With an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and a new transmission, the latest Sonata is a strong choice for those who want a little fun on their commute.
Way back when I was a teenager, I went to prom in a Hyundai. I got a little bit of flak from some of my friends for not joining them in a fancy-pants limo, but my date and I decided to splurge on a nice dinner and share the embarrassment of showing up at the social event of the year in a cheap Korean import.
Oh how times have changed. The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is something my 17-year-old self would be proud to prom in. It's been redesigned for its eighth generation, with new technology, sheet metal, suspension components and transmission.
The Sonata, Hyundai's midsize sedan, slots in between the budget Elantra and the luxury-focused Azera, which is still available as a 2017 model. The Sonata is available in SE, SEL, Sport and Limited trim with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine, but I spent my time in the more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is only available in the Sport and Limited trims.
Every trim level of the new Sonata comes standard with blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assistant. A new lane-keep-assist technology is standard on the Limited 2.0T trim, and available on the SEL and Limited trims. The system gently steers the car back into the lane if you drift outside the markers without signaling. It's so gentle it's tough to feel it working, yet it smoothly slides the car back into proper position on the road.
Hyundai's adaptive cruise control functions well in stop-and-go traffic, bringing the Sonata to a full stop behind a lead car and taking off again after a brief pause. This feature, as well as emergency automatic braking, has the same availability as the lane-keep-assist technology. If you want driver's aids standard, you should look at the Honda Accord, which makes these features standard on all trims save for the base model. Toyota does one better, offering this technology standard across all trim lines of the new 2018 Camry.
Hyundai's excellent Blue Link infotainment system is displayed on a 7-inch touchscreen standard, although an eight-inch screen is optional. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the former a bit glitchy for me. At first Apple CarPlay would only read incoming text messages through my phone, not the car's speakers. However, after plugging and unplugging the phone, the problem fixed itself.
Regardless, Blue Link is pretty slick, with a customizable home screen and an optional navigation system that includes Google local search. One box destination entry lets you easily find addresses or points of interest.
There are a few little tech touches that make the Sonata stand out from the crowd. Qi wireless charging is standard on the Limited 2.0T trim and available on Limited. All but the SE trim have a second-row USB charge port standard.
Although the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the same as 2017, making 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the eight-speed automatic transmission is all new. But Hyundai didn't stop there, revising the rear suspension and steering system to improve responsiveness and handling. On the back roads of northern California, I found the Sonata to be a spry little sedan, indeed.
The Sonata's responsive automatic transmission is great at gear selection. It's eager to downshift on corner exits and holds the revs for quite some time, even when driving in Comfort mode. Switch to Sport and the transmission holds them for a bit longer and shifts even quicker. There are paddle shifters if you want to get down and dirty, but left to its own devices this new transmission is one of the sportiest I've encountered in a while.
Eco mode isn't an exercise in frustration, either. Sure, it upshifts quicker for better gas mileage, but it's far from annoying. It will downshift easily for passing and when accelerating from a dead stop, so that it's tough to tell the difference between Comfort and Eco mode. The naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine takes a huge hit in power, down to 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque and mated to the six-speed automatic transmission from 2017. I haven't sampled this combination, but presumably the smaller power output and older transmission would put quite a damper on the fun.
The recalibrated steering offers quick inputs and a good on-center feel. There is no torque steer, even upon heavy acceleration from a dead stop and I didn't notice any understeer while flinging the sedan through the twisties. Very impressive, Hyundai.
However, the Sonata 2.0T fell short of its EPA combined fuel rating of 26 miles per gallon. During my week with the sedan, I only averaged 23.2 mpg. However, I tend to drive with a rock on my right foot at all times, so your mileage may vary.
For 2018 the Sonata gets a new aggressive front end, with what the Korean automaker is calling a "cascading grille." LED daytime running lights are now standard on the 2.0T trims and the available LED headlights with dynamic bending light are larger than last year, bringing even more emphasis to the new grille.
In the rear, the available LED taillights are trimmer for 2018 and the license plate has been moved lower, bringing an uninterrupted, smooth line from the top of the trunk lid to the bumper. A soft-touch button in the center Hyundai logo opens the trunk. It's pretty cool.
Although the mid-size sedan segment is cooling a bit thanks to America's obsession with crossovers, there are still plenty to choose from. The Toyota Camry has been improved for 2018 and can be had with 301 horsepower, although that power comes at a few thousand dollars more. The Honda Accord is priced quite similarly and is available with a six-speed manual transmission, if that's your bag. The Mazda6 has been my sedan of choice, though it was down on power. However, the 2018 model boasts a new turbocharged engine for 310 ponies.
If I were headed to the dealership, I'd just go right for the 2.0T Limited, if only because adaptive cruise control isn't available in the slightly less expensive 2.0T Sport and I loved the extra power in the turbocharged engine. However, if I were willing to give up some hustle, I'd look at the SEL trim for $23,700 and add the technology package for $1,000, tacking on adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking.
The 2018 Hyundai Sonata starts at $22,050 for the base SE, but my top of the line Limited 2.0T moves that entry point up to $32,450. Although the driver's aids aren't available on all trim lines, it's a fun and affordable sedan that surprised me with its agility and good looks.