If this were America, and Autocar an American magazine, we’d probably really like the new Hyundai Sonata.
In the US, car buyers are less fussy about the badge, and appreciate any change from the gauche styling and cheap plastics of ‘domestic’ offerings. Over there, where it’s really important, the new Sonata will sell well, its success central to Hyundai’s plan to be the world’s fifth-largest car maker by 2010.
But it doesn’t look quite as good in the UK. Here the Sonata’s image is still a problem. We’re not being snobs; the simple fact is that the used market has no time for big cars from mainstream European makers, let alone Koreans. Our approach to the new Sonata is coloured by the awful vision of trying to sell one three or four years hence for a very small percentage of what it cost.
Ignore that and the Sonata isn’t bad. At least Hyundai is honest in naming the Audi A6 as the inspiration for the styling – from some angles the plagiarism is staggering. It isn’t attractive, but it’s a marked improvement on the old car. The lines disguise the car’s size well and it has a better-integrated, more European profile than we’re used to from Hyundai.
Inside, some of the materials, like the expensive, slush-moulded dash-top or the leather-rimmed steering wheel feel properly premium, but elsewhere cheap plastics and sharp edges lower the average. The cabin architecture isn’t much to look at, but it’s well thought out, with big cubbies, lots of cupholders and clear switchgear. There’s also masses of head and kneeroom in the back and the boot is big and a regular shape.
The 159bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine drives the 1463kg Sonata through a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto (a 2.2-litre diesel will follow by the end of the year). The big four generates enough torque (161lb ft) to provide decent acceleration, but no real pleasure. It’s a reluctant revver, and the manual ’box has a positive but over-long shift action. The steering is quite weighty but entirely mute. Body control is good but the payoff is a firm ride with a lot of suspension thump over bigger intrusions.
Americans will have another reason to like the Sonata; over there it will start at under £10,000. Prices for the UK have yet to be set but will be around £1000 higher than the £14,495 of the current cloth-trimmed 2.0-litre base car. Good value, but not quite good enough.