Road test: 2015 Hyundai Sonata

The improved Sonata is fit to rival entry-level luxury cars.

The new Hyundai Sonata takes some exterior visual design cues from its bigger brother, the Genesis. Courtesy Hyundai Motor Company
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No one really builds bad cars ­anymore. Sure, some of them may not measure up to their competition, but overall, quality – if not reliability, in some cases – has improved greatly over the past few years. That’s good for you, the consumer, but not so good for motoring journalists, however.

We revel in picking apart bad cars; it’s our job, after all, to point out the flaws, as well as the virtues, of everything we drive. I’d like to think that, in doing so, we have a hand in making cars better, though that might be a bit conceited.

So, in light of the fact that there aren’t many truly bad cars these days, we often find ourselves commenting about the little things, which can be important if you live with a car on a daily basis.

However, every so often you come across a car that exceeds your expectations; something that you find very difficult to find a fault with. If it’s a pleasure to drive, then it’s a pleasure to write about. And one of those cars is the 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

Yes, strong words. But the South Korean manufacturer has come a very long way with its cars, especially in the past decade, and has slowly been refocusing its products less on low price and more on value; consider that the base-model Sonata costs the same as the previous generation, yet has more standard equipment and is a much better drive.

It has also improved its reliability and quality, too: Hyundai as a company has been ranked fourth on the latest reliability list by the American market-­research company J D Power & Associates, behind Porsche, Lexus and Jaguar – all premium ­carmakers.

So, good things to think about. But they sort of pale in comparison when you take your first look at this new Sonata; it’s a completely redesigned car, and what a job they did. The new Sonata looks more like Hyundai’s larger flagship, the Genesis, with a coupé-like sloping roof, sharper creases and aggressive front-end, for a more sophisticated look than its predecessor. Couple that with a chrome accent that runs along the belt line from the front headlights, and this could very well be the best-looking car in the midsized class.

Paradoxically, the body is slightly bigger than the last version (though is still around the same size as other cars in this class), but the all-new interior has somehow been designed large enough to be classed as a full-sized car by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. It’s easily the roomiest in its segment and one of the nicest, too. The steering wheel is thick and wrapped in leather. The switchgear is assembled logically and feels upscale to the touch. The cabin has a mixture of soft-touch rubber and other accents for a tasteful, elegant look; it’s a nice place to be if you happen to be stuck on Sheikh Zayed Road in traffic.

Even the base model is well appointed, with Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera and blind-spot detection. Go up to the Sport 2.0T Ultimate and the Sonata will embarrass other cars worth many thousands of dirhams more. That car features a panoramic sunroof, rear-window shades, an eight-inch touch-screen infotainment centre, adaptive cruise control, rear heated seats and heated and ventilated seats up front. And as for safety – again, depending on the model – Hyundai offers lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, driver’s knee airbag and a very helpful rear cross-traffic alert, which warns of oncoming traffic when you’re backing out of a parking spot or onto a road; you know how difficult that is to do safely in the UAE.

Hyundai offers two engines for the Sonata: a 2.4L in-line four and a turbocharged 2.0L T. No V6? No need. Both engines have less power than their predecessors, but make up for it with more torque available sooner; the 185hp 2.4L is more than capable, while the 245hp 2.0L adds a very noticeable zip to acceleration. And a completely redesigned chassis, using 51 per cent high-strength steel that makes it 41 per cent more rigid than that of the previous model, has solved Hyundai’s traditional problem of vague handling; the Sonata is composed and lithe, with a taut yet giving ride that stays relatively flat in the corners. It’s much improved over the last model, and just as good or better than anything in the midsized category.

The Sonata is so good that it could be a very reasonably priced yet satisfying alternative to an entry-level luxury car. I know that, especially in the image-obsessed Emirates, the badge is all-important to some. Because of this, the new Sonata isn’t for everyone – perhaps only for those who know the difference between price and value for money.

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