Car Review: 2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited

Overview Mid-sized family sedan with luxury pretensions
Pros Smooth, comfortable, roomy, loaded
Cons Average power from base four-cylinder
Value for money Good
What would I change? AWD would make a good option

Over the past six generations, Hyundai’s mid-sized Sonata family sedan has morphed from cheap and crappy to cheap and second-rate, cheap and reliable, inexpensive and competitive, and inexpensive and well-contented, ending with stylish, competitive and desirable. With the brand-new, seventh-generation 2015 model, Hyundai is aiming for affordable luxury, at least with its high-end Limited trim level.

If it was possible to drive for a distance at a steady speed with your eyes closed (professional drivers only; don’t try this at home), I could make the argument that Hyundai has succeeded with the attempt — the front-wheel-drive Sonata 2.4 Limited tester is ridiculously quiet and smooth in operation. It’s only when the standard 2.4-litre naturally aspirated Theta II four is given a healthy prod — such as merging onto the highway from a short on-ramp — does the engine betray its number of cylinders and its output with an average-for-a-family-sedan 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. It’s not that the car is slow; it just doesn’t have the sort of snap one might reasonably expect after shelling out $32,999 for the upscale-minded Limited.

Cabin-wise, the new Sonata provides a spacious, calming and high-end environment in which to while away the kilometres.

Cabin-wise, the new Sonata provides a spacious, calming and high-end environment in which to while away the kilometres.
Brian Harper, Driving

To have your cake and get to eat it, too, you need to fork over another $1,800 for the Sport 2.0T Ultimate model, which gives you all the deluxe features of the Limited as well as the fun engine, a zingy 245-hp 2.0L twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder, mated to a six-speed manumatic complete with paddle shifters. So, it’s not like the company is leaving its customer base hanging.

First Drive: 2015 Hyundai Sonata

But, if a sport sedan is not part of your plan and your preference is to take a drive on the mild and comfy side, there’s very little to complain about the Limited trim. And, like I said, it’s not that the models fitted with the 2.4L are slow, just a little too average for my liking.

Now, the car’s dynamic can be tweaked slightly via three available drive modes that tie together the engine, transmission and the Motor-Driven Power Steering (MDPS). For increased fuel efficiency, Eco delivers the softest throttle response and recalibrates transmission response to upshift earlier. Sport increases the powertrain responsiveness and provides a heavier steering weight. Normal splits the two, balancing throttle response, gear changes, and steering weight. Bear in mind, though, that the three modes are rather nuanced in their differences, so punching the Sport mode isn’t going to transform the car into a BMW 5 Series, nor will Eco make it a Prius.

While it's not slow, the base powertrain on the Sonata does lack drama when compared to its rivals.

While it’s not slow, the base powertrain on the Sonata does lack drama when compared to its rivals.
Brian Harper, Driving

While the base powertrain lacks the drama to go with its sophistication, the all-new chassis is certainly worthy of kudos. A huge increase in the amount of high-strength steel noticeably improves rigidity, allowing Hyundai’s engineers greater flexibility in tuning the suspension with the goals of improving the car’s road manners and achieving reductions in noise, vibration, and harshness. Their efforts have paid off handsomely as the Sonata has a very cosseting ride while still providing good road feel. Steering feel has been improved thanks to a more rigid steering column and subframe bushings, subject to which mode is selected to modify the MDPS.

Depending on the trim level, the Sonata is loaded up, with a full menu of driver assistance technologies, including a Forward Collision Warning system, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, a lane departure warning system and more. In the case of the Limited tester, all of the above are standard and, in heavier traffic situations, quite useful.

Admittedly, it took me several days to begin appreciating the 2015 Sonata’s substantial exterior redesign. I was a huge fan of the previous generation’s swept back, aerodynamic look, what Hyundai termed “fluidic sculpture.” It was an avant-garde design that caught a lot of rival automakers flatfooted, forcing them to step up their game with their family sedans.

With the new model, termed “fluidic sculpture 2.0,” Hyundai has taken a slightly more conservative approach with the car in order to bring it closer in line with the sport/luxury-oriented Genesis sedan. Oh, the 2015 is still a handsome car, with clean lines, distinct fender flares and bold hexagonal grille, it’s just not as easy to pick out of a crowded family sedan lineup as last year’s model.

2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited

2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited
Brian Harper, Driving

Cabin-wise, the Sonata provides a spacious, calming and high-end environment in which to while away the kilometres. It’s easy to see efficient ergonomics were stressed as the primary controls are laid out logically and well marked. The Limited’s large, eight-inch touchscreen displays the usual items, the best being a very clear and readable navigation map. Hyundai makes much of the car’s irregularly shaped steering wheel with increased rim thickness and ergonomic grip rests, citing its enhanced feel. To me it’s just a steering wheel, but it does feel good in my hands, which, I suppose, is the point.

A shout-out is warranted for the sedan’s rear-seat accommodations. Even with the front seat set for my 6-foot-2 frame, I had more than enough legroom and headroom in the back row in which to stretch out. In fact, in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency lists the 2015 Sonata as a “large” car for its interior volume.

Although the new Sonata did not immediately blow me away as did the debut of the previous model, the more I drove it, the more impressed I became with the myriad improvements. Those shopping for a roomy, comfortable and well-engineered family sedan will find Hyundai has upped the stakes in this segment. And by not giving it due consideration in favour of the usual suspects — Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, etc. — is to do the Sonata a serious disservice.

The exterior look of the redesigned Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited is more conservative when  compared to its more swoopy predecessor.

The exterior look of the redesigned Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited is more conservative when compared to its more swoopy predecessor.
Brian Harper, Driving

The Specs

Type of vehicle Front-wheel-drive mid-sized sedan
Engine 2.4L DOHC four-cylinder
Power 185 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 178 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission Six-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires P215/55R17 (Limited)
Price (base/as tested) $23,999/$32,999
Destination charge $1,695
Natural Resources Canada fuel economy (L/100 km) 9.8 city, 6.7 highway
Standard features (2.4 Limited) Dual-zone automatic climate control, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display with navigation system and rear-view camera, heated and ventilated leather front seats, power driver’s seat, rear heated seats, Bluetooth, LED daytime running lamps, heated steering wheel, proximity keyless entry with push-button ignition, rear parking assistance sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual chrome exhaust outlets, panoramic sunroof, Infinity AM/FM/SiriusXM/CD/MP3 audio system with nine speakers and external amp, side-window sun shades, HID headlamps with High Beam Assist, LED tail lamps, automatic trunk lid, blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control system with forward collision warning, lane departure warning

About Brian Harper