Review: 2002 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 Shiftronic

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SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    You've got to start somewhere, and that somewhere is often at 
the bottom. When the Japanese manufacturers abandoned the ultra-
low priced entry-level class to concentrate on everything from only 
slightly more expensive compacts to luxury cars, the Koreans 
stepped in at the bottom of the automotive food chain.

    Hyundai was one of the first Korean automakers to do business 
here under its own name. Early Hyundais were pretty basic in 
specification, and lacking in refinement, but they satisfied a need. 
However, growth does not take place in stasis. In the years 
following its entry into the U.S. market, Hyundai has increased its 
lineup, and, more importantly, it has increased the quality and 
refinement of its offerings, illustrating the difference between 
``cheap'' and ``inexpensive.'' ``Cheap'' can mean ``poor quality'' or 
``shoddy,'' not good things. ``Inexpensive,'' for those of us without 
unlimited incomes, is a mighty good thing.

    About a year ago I had the opportunity to drive the then-new 
Hyundai Elantra, and was very impressed. In construction quality, 
fit and finish, and appointment, it was as good as, or better than, 
cars costing thousands of dollars more. More recently I spent a 
week with the newly-revised 2002 Hyundai Sonata. Same 
impressions as for the Elantra: the Sonata compares favorably with 
all and any of the established middle-class, mid-sized sedans on the 
market. Hyundai is serious, and will be a force to be reckoned with 
in any class in which it competes.

    As with most mid-sized imports, the Sonata is available with 
four-cylinder or V6 engines. New styling front and rear is the most 
obvious difference in the 2002 Sonata, but there is more. The 
interior has been freshened as well. And, more importantly, 
suspension revisions improve ride and handling characteristics and 
the V6 has been increased in size from 2.5 liters to 2.7. The 
optional automatic transmission has ``Shiftronic'' manual mode, a 
feature more common in the entry-luxury class than in the family 
sedan class.

    My week was spent with what used to be the top-level Sonata, 
the GLS V6. With its excellent fit and finish, good comfort and 
handling, and comprehensive standard equipment list, it could pass 
for a car costing considerably more. And if leather upholstery and 
power accessories push your buttons, there is the new LX model. 
In any trim, the Hyundai Sonata offers upscale finish and features 
for a decidedly non-upscale price.

APPEARANCE: Styling revisions to the 2002 Sonata help establish 
a Hyundai family look. The horseshoe-shaped grille has a black 
``waterfall'' design that highlights the Hyundai ``H'' logo and is 
surrounded by bright chrome. It is flanked by kidney-shaped 
headlights that define the front fender line. The sides feature a 
sharp, high character line. Complex taillights define the rear of the 
car. A tasteful amount of chrome trim on the bumper inserts and 
side rub strips, and around the side windows and rear license plate 
mounting, gives the Sonata an upscale European look without 
being pretentious. Ten-spoke alloy wheels are new for the GLS and 
LX models.

COMFORT: In GLS trim the Sonata is comfortable and honest, 
with soft synthetic upholstery, manual seat operation, and a good 
manual climate control system. Leather on the adjustable steering 
wheel and wood grain trim on the center stack, doors, and central 
console adds an entry-luxury touch. Controls and instruments are 
placed well, and the shift lever is in easy reach. The front buckets 
are offer good support, and the rear contoured bench has good 
legroom for the car's size. It folds 60/40 for extra cargo space when 
necessary. The roomy trunk has a protected latch and external 
struts, both of which save wear on luggage. Air conditioning, 
power windows, mirrors, and door locks, with remote entry, cruise 
control, and an AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo system  are all standard 
equipment on all Sonata trim levels.

SAFETY: All Sonata models have a sturdy safety cell around the 
passenger compartment, with front and rear crumple zones and side 
door beams. Front and front-seat-mounted airbags are standard.

ROADABILITY: A rigid uni-body structure and well-designed fully-
independent suspension with double wishbones at the front and a 
multi-link setup at the rear give the Sonata very good road manners 
and a quiet, refined ride. It's very middle-of-the-road, softer than 
sports but firm enough for maneuverability, with none of the 
``floatiness'' that is the result of too-soft springs and dampers. 
Correct matching of spring and shock absorber rates gives ride 
comfort above its price class. Indeed, the Sonata is as quiet and 
comfortable in ride quality as any middle-class mid-sized car, even 
those that are significantly more expensive.

PERFORMANCE: The Sonata GLS's 24-valve, dual overhead cam, 
aluminum alloy V6 engine now has a 2.7 liter displacement, with 
output increased to 181 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 177 lb-ft of 
torque at 4,000 rpm. Smooth and quiet, it is every bit as refined as 
offerings from any competitors, and is aided by a smoothly-shifting 
four-speed automatic transmission with ``fuzzy logic'' computer 
control for better performance and fuel economy. There are no 
intermediate shift positions in the shift gate. For manual control, 
merely put it in ``Shiftronic'' mode and shift manually. This works 
very well, and can add enjoyment to driving, but the transmission 
performance is good enough that manual shifting is rarely necessary. 
While four-cylinder Sonatas have rear drum brakes, V6 models have 
four-wheel discs.

CONCLUSIONS: Hyundai is becoming a serious presence in the 
auto industry.

SPECIFICATIONS
2002 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 Shiftronic

Base Price			$ 17,499
Price As Tested		$ 18,118
Engine Type			Dual overhead cam, 24-valve, aluminum alloy V6                                          
Engine Size			2.7 liters / 162 cu. in.
Horsepower			181 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			177 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			4-speed electronically-controlled automatic with manual           
                                               shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		106.3 in. / 186.9 in.
Curb Weight			3254 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	18.0    
Fuel Capacity			17.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		89 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/60 HR16 Michelin Pilot MXV4 XSE

Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, antilock optional
                                                
Suspension, front/rear            independent double wishbone with coil springs / 
                                                independent multilink with coil springs
                                               
Drivetrain			 front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Carpeted floor mats			$  86
Trunk cargo net			        $  38
Inland freight and handling		$ 495
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