Week Peek: 2006 Hyundai Sonata - Impressive Concerto
I picked up a brand new (11 miles on the odometer) Hyundai Sonata in a great-looking ebony black that actually seemed to be a dark blue color (great looking blue, though it doesn't exist on the Sonata's configurator site), on a light beige interior. The model was a 3.3 liter GLS V6, with cloth, power moonroof, 5 speed automatic with manual controls, ABS, ESC, 16" alloy rims, and airbags all around. The look is almost Acura TL in the front, and a bit Honda Accord in the back. Neither is a bad thing as both cars are highly successful. I was taking a rental car for a week for work, and really wasn't looking forward to getting another Taurus, so I was very pleasantly surprised to get the new Sonata. How crazy does that sound? Go back 10 or even 3 years (1 year, maybe), and tell someone that...they'd think you were nuts. In fact, my next rental was an Altima, which I think the Sonata competes quite soundly with, and a Taurus, which had me longing for the Sonata. This is the first car to come from Hyundai's new Alabama manufacturing plant, its first in the US. It also features the first engine from the new Lambda family of engines from Hyundai. It would not be surprising to see other Lambda engines in upcoming Mitsubishi and Chrysler Group vehicles. DC, Mitsu and Hyundai formed a joint effort to build small and mid-size cars, with Hyundai in charge of engine development and production. Read on to find out more about this very surprising test.
The First Impression
I climbed into the Sonata, and immediately knew how to use it. The leather-rimmed wheel and shifter feel great, and are sized well. The radio controls are very well placed, and easy to use. Same goes for the HVAC controls, which are actually some of the best I've used so far. Well, at least from a reach and understandability standpoint...more on problems later. Overall, I think the interior was more usable than the Altima, though a touch smaller.
I fired up the 3.3 liter V6, and pulled out of the Hertz lot at Logan Airport in Boston. The engine did a fine job, and the handling was really quite impressive. Was it German-precise? No. But, it was very livable and the car was a fine drive. The Altima was a little more exact in its handling. The brakes functioned well, and didn't seem to get overworked too easily.
Lambda is Greek for Solid Engine
The Lambda powerplant in this unit was quite impressive overall. Power delivery was very smooth, and easy to actuate and modulate with the accelerator. Fuel consumption as also quite impressive. Overall, this is a fabulous effort from Hyundai, but I would expect slightly higher power figures from this engine with more refinement. After all, the Acura TL runs a tenth of a liter smaller engine, yet packs more horsepower and torque. Honda engineers are masters of efficiency and power delivery, so it's no surprise that they can do this with a smaller engine. But, given Hyundai's progress to date, I wouldn't be surprised if Hyundai ups the power ante after a couple of years if they do a mid-life update.
I have to say, overall, I was incredibly satisfied with and impressed by this car. Unfortunately, Boston was in the midst of a heat wave when I took the Sonata from Hertz. I say unfortunately because this is how I learned of the real downfall of this car. The Sonata packs a Max A/C option on the HVAC controls that cuts engine power to fuel more cool juice. It works great for keeping the car cool even when it's closing in on 100 degrees out. Unfortunately, it really seemed to rob power from the engine. When I knew I needed to pass someone on the highway, I'd turn off the Max feature as a sort of turbo button.
My plan was to cool off the car, and then put it back into regular high A/C mode. I soon learned this was not possible. You see, for some reason, turning the Max feature off did restore engine power, but the car became humid and nowhere near cool enough. I tried adjusting the fan speed, and tried using recycled and fresh air, all to no avail. With the extreme heat outside, it wasn't bearable to spend more than five minutes like this, and I had to resort back to the Max A/C setting. I don't know why this would be such an issue for the Sonata. Perhaps the evaporator isn't good enough in the Sonata, or maybe the one I had was just busted. However, given how extremely well the Max A/C feature performed, I think that this is in fact a design flaw that all Sonatas suffer from.
Stack 'Em Up
As I said, I was lucky enough to get into a 2005 Altima and Taurus right after having the Sonata. Let me start with the easy one, the Taurus. I want to apologize to anyone who has and loves a Taurus. To me, it just couldn't be any worse of a car. I would even go so far as to say that the Chevy Lumina, which I think is a horrible car, would have been a better choice. When you are on the highway, it feels like you're breaking 80 when you're barely touching the speed limit. I kept worrying that I'd get pulled over, but I'd look down, and notice that I was doing about 60. When I'd take corners, be they hairpin or sweeping, grip appeared to be out to lunch. This is a major problem in my eyes, especially for a family sedan as it just wasn't safe to me. Sure, tire choice is a huge part of it, but the Sonata blew the Taurus away here. You can get a Taurus for very little money thanks to all of the Ford incentives, possibly making it less than the excellently priced Sonata. But, I wouldn't do it. I would get the Sonata without thinking twice.
The Altima presents a different story. If you want a V6, then the Altima would be far more money than the Sonata. The Altima is larger, and the V6 is extremely powerful, but price-wise, you'd be looking at the 2.5 liter four-cylinder, and comparing it to the Sonata's V6. I have to say, after the Altima's 2005 revision, it is really an exceptional car. Build quality is finally where it should be, size is great, performance is solid...it's a great car. This is a much tougher call. If you can swing the clams, the Altima is worth it to me. If not, the Sonata really seems to be a great car, and not a compromise.
The Final Review
So, for those who have read my other write ups, and think I'm negative on almost everything. I was really surprised by the Sonata, and I think Hyundai's effort really shows. Build quality seems to be good, performance is strong, and the value is high. Sure, Hyundais were cheap before, but not a good value because they weren't good cars. Now, with this new Sonata, the car is good, the warranty is excellent, and for once, competitors should really be scared. Hyundai's slogan really describes what happened here...I drove, and I believe.