2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited and 2.0t First Drive Review By Thom Cannell
2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited and 2.0t
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
In 2008 Sonata put Hyundai on a minuscule list of irresistible cars.
It had style and panache, the good looks that attract the eye and make
moving to a new brand of automobile natural. There was a reason; Sonata
introduced a signature Fluidic Sculpture design language and established
Fluidic Sculpture so firmly in the public mind that a Google search of
“fluidic” returns pictures of the 2009-2014 Sonata, not
waterfalls or plumbing.
So it is that a revised version of Fluidic Sculpture, version 2.0, defines
a more mature car company and a cleaner, less frenetic expression of
Fluidic Sculpture. The lines, folds, and angles describing the 2015 Sonata
in many of its models (Sonata Hybrid is yet unchanged) are less brash or
incisive, more discerning and analytical, less edgy yet equally appealing.
Visually, the 2015 Sonata is well equipped to compete with chief rivals
Camry, Accord, Fusion, and Altima. We wondered if true substance lurked
All of what is new is under the sheet metal skin, below the paint
and inside the doors. Sonata’s engines, while significantly improved,
are unchanged. Hyundai defines the change as Beckham in Stephen Williams
suits, Serena Williams in Michael Costello frocks, primal athletes in
bespoke tailored clothing and it is an apt description. Visually, the 2015
Sonata is identifiable as Sonata, Hyundai, and new. It is leaner, with
signature crisp lines melted into softer, more elegant gestures. In front,
the nose is more expressive, retaining the trapezoidal grille, but wider
and more expressive without any sense of cartoon and tightly bound by new
jewel headlamps incorporating blazing Xenon HID lamps. Below, new corning
lights feature LEDs that will remind you of Audi’s hockey stick.
Their proportions pull the eye forward.
New curves define longer sides beginning at headlamps and stretching to the
rear of cabin glass and from wheel arch to tail lamp. Depending on model:
SE, Limited, Sport or Sport 2.0t, chrome lower accents bring the mind to
elegance or enhanced athleticism. Sport models feature dual exhausts, Sport
2.0t get four pipes for looks and power.
We drove two of the new Sonata after a brief, interesting tour of
Hyundai’s Montgomery, Alabama assembly facility which employs 3,000
and delivers Sonata and Elantra to US dealers. We began a lengthy
evaluation drive through the sweltering Alabama countryside in a white
Limited with every option, priced at $31,575 plus $810 destination.
Immediately we thought its beige interior to be more full-sized than
mid-sized and beige leather seats felt broad enough for any sized bottom,
yet comfortable for all. The next impression was of quietness and freedom
from tire noise despite driving on very coarse pavement. Those roads
normally make a car hiss and crackle like open mike night at a comedy club.
Wind noise was so absent that we didn’t even think about it. Rather
we focused on the broad, three tiered center stack, large 8”
navigation screen, and excellent Infiniti audio system.
Hyundai has simplified the center stack so greatly its almost an oasis,
nearly bland in its operational simplicity of horizontal divisions for
climate control, infotainment buttons, and the 8” touch screen
display which made functions instinctive and refreshingly simple. We did
note a lack of details on the navigation screen deep in the Alabama
Equipped with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, it was easy to invoke
Pandora and cruise to Elektrotango club sounds and Rock and Roll icons.
With an upgraded BlueLink system there are so many ways to reach into the
cloud it’s difficult to pick. You can ask BlueLink for
directions—it’s now powered by Google Search, enter them in the
navigation system, or ask Siri for a destination. The system includes
SiriusXM and 6 channels of rewindable content (plus other presets) plus
traffic, sports scores, fuel prices, and many of those are available
through Apple Car Play and Android Auto as well. There’s so much
technology wrapped under the skin it’s easy to loose sight of simply
listening to music. While Hyundai’s audio brand is good, the 400-Watt
Infinity system is far better and worth the price. Don’t forget,
Hyundai has a smart phone app with start, climate control, remote defroster
and other features like scheduling service and maintenance information.
Our next observations were of excellent material fit with the dash surface
and instruments among the best in class. We didn’t care for the beige
wood grain trim matched to our beige leather interior, yet, later, in the
Sport, we had completely opposite reactions to its faux carbon fiber
inserts. Chris Chapman, Hyundai chief designer, is a fan of firmer soft
surfaces as more robust and comfortable on longer journeys—we concur.
He also challenged designers to pare away those signature Fluidic Sculpture
lines, leaving only necessary elements to create their signature look.
That’s how you transport styling from brash to panache.
On the highways and two-lanes, equipped with a standard 2.4- liter
(185 hp/178 pound feet of torque) engine, Sonata wanted to lope, to run, to
glide ahead with little regard for speed limits. This year the power
(torque) comes on earlier for the 2.4 and turbo models. Few really
understand that it’s torque you feel, not horsepower, and Hyundai has
left a few of those horses in the stable in return for more power leaving
the stop light and accelerating up an on-ram, not to mention passing Good
Sam RVs. Equipped with technology like forward collision warning (we did
not try it out), blind spot detection, lane departure warning and rear
cross traffic alert we felt more luxury than mainstream and why Hyundai
remains a value brand, they call it valuable. One trick we didn’t try
was the delivered by the handsfree key fob. Approach the trunk, wait three
seconds and the trunk opens.
As Sonata is equipped with mode selection for the powertrain (ECO,
normal, sport) we suggest ECO or normal to maximize fuel economy around
town and on casual freeway commutes, sport for any two-lane excursions or
if you enjoy a bit tighter steering and higher revving engine. Mode
selection, with a console mounted selector button, modifies transmission
shift points and steering effort, advancing or holding gear changes for
more apparent passing power and driving precision. Oh, like a majority of
new cars Hyundai equips Sonata with electronic power steering, Limited with
a new column mounted device that is precise with plenty of on-center feel.
Another driving note is that the car drove wonderfully, cornering with
minimal concern for surface imperfections or angle of attack. It just drove
and steered well, feeling larger and more stable than its class size, a car
for the family, for the non-enthusiast, a car for most of us. Part of this
stability is a widened and lengthened wheelbase, part is improved
suspension with improved stiffness in the front MacPherson struts and new
4-link dual lower arm rear suspension. Though it went unmentioned, Hyundai
has recently been validating their tuning with Lotus Engineering.
Playing, we opened the curtain on our optional sunroof. It was huge,
seeming to reach from the windscreen to back window. And opening the sound
absorbing panel did not increase wind noise even a tic. As sunroofs are so
personal, Hyundai makes them an option on Limited models.
Emotionally, the exchange of Limited for the Sport 2.0t was similar to
swapping a comfy Burberry overcoat for skintight Under Armor gym attire!
The difference in feel was so extreme that we failed grasp that it was the
same sized interior. With darker leather seats outlined in russet stitching
and piping, silver-gray faux carbon fiber (it really makes no attempt to
resemble carbon, more like fish scales) and darker, smaller center stack,
the Sport 2.0t felt like a wearable personal car. A true WOW! of
difference, one that would, along with the engine, get our purchase
contract. It’s priced between $23,175 and $26,625 with all available
The 2.0t is defined by several factors beginning with its twin
scroll turbocharged engine, an engine that feels far stronger than its 245
horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque would predict. It’s that
torque curve again. Engineers delivered maximum torque at 1,350 rpm, barely
off idle. This 3,500 pound car measures strongly versus V-6-equipped
competitors in power and fuel economy. What you feel is a surge of power
any time you wish thanks to the dual scroll turbo turbocharger and long,
flat torque curve. Appropriately, there are stronger, larger brakes. They
felt Germanic in their instance that you halt, even with modest pressure
against the pedal. Another unseen addition is a change in the electronic
power assisted steering. The 2.0t uses a different, more responsive system
that mounts the power assist right at the steering rack for greater
precision and driver feel at the steering wheel. We were surprised and
The reason for the quietness, solid ride and handling is due to
Hyundai’s use of advanced high strength steel. It’s harder,
lighter, stronger, which adds rigidity and crash resistance. Along with
stiffer sub-frame bushings the effect is a far more solid car that delivers
its premium feel almost subliminally. All Sonata models use the same
chassis design, differing only in the way damping forces are delivered,
stiffness of the springs, and larger anti-roll bars for the 2.0t.
For this drive we left the drive mode selector in sport, hoping for
more challenging roads. Sometimes Sport mode means a stern and jarring
ride, one that punishes your enthusiasm. Not so here. Together with
standard paddle shifters–and we did play with them—the
combination of ride, handling, brakes, and power created a genuinely
sporting 4-5 passenger sedan. What was missing from our 2.0t Sport was the
thunder of the Infinity sound system we’d come to enjoy. Not to
worry, there is a technology package that includes Infinity with the same
navigation system we’d had in the Limited.
Later this year an even more fuel economical model, the 1.6t Eco model will
go on sale. Equipped with a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct injected engine,
it’s mated to a new 7-speed DCT or dual clutch transmission. DCTs
are, effectively, automated manual gearboxes and deliver 2-7% better fuel
economy than traditional automatic transmissions. All the cool
kids—Audi, BMW, Porsche—offer them. Even though Hyundai has one
of the better fleet fuel economy ratings they’ve built this model
just for customers who want maximum fuel economy. Compared to the most fuel
efficient Sonata, it delivers another 6-7% topping out at 25 City, 37
Highway and 29 mpg Combined. It’s a premium technology, so is priced
a bit higher than SE models but delivers amenities more like the Limited.
We’ll guess the price to start around the $26,000 mark with automatic
headlight control, 5” touchscreen audio and all the usual
iPod/SiriusXM/Bluetooth/Aux, 10-way power driver’s seat, and Yes
Essentials stain proof fabric seats.
In its presentations Hyundai suggested that the SE and Limited were
Sonata’s you’d buy because you needed them, that the Sport
you’d purchase because you wanted it. An apt and fitting description
that does tell the tale of our experience. The Limited delivered
competency, entry luxury features, and solid—if
uneventful—performance. It was quiet, offered standard equipment
above its competitors, and drove with grace. Comparatively the Sport 2.0t
was a driver’s car possessed of similar quietness and competence, but
delivered a few notches above the family focused Limited. Not that
it’s sporting feel won’t fit a family, a young family of any
age, but the more aggressive nature simply appeals to owners who enjoy
driving. If cutting the apex and threshold braking are your style,
it’s your car. If not there are other Sonatas to fit your needs, as
well as wants.
2014 Hyundai Sonata NY Auto Show Press Conference