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2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Hyundai

2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6

Byte-Bite:If I was working for one of Hyundai's competitors, I'd be worried. Hyundai has arrived.

If your concept of Hyundai is ``cheap Korean car,'' with the emphasis on ``cheap'' as synonym for ``shoddy'' more than ``inexpensive,'' it's time to move out of the 1980s. The Korean-based manufacturer's latest offering, the newest version of its core-model Sonata, is designed and built to go head-to-head with the most popular cars in that most popular class, middle-class sedans.

You will note that I did not say ``mid-size sedan.'' Only the Sonata name is unchanged between the 2005 and 2006 model years. The `06 version is longer, wider, and taller than its predecessor, and has grown enough in interior space to now be classified in the EPA ``large car'' category. All models feature premium levels of safety and comfort equipment as standard fare. As before, and typically for the class, four-cylinder and V6 engines are offered, with three different trim levels. But the engines are new, state-of-the-art designs with more power and improved fuel economy. The 2.4-liter inline four found in GL and GLS four-cylinder models makes 162 horsepower; the 3.3-liter V6 in GLS V6 and LX models produces 237 horsepower.

There is a yet more significant difference between last year's Sonata and the new model - it's built not in Korea, but in an all-new plant near Montgomery, Alabama. It was designed and developed with the American customer foremost in mind, which makes sense as the Sonata is Hyundai's best-selling model in the U.S., its largest market. So the new Sonata trumps its competitors on size, and price, and is competitive on power, refinement, and build quality. I've been driving a GLS V6 for the past week, and if I was working for one of Hyundai's competitors, I'd be worried. Hyundai has arrived.

APPEARANCE: Without looking at the stylized ``H'' logo in the center of the grille, it may be difficult to recognize the 2006 Sonata as a Hyundai. More substantial-looking and angular, it makes a clean break with the past. Although individual styling cues look to be derived from the latest crop of Japanese luxury sedans, the net effect is distinctive. At the front, the old, slightly pinched-looking Hyundai face, with its horseshoe waterfall grille, has been given a total makeover, replaced by a trapezoidal grille accented with a chromed top bar and crossbar that incorporates the Hyundai logo underneath a sculpted hood with raised edges and a concave center section. Combined with wide multi-element projector-beam headlights, the result is a more youthful, less formal look. From the side, a strong shoulder line and semi-formal roofline convey the contemporary look of luxury, which is reinforced by the small ducktail at the trailing edge of the trunk and wide taillights. COMFORT: At a quick glance, the `06 Sonata's interior styling looks to be right out of one of the $30,000-plus Japanese entry-luxury cars. In GLS and LX trim, it has the same two-tone motif, with the darker, anti-glare upper split from the lighter lower section by a strip of wood- or metal-like material, depending on color. A close look shows that the ``wood'' or ``metal'' are imitation (as they are in some of the luxury cars...) and, in the GLS, the upholstery is cloth, with manually-adjustable seats, but the fit and finish are top-notch, and the price is far below $30,000. Leather is standard in the LX, as is a power-adjustable driver's seat. All models have power windows, mirrors, and door locks. The front seats in my GLS test car were comfortable, and the leather-covered tilt-adjustable steering wheel had auxiliary audio and cruise control buttons. Reasonably-sized door pockets, a locking glove box, a toll-holder compartment to the left of the steering wheel, and a dual-layer console box provide good interior storage space. The Sonata's ``large car'' size is most apparent in the rear seat, which provides excellent space and comfort for the two outboard passengers, and reasonable accommodation in the center. It's split 60/40, with locking, for those times when more space is needed than is available in the trunk, but the trunk is large enough that those should be rare occasions. SAFETY: Dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags, and anti-whiplash active front seat headrests are standard equipment on all 2006 Hyundai Sonatas, even the four-cylinder GL, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution, traction control, and an electronic stability control system. The unibody structure has front and rear crumple zones and a strong central safety cage. RIDE AND HANDLING: The 2006 Sonata's fully-independent suspension, with double wishbones in front and a multilink setup in the rear, is tuned in the manner of a contemporary sporty entry-luxury sedan. The springs are soft enough for supple comfort, even on poor road surfaces, while the shock damping is correctly matched for good driving characteristics. A rigid unibody structure and careful engineering of drivetrain and suspension mountings have resulted in low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness. The Sonata is pleasantly quiet and comfortable on the highway, and enjoyable to drive on more interesting roads. The engine speed-sensitive steering is light at city traffic and parking speeds, and heavier at highway speed for better control. PERFORMANCE: Both new Hyundai engines are modern dual overhead cam designs with aluminum blocks and heads and continuously-variable valve timing. The four-cylinder engine has the same 2.4-liter displacement as before, but its 162 horsepower is considerably better than the old engine's 149. It can be matched to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic with ``Shiftronic''(tm) manual-mode shifting. The 3.3-liter V6 in my GLS V6 test car addressed the two weakest points of the earlier Hyundai V6 engines - power and fuel economy. Horsepower is up to 237 (at 6000 rpm) from 181, and torque has increased from 177 lb-ft to 228 (at 3500 rpm). Despite these significant, and very noticeable differences, fuel economy has improved from EPA 20/27 to 20/30, in large part because of the new five-speed Shiftronic automatic that comes with the V6. It works well in automatic mode for all everyday driving, and can be easily shifted manually for optimum performance on secondary roads. CONCLUSIONS: With a new look, new power, and a new, larger size, the 2006 Hyundai Sonata is an interesting new entry in the middle-class sedan category. SPECIFICATIONS 2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6

Base Price			$ 20,895
Price As Tested			$ 20,895
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
				 with continuously-variable valve timing
Engine Size			3.3 liters / 204 cu. in.
Horsepower			237 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			228 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic with Shiftronic (r)
				 manual mode
Wheelbase / Length		107.4 in. / 188.9 in.
Curb Weight			3458 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.6
Fuel Capacity			17.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		89 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				215/60 VR16 Michelin XSE
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 30 / 23
0 to 60 mph				est. 8.2  sec