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The sixth-generation Hyundai Sonata burst onto the automotive scene seemingly out of nowhere. Featuring a slick, windswept appearance, cutting-edge tech, and excellent value, the 2010 Sonata was a shot over the bows of Honda and Toyota and a turning point, in my opinion, of the Hyundai brand.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata that pulled into the garage this week is less rebellious. The design has been toned down and more upright. It's got a broader appeal, but is also more generic. Styling is subjective, but I think the new car stands out less in the parking lot and turned fewer heads than the last.
One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind upon settling behind the Sonata's wheel was that it has the most uncomfortable front bucket seats that I've tested in recent memory. Flat and wide, hard and unsupportive, you'll slide all over these things while cornering -- especially when upholstered in the slippery leather trim of the Limited model.
In the "pros" column, the Limited model does come fairly well-equipped, featuring standard heated front seats and a rear bench that is heated in the two outboard seating positions, as well. A heated steering wheel is also available as an option. Filling out the list of standard features is a smart keyless entry and push-button start system and the brand's first implementation of the hands-free smart trunk. Simply approach the rear of the vehicle with the keyless entry fob in a pocket, and after a few seconds, the trunk will automatically pop open. This system can be defeated via a menu option if that sounds too spooky for you.
Dashboard tech has also been revised and features updates to the BlueLink telematics system, but the most interesting new feature is also the weirdest, and potentially, the most useless.
On every audio source screen, you'll see a small, yellow icon that indicates and activates the new SoundHound integration. You may recognize SoundHound as a music-identification app for smartphones; it works here just like it does on your phone. Click the button while listening to music on the Hyundai's stereo and the software will silently process the audio and tell you what you're listening to -- artist, album, and song title. The system can also display biographical information about the current artist, which you can read only while parked. This would probably be more impressive if most terrestrial and satellite radio stations, CDs, MP3, and Bluetooth streaming sources didn't already display this data right there on the touchscreen. You may occasionally find it useful if you've got a USB full of "untitled-1.mp3" files or frequently listen to a radio station that doesn't broadcast RDS information, but during my testing it never told me anything I didn't already know.
The Dimension standard audio system features a full range of digital media sources, including USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling, but our example was equipped with the optional Tech package which adds a 10-speaker Infinity premium audio system with a total output of 400W. This checkbox also adds navigation, a massive panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel, cooling ventilation to the front seats, and upgrades the headlights to HID Xenon illumination.
Finally, the automaker's Hyundai BlueLink telematics system has been updated to include a few new tricks, including geofence notifications when the vehicle enters or exits predetermined virtual areas -- useful for knowing when the car leaves your neighborhood without your knowledge or for getting automatic notifications when a teen driver arrives at school. Drivers can also manually share their location or send text messages to preselected recipients after setting up these features on Hyundai's website. It's a bit clunky, but it kinda works.
iPhone toting techies will probably want to wait until next year (2015) to pick up their Sonata when Apple CarPlay connectivity will be added to the sedan's bag of tricks via a midyear refresh. Apple's system has a wildly superior voice-entry system for text messaging and hands-free calling, though some may prefer Hyundai's onboard system to Apple Maps.