RM149,845.30||RM158,053.30|
The bias towards Japanese cars stacks on the Korean’s poor run in the early 2000s, and some of these reasons for bias have been rooted so deeply that it’s almost impossible to shake off. All that is said while keeping in mind that over the past few years, there is indeed an observable growth in terms of brand acceptance where reliability, good looks, safety and value for money is concerned.
This all-new, seventh generation Hyundai Sonata LF appears to be a worthy competitor to challenge the status quo, but can it really succeed in winning the immovable hearts of pro-Japanese consumers? To answer that, we more than willingly covered over 300 kilometers of tarmac, dirt and cement to see just how big a punch this most recent Korean D-segment sedan can throw.
When the Sonata YF made its debut here in Malaysia, it generated quite a shockwave simply by means of its design. Let’s face it. No other D-Segment offerings from Japan at the time had such wild styling as the Sonata did. In fact, the Fluidic Sculpture approach proved to be quite a hit among the younger group of its target market, a feat that can only be achieved when one does the unexpected.
The new Sonata however, is all grown up. It certainly bears some obvious similarities from the previous Sonata, but this time packaged in a more sedated and elegant way. We sampled the range topping Sonata 2.0L Executive here, so the exterior gets trim-exclusive features such as bi-xenon HID headlights, a set of polished 18-inch wheels (235/45 R18 tyres; lesser trims ride on 17-inchers) that has a skimmed-like effect and rain sensors which we didn’t have the opportunity to test.
It all spells normal and fits the typical everyday-kind-of-car to boot – that’s because it is. But what’s truly unique about the Sonata is its new Smart Trunk System which automatically pops the tailgate open when the car detects the key fob. Assuming your hands are full, simply stand behind the car for three seconds and the trunk will open in full. Granted, this will work even when you don’t intend for it to, so just keep that in mind. This feature is demonstrated by yours truly in the video above, so you might want to see how it works. There are six different colours to choose from, but our favourites are Ice White, Dark Horse (like the main picture on top) and Remington Red.
The Sonata continues to impress with its impressive build quality in the cabin. Stepping inside the car makes for a pleasant affair because you know you’re not shortchanged in any way. Gone are the days where buttons, switches and knobs feel flimsy in a Korean car. Properly executed, this one, and ranks somewhere at the top of its game in terms of finishing.
Firstly, the leather wrapped seats feel good to the touch and the cushioning is spot on; not too soft, not too hard. The seats are also electrically powered with lumbar support, so you need not worry about backaches on the occasional long weekend drives. Rear legroom in the Sonata falls short of the Accord’s, but anyone shorter than 185 cm shouldn’t have any issues with seating comfort. On the plus side, occupants can benefit from the rear air conditioning vents, a 12V output socket and the retractable panoramic glass roof.
Here’s something many are at guilt when it comes to telling whether a car is properly built or not – the door closing test. We’ve got that covered, and trust us when we say the thud it makes is pretty satisfying, if that’s your way of measuring quality.
Now, the engine is a carryover unit and the model will only be offered with the 2.0-litre Nu engine making 154 hp at 6,200 rpm and 194 Nm at 4,000 rpm. Yup, no more 2.4L Sonatas from hereon. The decision to omit the larger engine stemmed from the reason that the 2.0L variants fared better in terms of sales, so out the creamier engine goes.
Moving on, the drivetrain is also a familiar one – an in-house six-speed torque converting automatic gearbox that drives the front wheels. There’s little chance of us seeing the Sonata coming here with the more advanced GDI engine, what more the Sonata Hybrid. The Nu engine is also shared with the outgoing Tucson SUV, just so you know. So that’s all there is to it, now let’s see how the improved family car fares on the road.
Being our D-Segment pick of the year for 2014, the bar was set rather highly for this Korean sedan, thanks to Hyundai Sime Darby Motors’ (HSDM) game changing 8-year or 300,000 km warranty programme. As mentioned earlier, we took the car on a good mix of roads, and the first leg of our journey was comprised mostly of poorly maintained trunk roads via Sepang which led to Port Dickson.
The hour-long drive saw us pacing along considerably punishing one-way roads, but the much improved Sonata remained unfettered and took them in its stride with the suspension effectively absorbing harshness and minimising vibration along the way. Comfort in the ride department has certainly improved over the sixth generation model. That said, it still has a few tricks up its sleeves.
In terms of handling, you wouldn’t expect a lot out of a Korean model, only because they’re more purpose built in the getting from Point A to Point B sense. Well, the ballgame has changed with this one. Trunk roads are generally the ideal roads to push a car to its limits and in some cases, to find its limits. But we went out there with one goal in mind – to put Hyundai’s claims to the test that this very Sonata drives and handles much better than before.
Having driven the perennial best seller Honda Accord just a week before the Sonata, much of the experience remained and were carried into the Sonata’s driver’s seat. To our surprise, the Korean showed incremental gains in the way it handles the corners, though not as agile and precise as the Accord, is still a significant improvement over its predecessor. Having said that, body rolls and understeering were commonplace, but to do that you’d have to really push the car hard, and by hard we mean really hard.
New to the Sonata this time around is the Drive Mode Control System, a switch placed next to the gear lever that allows for three driving mode selections – Active Eco, Comfort and Sport. It doesn’t do much, but each mode alters engine and transmission behaviour as well as adding or reducing steering feel. We liked Sport mode the most, and it is in sport that the car feels most alive.
Cabin insulation is commendable and is much better than the Accord despite having an Active Noise Cancelling device. At cruising speeds, the Sonata remained pliant and is still no less comfortable than slow city driving. There’s hardly any wind noise at legal speed limits, but road noise did make its way into the cabin. Nothing a good set of tyres can’t fix here, so we’ll pass judgement on that.
IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
Korean cars have come a long, long way. Hyundai continues to push the boundaries of its own limits and in doing so, they produce cars that are getting increasingly hard for the Japanese to ignore. If you’re looking for a confident, sleek looking car and would want to go the less obvious route then yes, this car fits that picture best. For what it’s worth – at RM153,767.50 without insurance, the Sonata is undoubtedly a promising segment contender.
If your past experiences with Korean cars have formed unshakable impressions of what the modern ones will have to offer, just remember that it’s really a thing of old. A simple comparison on paper between the Accord 2.0 VTi-L and the Sonata Executive will show you just how well equipped the latter is, despite costing a pinch over RM8,000.
Here we put the Sonata against some of the more popular D-Segment sedans out there – the Nissan Teana and Honda Accord. To even things out, the trio will be compared based on their 2.0-litre variants, so here goes.
|Hyundai Sonata LF 2.0L Executive||Honda Accord 2.0L VTi-L||Nissan Teana 2.0XL|
|Type||Inline 4-cylinder||Inline 4-cylinder||Inline 4-cylinder|
|Type||Electric power-steering||Electric power-steering||Electro-hydraulic power steering|
|Transmission||6-spd auto||5-spd auto||CVT|
|Type||Front/Rear||MacPherson strut/Multi-link||MacPherson strut/Multi-link||MacPherson strut/Multi-link|
|Front||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|Rear||Solid disc||Solid disc||Solid disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||L||510||461||516|
|Tank Capacity||70 litres||65 litres||65 litres|
|Max Speed||km/h||200 km/h||N/A||N/A|
|0 – 100km/h||sec||11.1||N/A||N/A|
WILL I BUY IT?
If I were to buy myself a D-Segment sedan, I’d factor in several key elements like comfort, road presence, reliability, power on tap and its overall driving smoothness both in and out of the city. The Sonata ticks a good number of those boxes, but it still lacks that oomph we got when we tested the i40 Sedan and Tourer. It didn’t feel as powerful, but the well executed gearbox pairing does count for something.
Still, this Sonata is one of the best performing family sedans money can buy right now, and it is without question the only car in its segment to earn you a 2-year “The Leader” concierge service, personalised medical assistance and most importantly, an additional three-year or 300,000 km warranty on top of the manufacturer’s five-year warranty for your engine and gearbox. But if I were to be honest, the Passat CKD may well be the more promising alternative.
Hyundai Sonata LF Executive Media Test Drive
Hyundai Sonata LF Launch