Hyundai Sonata takes on rivals

This sedan can give the other Asian automakers a run for their money.

It’s actually kind of exciting, or maybe intriguing, to watch Hyundai’s progress through the world of auto sales in the United States.

It’s been here barely 20 Years. It stumbled at first, but it learned its lessons and is now producing a raft of cars that seem able to play strongly in the same sandbox as such Japanese successes as Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

The case in point is the 2009 Sonata, Hyundai’s dead-on competitor to the Camry, Accord and Altima.

So, consider the Sonata. The car comes in three trim levels GLS, SE and Limited and with two different engines, the 2.4-liter four cylinder, 175 horsepower, and 3.5-liter V6 with 249 horses.

Prices range from about $18,000 to a bit more than $27,000. Our tester had the optional $1,250 navigation system (new this year for the Sonata) and had a sticker price of $27,685.

Inside, Hyundai has spruced up the interior with wood accents and all the farkles (that’s a motorcycle term for added goodies) that consumers think are almost standard Bluetooth capability, Homelink garage door opening gizmos, USB/iPod inputs, steering wheel redundant controls, and the like.

All the controls fall readily to hand and the steering wheel is coated with a stitched leather covering Hyundai pays particular attention to interiors, viz. its Veracruz SUV hauler, which strives for (and, to my mind, mostly achieves) a kind of Lexus RX series ambience.

So, yes, the Sonata’s V-6 is smooth, quiet and unobtrusive and the five-speed automatic holds each gear long enough and will hold it even longer if you take advantage of the manumatic shifting, which allows you to choose when to shift. Everything was swimming along quite well, when I encountered a few rough patches of road.

By this I don’t mean Rough Road, just your normal city streets, a block or three that had not seen city work crews for years. When the Sonata’s wheels encountered Pothole No. 1, not to mention Nos. 2 through 5, its suspension jarred noisily.

It sounded, frankly, like an old and worn automobile. It was out of character for the rest of the car.

But it does do well on gas. Even the V-6 gets EPA fuel economy figures of 19 and 29 mpg; the four-banger gets 21 and 32, respectively. And as long as we’re talking numbers, the Sonata’s trunk capacity, at 16.3 cubic feet, is larger than Camry/Accord/Altima, and, yes, there’s a 60/40 split and folding rear seat.

If the new Sonata is any example of what Hyundai can do, the other guys better check their rearview mirrors. Often.

By Michael Taylor
San Francisco Chronicle

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