Monthly Archives: July 2008

2009 Hyundai Sonata: Ahead of the Curve

The only constant is change and Hyundai regroups to stay ahead of the curve

Make a good car great . . . and don’t wait.

That attitude at Hyundai is what’s driving the 2009 Sonata sedan, a car that represents the Korean automaker’s determination to match – even surpass – the rest of the pack in delivering a competent product at an uncommon price.

The previous Sonata, introduced for the 2006 model year, was lauded for its cavernous interior volume and generous load of standard features. Still, the car had had to slog it out in the trenches with the likes of the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Honda Accord, to name just some of the biggies in the family-sedan business. Most are well-established players that only grudgingly yield ground to underdogs, and not without a scrap.

As a lesson in fast response, Hyundai has quickly revamped the Sonata in mid product cycle by freshening the styling, updating the powertrains and suspension, and giving the interior a more luxurious feel.

Visually, the updated car pretty much mirrors the 2008 version, but it does benefit from a bolder grille, restyled headlights and taillamps, new wheels and available chrome inserts on the front bumper. Inside, an all-new dashboard and control panel has been fitted and the seats have been reshaped for more comfort.

With these changes, the Sonata now looks considerably more refined, especially from the driver’s perspective. Apparently Hyundai’s stylists used the dash design from the big Veracruz sport utility vehicle as inspiration and it works especially well here. The rest of the cabin remains as spacious as ever and the Sonata easily hangs onto its official “large car” designation, which is the same as the new-for-’08 Accord sedan and ahead of the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.

The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder now puts out 175 horsepower, a bump of 13, while the output of the optional 3.3-liter V6 has been boosted by 15 ponies to 249 horsepower. Despite these increases, the fuel efficiency rating on both engines has been increased to the point where the Sonata matches, or in some cases actually surpasses the fuel-sipping champ Honda Accord. In fairness, the Accord still beats the Sonata to the punch when it comes to horsepower ratings.

The base five-speed manual transmission is back, while a new five-speed automatic is optional on four-cylinder models (a four-speed auto was the only choice for four-cylinder cars) and standard with the V6.

The car’s on-road behavior hasn’t been ignored, either. The front suspension has been revised for improved ride and handling, while the rear suspension is all new. In addition, the SE model now gets its own stiffer sport-tuned setup that complements its bigger 17-inch wheels and tires. During our brief road test that included plenty of undulating rural roads, both standard and sport suspensions behaved in a controlled fashion, but our pick would be the SE, which feels more adept when performing rapid turning maneuvers. All models now benefit from a quicker steering ratio.

Unchanged are the Sonata’s three models: GLS; SE; and Limited. All are equipped with the basics, including air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering, keyless remote entry, power windows, mirrors and locks, six-speaker audio system and a complete range of safety gear.

Along with its own suspension settings, the SE adds a B&M-brand sport shifter, fog lights, chrome window moldings, alloy wheels, eight-way power driver’s seat, trip computer and a telescopic steering column with steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

The premium Limited is topped out with climate control, leather interior, power sunroof, 360-watt sound system, bodyside moldings plus additional chrome trim.

All of the mid-cycle changes bestowed on the 2009 Sonata have made an already competent sedan even more desirable and sets it on course to become an even better value, especially when stacked up against the rest of the sedan-class heavy hitters.

What you should know: 2009 Hyundai Sonata

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive full-size sedan.

Engines: 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder (175 hp); 3.3-liter DOHC V6 (249 hp).

Transmissions: Five-speed manual (I4 only); five-speed automatic (opt. on I4, standard on V6).

Market position: With the growing popularity of sedans, the updated Sonata stands to gain new ground against a variety of equally new-and-improved category leaders.

Points: * Updated Sonata should easily hold its own until a 2011 redesign. * Improvements in horsepower and fuel economy on all versions. * Passenger, trunk space beats nearly everything in its class. * Suspension improvements readily noticeable. * When, if ever, will Hyundai develop a gas/electric hybrid alternative? * One of the best warranties in the business.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

The numbers: MPG (city/hwy): 22/32 (I4, MT); Base price: $18,800 (including destination)

By comparison

Chevrolet Malibu

Base price: $20,000

Plenty of style and space plus improved comfort, handling.

Toyota Camry

Base price: $19,200

Popular, roomy sedan features attractive styling, hybrid option.

Honda Accord

Base price: $21,000

New-for-’08 sedan and coupe are stylish and fuel efficient.

Malcolm Gunn
Wheelbase Communications

Hyundai Motor America and its Dealers Launch National Hope on Wheels Tour to Support Pediatric Cancer Research

2008 Tour Will Donate More Than $1.6 Million and Commemorate 10 Years of Hyundai Dealers Supporting the Fight Against Pediatric Cancer

Fountain Valley, Calif., 06/25/2008 The 2008 national Hyundai Hope on Wheels™ Tour launched yesterday in Los Angeles with a ceremony to honor the pediatric cancer patients at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. The Tour will visit 32 children’s hospitals across the country from June through November, donating a total of $1.6 million to support the fight against pediatric cancer.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels is the united effort of nearly 800 Hyundai dealers across the U.S. to raise awareness about pediatric cancer and celebrate the lives of children battling the disease. The 2008 Hope on Wheels Tour will highlight the need to support the training and education of the next generation of doctors. Donations made this year will fund the research of one doctor at each institution, as selected by the hospital’s pediatric oncology supervisors. These medical professionals, known as Hyundai Scholars, are in the third or fourth year of a qualified fellowship program in pediatric cancer research, or are in the first seven years of their medical practice specializing in pediatric oncology.

“Between 1975 and 2003, the five year survival rate of childhood cancer rose from 58 percent of patients to almost 80 percent of patients, due to major advances in treatments,” said Dr. Leonard Sender, Chairman of the Hyundai Hope on Wheels Medical Advisory Board and Division Chief of Oncology at Children’s Hospital Orange County. “Hyundai and its dealers have shown a strong commitment to the fight against pediatric cancer, and, as physicians, we appreciate their grasp of the need to support the medical professionals who conduct the vital research that propels us forward in the search for better treatments and ultimately a cure.”

New England-area Hyundai dealers started a local initiative in 1998 to raise money for the Jimmy Fund at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Ten years later their work has grown into the Hope on Wheels national program. Since the inception of Hope on Wheels, Hyundai and its dealers have donated more than $10 million to fund pediatric cancer research.

Hyundai and its dealers are so proud that our local, grassroots efforts have grown into a national organization that supports hospitals across the U.S.,” said Oscar Leeser, President of the Hyundai National Hope on Wheels Dealer Board, and El Paso, TX Hyundai dealer. “The Hope on Wheels Tour recognizes the hospitals that are leading the fight against pediatric cancer and honors the brave children who have faced this disease, sharing their stories with other children and families across the country.”

As the tour travels across the country, it will visit each hospital that has been selected to receive a donation to present a check and host a Handprint Ceremony, the cornerstone of the Hope on Wheels Tour. The Handprint Ceremony celebrates pediatric cancer patients’ lives and treatment milestones by capturing their colorful handprints in ink on a 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe vehicle, sharing their hope with other children and their families across the country. Hope on Wheels has collected hundreds of handprints and will add many more this summer as the 2008 Tour crosses the country.

At the 2008 kick-off ceremony at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, Hyundai representatives introduced the 2008 National Youth Ambassador for the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program, Miss Sammy Heim. Sammy, a brave ten-year-old from Yorba Linda, California, was diagnosed with a soft tissue tumor called Rhabdomyosarcoma nearly two years ago. Throughout her treatment, Sammy’s strength and positive attitude never wavered, and now that she is in remission, she is dedicated to helping other children battling cancer.

“I don’t want other innocent kids to have to go through what I did,” Sammy said. “If we didn’t help raise money for cancer research, a lot of kids would have died because they wouldn’t know what it was or how to cure it.” She added, “I want to help raise money for cancer research, too.” The Hope on Wheels Tour has donated more than $10 million to children’s hospitals nationwide and collected hundreds of handprints from children fighting pediatric cancer. The complete list of 2008 Hope on Wheels Tour stops, including benefiting hospitals, is available at


Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. of Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced through more than 780 dealerships nationwide.


Hope on Wheels™ is the united effort of more than 780 Hyundai dealerships across the U.S. to raise awareness about pediatric cancer and celebrate the lives of children battling the disease. Hope on Wheels is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Hyundai Elantra beats Toyota Corolla in Consumer Reports’ test of five small sedans

Redesigned Toyota Corolla gets excellent 32 mpg in CR’s stringent fuel economy tests

Yonkers, NY — After testing a group of compacts and subcompacts, Consumer Reports judged the Hyundai Elantra SE best with an “Excellent” overall road test score. But three other compact cars, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus, also achieved “Very Good” ratings in a report on gas-saving sedans published in the July issue.

The Corolla achieved a very impressive 32 mpg overall in Consumer Reports’ real-world fuel economy tests. That’s among the best gas mileage CR has seen in a conventional gasoline-powered car with an automatic transmission. Only the smaller Honda Fit (32 mpg) and Toyota Yaris (33 mpg) subcompacts do as well or better.

Two Chevrolets were also tested as part of this group, the Cobalt and Aveo. Both ranked near the bottom of the pack. Among compact sedans, the Cobalt ranks 17th out of 19 vehicles tested. Among subcompacts, the Aveo ranks last among the 12 vehicles tested.

Prices for the six cars in CR’s tests range from $16,205 for the subcompact Aveo LT to $19,106 for the Impreza 2.5i which is all wheel drive. Even with prices under $20,000, the best of today’s small cars provide many convenience features, comfortable interiors, good refinement, and improved fuel economy.

Full tests and ratings of the test group appear in the July issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale June 3. The issue features a cover package of stories on gas-saving cars, with CR’s ratings on a total of 31 small sedans and 21 top used cars with great mpg figures. The reports are also available to subscribers of

The Elantra’s top rating in the small sedans class shows how far Hyundai has come in the last decade. Its cars used to be unreliable and unrefined, with low scores in CR’s tests. Now, some compete with the best in their classes.

Formal evaluations on these vehicles were completed earlier this year, which allowed Consumer Reports to name the Elantra SE its Top Pick in the small sedan category for its Annual April Auto issue. It outpoints the Honda Civic EX with a manual transmission by just a fraction of a point–but also comes with standard electronic stability control, a very important safety feature.

Of the vehicles in this report, Consumer Reports is Recommending the Elantra, Impreza, and Focus. CR doesn’t have reliability data yet on the redesigned Corolla. The Cobalt scores too low in CR’s road tests to be Recommended; its reliability has been average. The Aveo also scored too low in testing to be Recommended; its reliability has been below average. Consumer Reports only Recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its more than seven million print and web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

The Elantra SE is a well-rounded package with a quiet, roomy cabin, a comfortable ride, and nice fit. It provides excellent braking and very secure emergency handling, aided by the SE’s standard electronic stability control. Fuel economy is respectable at 27 mpg overall. The Elantra SE ($17,980 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested) is equipped with a 132-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic that delivers reasonable acceleration and smooth and responsive shifts. The Elantra delivered the shortest braking distances and achieved a Very Good score in CR’s emergency handling tests. The nice-sized trunk can be expanded by lowering the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

The redesigned Impreza is a pleasant and practical car with the most comfortable ride of any small car tested by Consumer Reports. It has more rear-seat room, a quieter cabin, and better fit and finish than the previous model. While its handling is still fairly agile, the Impreza isn’t as sporty to drive as its predecessor. Its standard all-wheel-drive helps in slippery conditions but saps fuel economy: its 24 mpg ties for lowest in this group with the Cobalt. The Impreza 2.5i ($19,106 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 170-hp, 2.5-liter flat-four-cylinder engine and was among the quickest in this group from 0 to 60 mph. The car’s optional four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is very good. The small trunk can be expanded by folding down the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

The pleasant and refined Corolla provides a comfortable ride, an improved driving position, and a roomier rear seat, compared with the previous model. But the interior fit and finish isn’t quite as good. Aided by optional electronic stability control, handling is responsive and secure if not sporty. The Corolla LE ($18,404 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 132-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that accelerates reasonably and gets excellent fuel economy. In highway driving, the Corolla gets 40 mpg. The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. Braking is very good overall. Trunk room is adequate and can be expanded by folding the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

Ford’s freshening of the Focus doesn’t hide the fact that the underpinnings for this car’s design are nine years old. The Focus was once CR’s top-rated small car, but now it rates only midpack. It retains some of its strengths–agile handling, a composed ride, and a roomy interior. But interior fit and finish and noise remain weak points. The Focus SES ($18,490 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 130-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers average performance. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is very good, though stopping distances are longer than in the previous generation Focus. There’s ample trunk room, and the trunk can be expanded by folding the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

The Cobalt offers plenty of equipment for the money, especially when you factor in sale incentives. The Cobalt LT tested carried an MSRP of $17,450. But it is a lackluster car that falls short in several areas, including powertrain refinement, fit and finish, seat comfort and driving position. Recent tweaks have improved fuel economy and reduced engine noise a bit, but those changes also compromised acceleration, braking, and cornering grip. The Cobalt’s 148-hp, 2.2-liter engine delivers decent acceleration but just 24 mpg overall in CR’s tests. The optional four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The moderately sized trunk expands when you fold down the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

Recent upgrades to the Aveo haven’t made it competitive in its class of subcompacts, which include Honda’s Fit and the Toyota Yaris. It suffers from a stiff ride, uncomfortable seats, a noisy cabin, clumsy handling, and slow acceleration. Its 25 mpg overall fuel economy is disappointing for such a small and slow car. But at least the Aveo features relatively easy access, decent trunk space, and a tight turning circle. The Aveo LT ($16,205 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 103-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers only fair acceleration. The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly enough. The 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold forward to increase cargo space.

With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To become a subscriber, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at

Hyundai Entourage Wins AutoPacific 2008 Ideal Vehicle Award

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., 07/10/2008 Automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific announced that the Hyundai Entourage won the 2008 Ideal Vehicle Award with a “Best-in-Class” rank in the Minivan Segment. The victory marks the second consecutive top performance for Entourage in this competitive study.

AutoPacific’s third annual Ideal Vehicle Awards (IVA) ranked auto manufacturers for how closely their 2008 model-year cars or trucks came to matching owners’ expectations and criteria. The vehicles that customers said they would change the least were considered the most “ideal.”

“Earning a five-star safety rating, owners gave the Entourage kudos for its safety features,” said George Peterson, president, AutoPacific. “Owners complimented the exterior styling including wheels and tires, and gave the Entourage high ratings for passenger room, seat firmness and interior lighting.”

To determine the winners, AutoPacific asked owners to rate their new car or truck on how close it came to “ideal” in the following areas: exterior size; passenger roominess; cargo space; driver’s seat comfort; driver’s seat visibility; interior technology; power; ease of getting in and out; interior storage compartments; and tires and wheels.

“We are pleased to accept the Ideal Vehicle Award for the Entourage for the second year in a row,” said Brandon Ramirez, manager, Product Planning, Hyundai Motor America. “With its superior standard safety features, quality interior convenience features and an impressive exterior design, the Entourage is truly a great deal for value-conscious families.”

The 2008 Hyundai Entourage uses a powerful 3.8-liter V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission – all backed by Hyundai’s 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. It includes standard safety features like electronic stability control (ESC), six air bags, active front seat head restraints, which have earned the Entourage a top five-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) and a TOP SAFETY PICK rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) – the best rating ever for a minivan. The IVA ratings reflect input from buyers of new vehicles purchased from September 2007 through December 2007. Over 33,500 respondents provided input for these awards.


AutoPacific is a future-oriented automotive marketing and product-consulting firm. Every year it publishes a wide variety of syndicated studies for the automotive industry. The firm also conducts extensive proprietary research and consulting for auto manufacturers, distributors, marketers and suppliers worldwide. Additional information can be found at


Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif. is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company of Korea. Hyundai cars and sport utility vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced by more than 790 Hyundai dealerships nationwide.

Hyundai aces quality, style in the new 2009 Sonata

The Sonata is a worthy competitor, in the mid-sized sedan class, to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Considering how far Hyundai has come, it’s hard to imagine that the Korean company has only been selling cars in the United States since 1986, starting out with just one model: The cheap little Excel, based on an already out-of-date design the company bought from Mitsubishi.

In 1989, Hyundai added a larger model to the mix, the Sonata, which had a base price of $9,695. Those of us who have been in this business long enough can remember how Hyundai tried, and failed, to get some details right with that car: I recall writing that, for whatever reason, the optional leather interior smelled a lot more like fish than cowhide.

Twenty years later, we get a new Hyundai Sonata, and it is — and has been for some time now — an entirely worthy competitor for the twin powerhouses in the mid-sized sedan category, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The price has gone up from that original $9,695: The base 2009 Sonata, the GLS model, starts at a still-reasonable $18,120, and the model we tested, the loaded, top-of-the-line Limited, starts at $25,670, and with shipping and options that included a navigation system, the total list price was $27,685.

And this must be said: The leather interior smells like leather.

The 2009 Sonata has been mildly restyled on the outside, with a major makeover inside. The interior, not a strong point with previous Sonatas, is now on par with anything in the class. Instruments and controls look and feel right, front and rear seats are roomy and comfortable.

The base engine on the Sonata remains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, but now has 175 horsepower, 13 more than the 2008 model. Transmission is a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The 3.3-liter V-6, standard in the Limited, now has 249 horsepower, up from 234, and comes only with a five-speed automatic transmission. Even so, mileage is pretty good at an EPA-rated 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway on regular gasoline. The four-cylinder with the automatic transmission is rated at an impressive 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway. Before gas topped $4 a gallon, I would have suggested the V-6, but there’s nothing wrong with the Sonata’s four-cylinder.

On the road, the Sonata Limited has a very soft ride, a bit plush for my taste, but it still manages to corner with some authority. Steering feel is very light, to the point of being numb — Hyundai could take a lesson from Honda here.

Otherwise, it seems Hyundai has taken a lot of lessons from both Honda and Toyota, matching them in styling and build quality. The 2009 Sonata was designed in the United States, manufactured in Hyundai’s Alabama plant, and is clearly targeted at the American consumer. And it’s a bulls-eye.

Steven Cole Smith | Automotive Editor

2009 Azera Packs More Perks Into Premium Sedan Segment

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., Hyundai Azera’s long list of features has been expanded and upgraded once again for the 2009 model year, adding to its outstanding reputation for luxury and value in the premium sedan segment. Updates to the 2009 Azera include improved steering and suspension for better ride and handling on all models, new blue interior lighting, chrome interior accents, more distinctive chrome grille, redesigned alloy wheels and first-ever standard iPod®/USB and auxiliary inputs. Mid-year model changes carried over into the 2009 Azera include an LG in-dash navigation system. This more competitive Azera features no price increase for the GLS or Limited base models.

* Redesigned 17-inch alloy wheels
* More distinctive chrome grille
* Signature blue interior lighting
* Electroluminescent cluster display standard on GLS
* Chrome interior accents
* Dark brown woodgrain accents
* Ion-plated metalgrain accents
* More contrasting interior trim panels
* Brown interior color choice
* Audio head unit with larger display screen
* Standard iPod®/USB auxiliary inputs
* New exterior color options – Ivory Pearl, Black Onyx Pearl, Mystic Blue Pearl, Crimson Red Pearl, Smoky Gray Pearl, Silver Frost Metallic, Silk Beige Metallic

More and more customers are discovering how well Azera stacks up against the competition. Enhanced design and convenience features, together with comprehensive standard active and passive safety technology packages, make the 2009 Azera a strong competitor to vehicles like the Lexus ES350, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima and Buick Lucerne. Spacious and luxurious, the Azera even features more interior volume than expensive luxury sedans such as the Mercedes Benz E-Class and BMW 7-Series. There’s no question that Azera is one of the smartest premium large-sedan choices available in the American market today.


Azera’s proportions are elegant, purposeful and aerodynamically efficient, reducing wind noise while adding maximum stability on the highway. Inside, its spacious cabin provides not only roomy comfort, but a luxurious look and attention to detail that makes both driver and passengers alike feel that they are riding in a much more expensive sedan.


Maintaining Hyundai’s emphasis on class-leading safety technology, the 2009 Azera boasts impressive active and passive safety features to protect its occupants in the event of a collision, earning the vehicle the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) top crash test ratings for frontal offset impacts. The Azera continues to set standards by making key life-saving active safety technology standard, such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with a Traction Control System (TCS).

Also standard are independent double-wishbone front- and multi-link rear suspension, large four-wheel disc brakes and an Antilock Braking System (ABS) that includes Brake Assist, which provides maximum braking force when a panic stop is detected, and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), which automatically adjusts the amount of force applied to each of a vehicle’s brakes for optimal performance under poor road conditions, speeding, loading and other potentially hazardous situations.

Additionally, Azera offers impressive passive safety features including eight standard airbags, active front head restraints to help prevent whiplash, a Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for children’s seats and three-point seatbelts for all positions while shingle-style rear-seat head restraints provide drivers with improved visibility. Security is further advanced with an anti-theft engine immobilizer and remote keyless entry with alarm.


The 2009 Azera offers luxurious appointments and spaciousness that rivals the finest premium competitor brands. It offers a roomy cabin, with nearly 44 inches of legroom up front and more than 38 inches of legroom for rear-seat passengers. Hyundai engineers have created efficient packaging to maximize interior volume, with the 2009 Azera offering more interior volume (123.5 cu.-ft.) than the Toyota Avalon, Mercedes Benz E-Class sedans and the BMW 7-Series.

Special attention has been paid to other interior details, such as the enhanced electroluminescent cluster display and steering wheel audio control functions. The new blue backlighting for interior gauges, switches and buttons along with ion-plated accents highlight the vehicle’s modern appearance. Other unexpected luxury appointments include rain-sensing wipers, power adjustable foot pedals and power folding side mirrors with turn signal indicators on the Limited version.

The Azera comes standard with dual front automatic climate controls, electrochromic auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink®, power seats for driver and front passenger, as well as woodgrain and new metalgrain interior accents. More contrast has also been added to the interior trim panels, and for the first time ever, a brown interior color choice is available.

An AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system that includes a four-channel, 172-watt internal amplifier and six speakers comes standard in the Azera GLS. Audiophiles with even more demanding tastes will be impressed by the available Infinity audio system that includes a seven-channel, 315-watt amplifier with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and 10 speakers, standard in Limited trim levels.

Music lovers will also welcome the 2009 Azera’s inclusion of standard auxiliary input jacks (3.5 mm mini-jack and USB input) to accommodate and charge audio devices such as iPods®. When an iPod or flash drive is connected through the USB port, which is located in the center storage compartment, not only does it play music through the vehicle’s speakers, but it also charges the iPod and allows the driver to access tracks with the steering wheel audio controls. This system also allows both driver and passengers to easily view song/artist/title information and control the music from the audio head unit rather than just the iPod itself.


LG, the South Korean-based international manufacturer of consumer electronics has developed an exclusive navigation system for the Hyundai Azera, Santa Fe and Veracruz models. Using touch screen functions, the navigation system comes equipped with a premium 605-watt Infinity Logic 7® surround sound system with 12 speakers, 11-channel digital amplifier and AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio/CD/MP3 reception capability which replaces the six-disc CD changer and auxiliary input jacks. It also includes mapping software for the continental United States and has available POI’s (Points of Interest) for entertainment, shopping and dining. Route guidance is provided by audio and visual prompts.


The Azera GLS is equipped with a 3.3-liter, DOHC V6 engine that produces 234-horsepower and 226 lbs.-ft. of torque. As the first member of Hyundai’s “Lambda” engine family, this engine has all-aluminum construction, four valves per cylinder and Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT), all for a broad power spread. It also features a Variable Intake System (VIS) that further broadens its power curve to improve the vehicle’s off-the-line acceleration and passing performance. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Azera GLS are 18 mpg city / 26 mpg highway.

The Azera Limited delivers a powerful performance, due to its clean and efficient all-aluminum 3.8-liter, DOHC V6 engine, which delivers 263-horsepower and 257 lbs.-ft. of torque. To maximize the power spread, this engine also uses CVVT and a Variable Intake System (VIS) to help cylinders breathe efficiently at both low and high rpms. The Azera offers more standard horsepower than the Buick LaCrosse and even the BMW 528i, yet still remains environmentally friendly with an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) certification rating. EPA mileage figures for the Azera Limited are 17 mpg city / 26 mpg highway.

Both V6 engines are matched with Hyundai’s five-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC® manual control. This transmission offers smooth shifts and a wide ratio spread that ideally suits the engine’s characteristics.


Hyundai engineers benchmarked the best cars in the category before designing the Azera’s double-wishbone front and multi-link rear four-wheel independent suspension system. By using high-tensile steel in critical unibody areas, the Azera features increased stiffness and rigidity, which ensures formidable resistance to flexing, enhanced ride and handling tuning, while at the same time lowering interior noise levels. Attached to the Azera’s rigid structure is improved suspension and steering hardware to keep the vehicle even flatter through turns and more compliant over bumps. The enhanced suspension features four revalved twin-tube, gas-charged dampers, softer bushings and a quicker steering rack. The Azera also has front and rear stabilizer bars and rides on 17-inch wheels and 235/55VR17 tires.


From the well-equipped GLS, to the downright luxurious Limited, the 2009 Azera lineup addresses the needs and desires of premium sedan customers with a highly competitive mix of features and benefits. Each model delivers a level of standard equipment that is a cut above competing models.


The GLS now includes a more impressive range of standard features that give it a competitive edge, including a powerful and efficient 3.3-liter, DOHC V6 engine with 234-horsepower, a smooth-shifting, five-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC manual control, standard ESC with TCS, eight airbags, active front head restraints, electroluminescent gauge cluster and a six-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD audio system with iPod®/USB and auxiliary inputs. The vehicle achieves 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway fuel economy ratings.

Further enhancing the GLS’s first-class appearance are new 17-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels and 235/55VR17 tires. Upscale features include LED tail and brake lights, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with HomeLink®, power seats for both driver and front passenger, dual front automatic climate controls and automatic headlight control.


The Azera with Premium Package adds leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and a power sunroof to an already-loaded standard equipment package.


A truly impressive array of standard features and amenities define the prestigious Azera Limited. Additional standard features on the Limited include leather-trimmed seating, heated front seats, power glass sunroof with tilt and slide, power folding side mirrors with turn signal indicators, power rear sunshade and a powerful 315-watt Infinity AM/FM/XM/MP3 audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The Limited now adds new hyper silver alloy wheels and iPod® /USB and auxiliary inputs.


The Ultimate Package defines Hyundai’s flagship Azera, offering a 605-watt Infinity Logic 7® Surround Sound AM/FM/XM/MP3 audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, 12 speakers (including subwoofer and external amplifier), and iPod®/USB and auxiliary inputs. The Ultimate Package also offers, power adjustable tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, integrated memory system (power driver seat, exterior mirrors, and power tilt and telescopic steering wheel), woodgrain steering wheel and door pulls, and rain-sensing wipers.


The Ultimate Navigation Package includes all of the Ultimate Package items plus the LG navigation system, which replaces the six-disc CD changer and auxiliary input jacks.


The Azera, like all 2009 models, is protected by the Hyundai Advantage, America’s Best Warranty. Coverage includes five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection, 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, five-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance and seven-year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation coverage. In addition, Azera buyers receive 24-hour roadside assistance coverage at no extra charge for five years (no mileage limit), a service that includes emergency towing, lockout service and limited coverage for trip-interruption expenses. There is no deductible on any of this coverage.


Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company of Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced by almost 800 Hyundai dealerships nationwide.

2009 Hyundai Genesis Road & Track Test

We are running pretty hard through the twists and turns of the Sespe Gorge and over the 5,100 foot pass through the Caliente Range-in the very lap of silent luxury. As the tires approach their limits, even the Dunlop grip is silent. Acceleration is robust and soundless. What is this thing?!! A Hyundai. Really!

Rushing up the San Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway (California 33) is a tradition with southern California sports car and motorcycle fans. It is a challenge at any speed and the more you ask of your machine the more it asks of your talent–and judgment; Route 33 is ruled by production European machines and Asian tuner cars. Hyundai isn’t a name one hears in the regular gathering zones. A Tiburon may appear from time to time. They are cool in spite of limited performance perceptions among the zealots. The artful coupes are better than that, but the Hyundai name remains a mask over real quality. Until now.

The 2009 Genesis represents Hyundai’s exodus from cheap, amusing sedans and inexpensive, if handsome, SUVs, Veracruz accepted, as its corporate norm. Since the company’s recent much publicized decision to move its corporate perception onto a new plateau, the products have both lived up to the promotion and delivered profit to the dealers. Even those retail outlets have been compelled to raise their public presence with a new, Bauhaus-moderne corporate facade.

A luxurious Hyundai sport sedan (hmmm) would have been a tough sell–until July of 2008. Now the word is out. The Genesis introduces so much to the Hyundai brand in one fell swoop that the mind boggles. A 100,000-mile warranty underscores Hyundai’s perception of its own ability to deliver on the marketing surge, and with that promise is the reality that the company, together with Kia, is now the fifth largest auto manufacturer in the world; ahead of Honda and Nissan.

The base Genesis is far beyond what that word implies. Most interior appointments are matched for both the V6 and V8 models. Only the feature package differs. Both include all the current luxury car tech: proximity key, airbags everywhere, leather seats with all over the place electric adjust and heat, fully automatic climate control, auto-dim lights and mirror, Bluetooth and iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks. But the V8 includes a Lexicon (previously exclusive to Rolls Royce) 15-speaker sound system, the ones we had were equipped with a big screen nav system that was universally loved, a power rear sunshade, and a power adjust, wood-rimmed steering wheel.

The steering is as eloquent in its communication as the best of the Germans and the NVH and soundproofing is as good as the best from Japan. The ultimate Japanese product group created a sensory deprivation chamber for all passengers, including the driver. It then introduced an electronic simulation of what the engineering staff research suggested steering loads and surface communication should feel like. But it was never much loved by performance drivers and that group remained steadfastly devoted to the German manufacturers with decades of motorsport and high performance road expectations in their development programs.

Hyundai accomplished a remarkable ride and handling chassis with honest steering wheel communication–right out of the box. How’d they do that? We asked project engineer Michael Dietz.

“The design was done in Korea at the sparkling new, state-of-the-art design center in Namyang, with regular design reviews from both our American and European design staffs. That was also true for the chassis development you asked about. Sachs in Germany was directly involved in suspension design and tuning. There were Sachs engineers at the Hyundai Kia America Technical Centers in Irvine, California, and Superior Township in Michigan every few weeks to finish the five-link geometry, springs and Sachs ASD amplitude adaptive damping details. Wendell Collins was our lead chassis engineer and we are very proud of what he accomplished. The final set up includes a 35mm anti-roll bar at the front of both models and 18mm rear bar for the V8 and 17mm for the six. TRW co-developed our electro hydraulic power steering components and I saw a lot of the country during the testing and refinement process. I would be driving with two TRW engineers in the car with laptops making incremental changes in the programming.”

The power steering is a hydraulic system with adjustable valving and powered by an electric motor that takes one element of power drain off the engine.

Genesis’ entry level 3.8-liter V6 is a modern DOHC delivering 290 horsepower with a mid-range torque of 264 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm that makes everyday driving effortless, and there is a weight advantage that makes it a strong competitor to its upscale sibling. The DOHC V8 edition produces 375 hp at 6,500 revs and 333 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 from 4.6 liters, but has to carry 264 additional pounds, mostly on the forward end of the chassis.

Both engines are essentially new. The six is the second generation of Hyundai’s Lambda engine, but is mostly new, and the V8 is a corporate first that uses some of the V6 engineering and components. Both include a dual stage intake system along with variable valve timing for clean performance throughout the rev range. The six uses Hyundai’s Aisin-sourced B600 transmission and a sporting Shiftronic gate. The V8’s torque required a shift to a ZF 6HP26 automatic that also makes use of the manual Shiftronic mode. On the track the manual mode was not as quick as some of the recent paddle shift Europeans, but it worked well and was the equal of the best of the journalists at the limit.

Curious is the engine data panel that includes performance figures for both premium and regular fuel. The V8 power goes from 375 to 368 by lowering the octane rating from 91 to 83 and the torque is only reduced by 9 lb-ft. So Hyundai’s focus on inexpensive ownership remains intact, even with a beautifully finished, high performance luxury sedan. The V8 delivers fuel consumption of 17 city and 25 highway while the V6 delivers 18 and 27 respectively; acceptable numbers for a modest mid-size sedan, impressive from a very luxurious high performance car.

The car was a surprising delight on the track. With 4-wheel, 4-channel, 4-sensor ABS and EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) switched as near to off as it would allow, the car was nearly as much fun as a Miata. It could be pitched into dramatic slip angles and brought back with a slight lift of the power pedal. It never seemed out of reach. The V6, with its P235 /50R 18 Dunlops (standard on the V8 and optional with the V6) allowed soft limits and easy return. You could feel the scrub of rubber on pavement, but very little sound until they were well over the limit.

Repeated hard runs up to tight corners had no affect on the “big _ _ _ brakes.” Ventilated front rotors were 12.6-in diameter on the six and 13-in on the eight. Rears were the same on both, with solid 12.4-in discs.

Hyundai has delivered a surprise. The company promised to raise its own bar for both quality and reliability, but no one expected this. It is a very difficult car to criticize. It has a larger interior than a BMW 5 Series and is best in class in every quantifiable target. The corporate exodus from cheap and amusing is well underway with a Genesis to lead the new line of less expensive and exceptional.


Tweaked Sonata hits nearly all the right notes

Hyundai has it’s work cut out for it.

I has to get people to notice its midsize Sonata sedan when its rivals are established favorites: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion.

And all have had new versions since the 2006 model year, including some hybrids.

With much formidable competition, you can easily get lost in the crowd. That’s why Hyundai has performed cosmetic surgery on the 2009 Sonata that’s in showrooms now. It gets a new front end and a cabin makeover. And the next generation is due for the 2011 model year.

The midsize Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Ala., along with the Santa Fe SUV.

No complaints about mileage. Hyundai had the third best fleet mileage rating last year (22.7 m.p.g.) behind only Honda (22.9) and Toyota (22.8).

No gripes about price, either. Hyundai always loads its cars with standard equipment, such as stability control with traction control.

For 2009 Sonata goes upscale. It’s offered in SE, GLS and Limited versions with a choice of V-6 for performance or 4-cylinder for mileage. We tested a 4-cylinder Limited.

Sonata owners had asked for is a little more punch when leaving the light or pulling out to pass. In other words, a little more fun. So Hyundai tweaked the 2.4-liter 4 and 3.3-liter V-6, to develop 175 and 249 horsepower, respectively.

Both also are quieter than the engines they replace. The 4 groans a bit when pushed hard, but it doesn’t sound as if gasping for breath. Changes in transmission shift points make Sonata feel that much zippier leaving the light or taking the passing lane.

Michael Deitz, manager of product planning for Hyundai, said one of the goals was to have the car get the mileage listed on the window sticker, not just come close. Of course, the EPA changing its testing procedures to achieve the same thing hasn’t hurt.

Mileage rises to 22 m.p.g. city and 32 m.p.g. highway on the 4 from 21/30 for 2008, and 19 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway in the V-6, 1 m.p.g. more on the highway.

The suspension is softly sprung to minimize bumps filtering into the cabin. It helps that seats are not only well cushioned, but also longer and wider and lean back 2 more degrees to relieve pressure on back and thighs. Side bolsters aren’t real large, but Sonata isn’t designed for darting into and out of corners. It is more a pamperer with its smoothness and quietness. The suspension is firmer on the sporty SE for a focus on handling.

Stability control with traction control is standard on all models to keep you in contact with the road and prevent unplanned detours from a straight line.

In addition to packing more punch, Sonata pays more attention to the cabin. Good fits and finishes without glaring gaps. Textured dash and door coverings as well as nicely textured leather seats provide a fashionable and luxury look.

The cabin is roomy and comfortable. Very nice head, leg and arm room in the back seat, where a pull-down armrest offers two cupholders. The trunk is very large. A small plastic tray in the corner can keep a can of pop from sliding around, but would be nice if it were big enough to hold a gallon of milk or two like the Toyota Corolla does.

Rear seat backs fold so you can slip packages from the trunk into the cabin, but the small opening limits what you can slip through.

Nice touches include covered cubbyholes in the dash to hold CDs or cell phones, rich-looking and eye-friendly blue backlighting on gauges at night, dark carpeting to conceal ugly shoe marks and a USB port and power plug under the center armrest and another power plug in the console.

Sonata Limited starts at $23,970 and much of the charm comes from the fact it’s loaded: side-curtain air bags; anti-lock brakes; 17-inch, all-season, radials; alloy wheels; fog lights; power tilt and slide sunroof; AM/FM XM radio with CD player; keyless entry; leather (heated front) seats; power driver’s seat; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; dual automatic temperature control; and power windows/locks/mirrors. Only option on the test car was carpeted mats at $90.

Excellent looks, room, comfort, mileage and price along with very good performance.

A gas/electric version would help it keep up with the pack. Hyundai is mum but you have to suspect with the new model coming for 2011, a hybrid may be too.

Jim Mateja – Chicago Tribune
June 22, 2008

AutoBlog: First Drive 2009 Hyundai Genesis

Unless you’ve been living in a mine deep in the hills of West Virginia, Hyundai’s newest addition isn’t coming to you as a surprise. Around these offices, we’ve been anticipating the rear-wheel-drive Genesis platform and its offspring of luxury sedan and performance coupe for years. While we’ll have to continue waiting for the eagerly-anticipated 2010 Genesis Coupe, we’ve just taken our first drive in the elegant 2009 Hyundai Genesis sedan.

Hyundai would like you to consider the Genesis a competitor to an exhaustive list of cars. The targets reportedly include the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, S Class, BMW 5-Series, 7 Series, Infiniti M, Lexus GS, Chrysler 300C, Lexus ES350, Pontiac G8, and Cadillac STS. After a day behind the wheel over road and track, we whittled it down to a much shorter list. In one breath, the Genesis will simply compete head-to-head with the Infiniti M, Lexus GS, Lexus ES, Acura TL, and Acura RL. The German buyers want their badge; the American customers are true to their flag.

Taking design cues from the best of the best, the Genesis looks like the offspring of a tryst between a 7 Series, LS430, S-Class, and an Infiniti M. Engaging at first glance, yet completely unidentifiable from the badgeless front end, Hyundai designers put it all together in a very clean yet decidedly conservative package that emits a fair amount of luxury without looking… um, Korean.

Two different Genesis models will roll into showrooms this year. The standard model is the Genesis 3.8 featuring a six-cylinder powerplant and a base price of $32,250. Under its aluminum hood is a 3.8-liter V6, mated to an Aisin B600 6-speed automatic transmission. The powerplant is rated at 290 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque (EPA fuel economy ratings of 18/27). The Genesis 3.8 tips the scales at 3,748 pounds and scoots to 60 mph in a decent 6.2 seconds.

The flagship Genesis 4.6 model offers an eight-cylinder powerplant with a base price of $37,250. Displacing 4.6 liters, the engine is mated to a ZF 6-speed automatic. The V8 is rated at 375 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque (EPA 17/25). With a curb weight of 4,012 pounds, the Genesis 4.6 sprints to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds.

Whether you choose the six- or eight-cylinder model, both Genesis sedans feature heated leather seating, fully automatic HVAC, Bluetooth hands-free phone, and iPod/USB jacks as standard equipment (to match the upgraded standard equipment on the Genesis 4.6 with a Genesis 3.8 model, simply order the Premium Package).

The Technology Package adds navigation, satellite radio, adaptive HID headlamps, and parking assist to both models. According to Hyundai, a nicely equipped Genesis 3.8 will run about $35,000. With all option boxes checked, a loaded Genesis 4.6 tops out at about $42,000.

As the doors unlock with the standard proximity key, the Genesis sedan welcomes driver and passengers into a very inviting cabin. Soft leather envelopes the seats, door panels, and dashboard, while LED interior lighting (emitting a brighter and whiter light) illuminates the cabin at night. Wood and aluminum inlays complete the package without appearing garish or out of place. The interior quality of materials didn’t simply meet our expectations, they exceeded them.

Sliding our six-foot two-inch frame behind the power-operated tilt/telescoping wheel, we found a comfortable driving position within seconds. The driver’s visibility outward and to the primary back-lit instrumentation is good, as is the proximity to all of the controls on the steering wheel and dash. Just behind the shifter is the now-obligatory infotainment control wheel, falling readily to hand. If we had to nitpick the cabin, we’d point at the climate controls below the radio/NAV display. In contrast to the round volume knob on the audio system, the HVAC offers a non-intuitive pad of flush silver buttons.

With a push of the start button, our Genesis 4.6 came to life. It quickly settled to idle with only the slightest hint of vibration that it was even running. An exhaust note was non-existent. With the transmission in drive, we dodged the morning commuters on our way out of Santa Barbara. Hyundai pointed us towards Buttonwillow Raceway Park, a popular club racing destination several hours away that would require us to trail through the coastal mountains before dropping down into California’s Central Valley. We couldn’t help but think a race track was an odd destination for this large luxury sedan.

Compared to its German rivals (both sporting MacPherson suspension designs in the front and multi-link in the rear), the Genesis matches Lexus with a multi-link set-up fore and aft. Like its Lexus competition, the ride of the new Hyundai is soft and very comfortable. Thanks to an impressively stiff chassis (more rigid than the 5 Series, E-Class, and LS 430) and lightweight aluminum suspension components, it takes bumps and potholes in stride. However, if the vehicle is faced with a set of rhythmic dips in the road, the softly sprung Genesis gently porpoises a bit more than expected. At legal speeds it was hardly noticeable. However, in excess of about 85 mph it became unsettling. While the spring rates seemed adequate, increased damping would stabilize everything in the easily attained triple digits. Of course, the engineer’s compromise on shock valving gave the Genesis a buttery-smooth ride on all but the most undulated roads. Let the Germans keep their occasionally harsh rides to themselves, the Genesis is a luxury car.

The Korean automaker paid careful attention to aerodynamics and wind management. A low drag coefficient (Cd of .27) and an acoustically laminated windshield and front side windows keep the passengers extremely isolated. Independent testing says the Genesis equals the serenity of the Lexus LS 460 over rough pavement, and our ears believed it. It’s what you don’t hear in the Hyundai that matters.

The hushed cabin was the perfect environment to enjoy the premium 528-watt Lexicon sound system and its 11-channel digital amplifier… or so we thought. After adjusting tremble, bass, fader, equalizer and surround mode, we couldn’t get the 17 speakers to vibrate in pleasant harmony. Far from decent FM reception, and without a CD in pocket, we were forced to listen to metallic-sounding satellite radio during our drive, or sing old television tunes. We chose neither.

Arriving at the Buttonwillow track, Hyundai had set up three different challenges for us. The most interesting, and sure to embarrass the luxury-oriented Genesis, was the track course. So, we took it first. With our only instruction to “safely stay on the track,” we were offered freedom to flog both the six- and eight-cylinder models repeatedly. With a bit of apprehension, we grabbed a helmet and a V6 model shod with all-season tires. Knowing it was going to get ugly fast, we left the stability control engaged. To our disbelief, the Genesis did fairly well where the big boys play.

All-season tires slide on a warm track like Crisco on a hot skillet. Without much grip, and soft underpinnings, the Genesis initially rolled like a ship… and then it surprised us by settling down. The RWD chassis and respectfully balanced weight distribution (52:48 on the V6) kept the car relatively stable on the curves as the tires howled and cried in protest. The more powerful V8 didn’t help lap times either. In fact, with more weight over the front wheels (54:46 split); it frustratingly pushed over the front tires (demonstrating understeer) more than its lighter sibling. On both vehicles, the ESC was relatively unobtrusive until the vehicle was in a stupid angle in relation to the intended direction of travel. The brakes, beefy four-piston units that bit hard and consistently lap after lap, were the highlight of the track exercise. As expected, it was far from enjoyable tossing either sedan back and forth through the corners of a road course, but Hyundai had made its point – the “Genesis chassis was certainly up to the task.

The second comparison was a cone-laden slalom pitting each Genesis sedan against a Mercedes-Benz E350. Held in first gear with the stability control defeated, the two Koreans wagged themselves back-and-forth in quick, if not pretty, fashion without tagging a single cone. The German, refusing to stay in a throttle-controlled low gear, followed a bit slower, but just as precisely. Each was out of its element, but it was fun watching chunks of rubber fly off the tires.

The final comparison took place on an unused straight-a-way. It was essentially a “drag race” between the Genesis 4.6 and a BMW 750i. As expected, the lighter and more powerful Genesis won each time.

Leaving the track-terrorized sedans at Buttonwillow, we grabbed a fresh set of keys and drove back to Santa Barbara in a Genesis 3.8 model. Although it was down 85 horses to the V8, the 3.8 model effortlessly passed heavy trucks on the mountain passes. The car was quiet and comfortable for the 150-plus mile ride back to the hotel. While our enthusiast blood naturally migrates towards larger cylinder counts, we couldn’t help but feel the V6 is more than enough engine for this vehicle’s luxury mission. Hyundai, expecting 80% of buyers to choose the Genesis 3.8 model, agrees with us.

Two decades ago, few would have bet that a Japanese economy-car manufacturer would ever dominate the North American luxury-car market. Toyota proved everyone wrong with its picture-perfect introduction of the Lexus brand the following year. While this Korean automaker is as determined – and as financially capable – as its Japanese counterparts, the question isn’t about product. This time, it is about perception and timing. With its first world-class luxury sedan rolling into showrooms later this month, Hyundai’s bold venture is about to be placed in the hands of the consumer.

Source: AutoBlog

Business Week: First Drive 2009 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai hopes its revamped, bargain-priced Sonata sedan can compete with category leaders like the Camry, Accord, and Malibu

Up Front

Quick, name the No. 4 imported car brand in the U.S., after Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. Kudos if you guessed Hyundai, the Korean company that displaced Volkswagen (VOWG) for the No. 4 spot back in 2002, and that has been gradually raising its U.S. market share (currently about 3%) ever since.

Now, quick, what’s arguably Hyundai’s biggest problem in the U.S. market? A cigar to those who fingered the Sonata sedan, the company’s top-selling model. Despite an excellent price, the Sonata’s sales fell 2.6%, to 145,568, last year, and then fell 12.4%, to 35,432, in the first four months of this year. The Sonata’s main competitors are all doing far better as consumers downsize from SUVs to more fuel-efficient family cars:

* Toyota Camry: sales up 5.2%, to 473,108, last year, and up 1.3%, to 147,018, in the first four months of this year.

* Honda Accord: sales up 10.3%, to 392,231, last year and about flat at 122,430 through April of this year.

* Nissan Altima: sales up 22.5%, to 284,762, last year, and up 8.6%, to 99,037, through April of this year.

* Ford Fusion: sales of Ford’s midsize sedan up 4.9%, to 149,552, last year, and up 6%, to 55,109, through April of this year.

* Chevy Malibu: sales were down 21.7%, to 128,312, last year but have soared as the redesigned and much improved 2008 Malibu has caught on with consumers. General Motors reported Malibu sales were up 22.5%, to 59,133, through April of this year.

Little wonder Hyundai has given the Sonata a major facelift for 2009, even though the model was fully redesigned only two years ago. The question now is whether the improvements will be enough to lure shoppers away from the car’s many attractive rivals.

Certainly the 2009 Sonata’s price is competitive–all the more impressive because the car is, too. Pricing starts at $18,795 for a basic GLS with the four-cylinder engine and a stick shift, rising to $26,335 for a Limited with a V6 and a five-speed automatic. Plus, Hyundai is offering $1,500 cash rebates on the new model through June 2, and an additional $500 off for buyers who already own a Hyundai.

At that low price, the 2009 Sonata comes crammed with standard features. Even the base model comes with front, side, and side curtain air bags, antilock brakes, tire-pressure monitors, remote keyless entry, heated power outside mirrors, power windows, doors and door locks, a CD player, a satellite radio antenna and iPod connection, and a tilting steering wheel.

The SE, the Sonata I test-drove at a Hyundai press conference, is the sporty version. It has 17-in. alloy wheels and performance tires, as well as upgraded cloth and leather upholstery and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel. The fancy Limited has 17-in. alloy wheels with all-season tires, plus extra chrome exterior trim, leather upholstery, a premium sound system, wood-grain trim, and two-level heated front seats.

The Sonata’s two available engines are also peppier. The four-cylinder in the 2009 Sonata is rated at 175 horsepower, 13 more than before, and the 3.3-liter V6 at 249 hp, 15 more than before. A five-speed stick shift is standard; a five-speed automatic is standard on the Limited and optional on the less fancy SE and GLS.

Even so, the Sonata now leads its main competitors in fuel economy. Powered by the smaller engine, the Sonata is rated to get 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway–a tad better than its major rivals equipped with a comparable engine. The V6-powered Sonata is rated to get 19/29, which matches the comparable Accord, beats the Camry by a smidgeon, and the other rivals by more than a smidgeon.

The 2009 Sonata also has excellent safety ratings. It scored the top Five Star rating in both front and side crashes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It earned the top “Good” rating in frontal offset crash tests and an “Acceptable” rating in side impact tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The big negative about the Sonata, at least for me, is its bland and forgettable exterior styling. Designers gave the model a more aggressive-looking grille and larger headlights, but that’s about it. Don’t expect the 2009 Sonata to be easy to find in a crowded parking lot, or to turn heads when you’re tooling around the neighborhood.

Also, if you want a car with a youthful image, the Sonata isn’t the model for you. The average age of Sonata buyers is 53, six years older than the average for midsize family sedans generally, according to the Power Information Network (PIN). The youth vote goes to the Nissan Altima, whose average buyer is only 43.

Behind the Wheel

The big improvements in the Sonata are in its interior. The Honda Accord still has the nicest cabin in the segment, in my opinion, but Hyundai has done a lot to further adapt the Sonata to American tastes (and plus-size rear ends). In the 2009 model, the front seats are wider and have longer cushions than before. The center stack is much more elegant-looking and flows nicely into the dash. The blue instrument lighting is attractive. The textured and matte finish on the aluminum interior trim is upscale looking, and wood-grain trim and leather upholstery add a touch of elegance to the Limited.

The Sonata’s total interior volume of 121.7 cu. ft. is greater than that of the Accord, Camry, Altima, and Malibu, Hyundai says. There’s a ton of headroom in both the front and rear seats. Legroom is excellent in the front seat and adequate in back. The Sonata’s 16.3-cu.-ft. trunk is the biggest in its class, and the rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 pattern to create extra hauling space.

In the V6-powered Sonata, acceleration from a dead stop is good, and there’s plenty of oomph at highway speed. Punch the gas at, say, 55 miles per hour, and the car jumps. However, the Sonata doesn’t handle especially well. The steering feels too light and a little wobbly. There’s too much play.

Also, the supposedly sporty SE isn’t very sporty. The manual shifting function isn’t fast or tight. My test SE also had a smooth, Detroit-style ride. If anything, like the ride in Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV, it felt a little boatlike. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because a smooth, soft ride is what many shoppers want. But if sportiness is important to you, the Sonata SE is no match for rivals such as the V6-powered Malibu, which has steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, emits a dull throb when you push the engine, and which has clocked in 6.6 seconds in accelerating from 0 to 60 mph. The two-door coupe versions of the Accord and Altima are also much sportier than the Sonata.

Buy it or Bag It?

Hyundai’s pitch for the 2009 Sonata is that it’s an alternative to compact cars for consumers looking for excellent fuel economy at a low price. The 2009 Sonata’s average selling price is just $19,985, according to PIN. Among its major competitors, only the 2008 Ford Fusion, at an average of $19,566, is cheaper. However, the Sonata has a fuel economy advantage over the Fusion: The four-cylinder Sonata is rated to average 25 mpg (vs. 23 for the equivalent Fusion), and the six-cylinder version gets 22 (vs. 21 for the Fusion).

The Sonata’s other main rivals all average at least $2,000 more. The 2009 Camry goes for an average of $22,106, according to PIN, the 2008 Chevy Malibu for $22,101, and the 2008 Altima for $22,697. By far the most expensive model in the group is the 2008 Honda Accord at $24,280.

The bottom line is that if a low price is your main concern, test-drive the Sonata against the Fusion. If you can afford to pay a bit more, test-drive the Accord, Camry, Malibu, or Altima before buying a Sonata. For one reason or another, I prefer all four of those models to the Hyundai. The new Accord is my favorite of the bunch. But the 2009 Sonata is a heck of a bargain, especially at its current price.

The Good: Low price, many standard features, improved interior and fuel economy

The Bad: Anonymous exterior styling, lack of sportiness

The Bottom Line: Much improved, but still mainly a value purchase

by Thane Peterson
Business Week