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2009 Hyundai Sonata Preview - VIDEO ENHANCED

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Just a Bit Better for 2009
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The serviceberry trees along eastbound Geddes Road, near Ann Arbor glowed with millions of tiny brown and white flowers as the soft spring light dappled through intermittent clouds. We pulled in at the gleaming Hyundai/Kia research and development facility for a look at the freshened Sonata, Hyundai’s bread-and-butter mid-sized sedan.

It’s tough competing with Camry, Altima, Malibu, Fusion, Accord and all the other great products in that category, but somehow Hyundai continues to match content at usually a few grand less than the others. Quality improves steadily and with this mid-run update style, content and ambiance keeps up reasonably well.

From the outside Sonata is little changed – just enough to distinguish it from its progenitor. Headlights, grille and taillights are tweaked with a bit more chrome and a more refined appearance. It remains a mighty conservative look, but I predict it will continue to appeal to 150,000 buyers a year.

Click PLAY to watch "Engineering the 2009 Sonata: One Degree of Separation"

Inside is where the more significant changes jump out at us, particularly around the center stack. Considerably simpler in appearance and functionality, the controls appear way less busy and complex. Climate and audio controls become more easily managed and intuitive. And ditto for the nav system. While we didn’t have a chance to fiddle with all the functions it appears to be at least the equal of US competitors, which in my view means much simpler and more easily managed than the Germans. Standard are connections for USB powered devises, iPod and MP3s.

Under the hood we find power is up just a tad. Both the 3.3-liter V6 and the 2.4-liter I4 see modest boosts in horsepower and torque. The former now makes 249 horsepower (up from 234) and the latter increases to 175 from 162. The I4 is rated at 22/32 mpg and the V6 at 19/29. A new 5-speed automatic with manual mode is available in to mate with the I4 and comes standard with the V6.

In terms of handling we found it to be smooth and gentle but just firm enough for most tastes. Ride is about 10% stiffer than the past model but certainly won’t put off any customers who like that soft feel. Body roll is modest. A special sport-tuned suspension is available though you won’t mistake it for a real sport sedan in the BMW sense.

To Hyundai’s credit the Electronic Stablilty Control is standard on all Sonatas, as is the entire list of safety features, like ABS with Brake Assist, Traction Control and six airbags and active head restraints.

Sonata comes in 3 iterations: entry level GLS, mid-level with more sporty character SE and fully-equipped luxury model called Limited. The GLS with I4 engine starts at $18,795 and the Limited with V6 starts at $26,345, and are arriving at dealers now.

We’ll be doing a full road test on the 2009 Sonata soon – so, stay tuned to

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved