Ever since the first photos of thedropped earlier this year, I’ve found it impossible to have a conversation about this car without first and foremost discussing its design. I’ll cut right to the chase: The new Sonata is absolutely stunning.
You’ll be able to see for yourself when the 2020 Sonata makes its debut at the New York Auto Show in April. But after a day of testing Hyundai’s new midsizer in and around Seoul, South Korea, I’m here to tell you the Sonata is more than just a pretty face.
The shape of things to come
Despite being sold in the US since 1988, the Hyundai Sonata was long a wallflower of the midsize sedan segment. That all changed when the sixth-generation model arrived in 2010, its “Fluidic Sculpture” styling and solid value quickly escalating it toward the top of the class. (Even if it was followed up by a decidedly conservative face-lift in 2014.)
As far as I’m concerned, this 2020 Sonata is a similarly huge step forward.
Hyundai calls its new design language “Sensuous Sportiness,” and elements of this sculpting will gradually make their way to other models. The Sonata is a car that has serious visual interest — every time I look at it, I find something new to like. Different elements strike you depending on where you stand. Walk around the car, and you’ll see how the different lines and clever sculpting seem to change the design’s shape before your eyes.
The front end stands out for a couple of reasons. It’s hard to tell in photographs, but the Sonata’s nose is seriously low to the ground. Drive up alongside a Honda Accord and you’ll notice a huge difference. The way the hood gradually tapers off is almost Aston Martin-like in its design. That the hood extends all the way to the edge without any harsh cutline only works to enhance this bit of beauty.
Then you have the running lights — or, what you think are running lights. The LED strips in the headlamp clusters meet backlit chrome strips that extend up the length of the hood, cutting just before the wheel arch. When the car is off, they just look like chrome strips. But when the lights are on, they provide an incredible LED signature unlike anything else on the road. This gorgeous light treatment isn’t just reserved for upper-crust models, either. Every single US-spec Sonata gets this setup.
Step around back and you’ll see another strong LED element, with a full-width light strip that connects the small taillamp clusters on either side. But on your way to view that rump, stop and check out the Sonata’s profile, where you’ll really get a sense of just how raked that roofline is. Combined with the supershort rear deck and its graceful uptick, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Sonata for a hatchback. (Though considering how this design makes for a smaller-than-average trunk opening, I wish Hyundai had just gone all-in on actual hatchback functionality.)
Turbo models will get a slightly reworked front fascia, which I don’t like nearly as much as the standard car. You can see it in the gallery we’ve included here;, and a similarly dark lower valence. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it sort of ruins the front end’s elegance. Oh, and those vents in front of the wheels are fake. Why?!
Pretty as the standard Sonata is, there are a few things I’m not sold on. Namely, the black accent strip that goes up and over the license plate housing, which adds unnecessary busyness to the otherwise gracious rear end. On top of that (literally), I’m also not sold on the aero pins that protrude from the taillights. These are small nits to pick, of course.
Premium touches, but short on space
By contrast, the Sonata’s cabin is almost an exercise in restraint. The dashboard and doors are devoid of serious sculpting, with the most interesting visual elements coming by way of the curved infotainment screen housing, and pretty little details like the almost Bentley-like knurling on the tips of the turn signal and windshield wiper stalks. Even the climate control panel feels like something out of Audi or BMW, with its digital temperature readouts housed in stylized metal knobs. And like several of those high-end automakers, Hyundai offers the Sonata with myriad ambient lighting choices — 64 colors, available on all trims but the base SE.
I do find some things a little off, like the overly stylized push-button gear selector, and the weird, four-spoke design of the steering wheel seems a bit overwrought. The black-and-white color palette of the car pictured here doesn’t really do the Sonata justice, either. Spec your car with the tan leather trim, and the cabin has a much warmer appearance.
The headliner is supersoft, and all the door and center console panels are made of really high-quality materials. Nappa leather lines the sets of this Limited test model, with quilted stitching around the shoulders of the seats. Even in this early, preproduction tester, the Sonata exhibits a level of luxury and fit and finish that bests many bona fide luxury brands. Buick, Cadillac and Infiniti ain’t got nothin’ on this Hyundai.
The 2020 Sonata is less than 2 inches longer than its predecessor, with most of that length found between the wheels. That means there’s slightly more legroom than before, but the Sonata still isn’t the most spacious car in its class. Critically, as much as I love that sloping roofline, it takes a toll on interior headroom — even at just 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and with the front seats in their lowest positions, I sit too close to the ceiling for comfort. My taller passengers definitely noticed this, too.
An impressive tech roster
The base Sonata SE comes with an 8-inch display audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, but on SEL, SEL Plus and Limited grades, you can spec a pair of big, high-resolution screens. In front of the driver sits a 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster, as well as a head-up display, and atop the dash sits a 10.2-inch touchscreen, running Hyundai’s latest infotainment system. (If you’re wondering where you’ve heard of this 12.3-and-10.2-inch screen pairing before, it’s what Mercedes-Benz uses in its.) The infotainment system works well enough — essentially a larger, split-screen version of the interface we’ve seen in Hyundai and Genesis products for a few years now. Touch response is immediate, which is good, since the Sonata doesn’t offer any sort of redundant controller on the center console.
The 12.3-inch gauge cluster offers different skins based on your selected drive mode (not to mention some rad animations when you switch between them), and can show trip data, navigation directions or media information between the two gauges. I particularly like the way Hyundai integrates the Sonata’s Blind View Monitor, a standard feature on the Limited trim that’s like a more robust version of Honda’s LaneWatch tech. Cameras on either side of the car show you what’s in your blind spot, and it’s displayed in either the right or left gauge, depending on which turn signal you’ve activated. For what it’s worth, Hyundai’s sister company, Kia, already offers this on the new K900 sedan.
More impressive than the infotainment tech is the Sonata’s list of advanced driver assistance systems — or, specifically, how many of them are standard. All Sonatas come with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-follow assist and driver attention warning.
The only optional ADAS feature is Hyundai’s Highway Driving Assistant, which combines the use of the adaptive cruise and lane-follow tech to offer partially autonomous driving, sort of like Nissan’s ProPilot system. On the highways around Seoul, the Highway Driving Assistant worked a treat, smoothly steering the Sonata around curves and keeping the sedan centered in its lane.
Hyundai will also introduce its new Digital Key tech with the 2020 Sonata, which will allow you to lock and unlock the car, as well as turn it on and off, from your smartphone. Digital Key can also be shared between several people, allowing you to grant friends and family members access to your Sonata. Go one step further and link a friend’s profile with the Sonata’s infotainment system, and the car will remember things like individual seat positions, sound settings, navigation information, lighting preferences, even the start-up welcome chime. If you live in a household where you and a partner share a car, this is a way to avoid having to make adjustments every time you switch drivers.
Finally, the top-end Sonata Limited will get Hyundai’s first application of its Remote Smart Parking Assistant. If you want to park in a tight space, you can line the Sonata up with the open spot, get out of the car and use your key fob to remotely move the car forward or backward in and out of the space. It’s slick, and yes, this tech will be offered in the US.
Slow and steady
Hyundai will introduce a new family of “Smartstream” engines with the 2020 Sonata; my Korean-spec tester had a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated inline-four with 158 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. We won’t get this engine in the US, and that’s perfectly fine. For lack of a better word, it’s gutless, and simply not powerful enough to meet the demands of US drivers. In slow-moving Seoul traffic, it’s OK, but the moment I got out of the city and head for the hills, the lack of power was almost hilarious. In my experience, Korean motorists tend to drive a bit more gingerly than us American leadfoots, so I’m sure this engine will prove fine enough in Hyundai’s home market.
In the US, we’ll get a choice of two four-cylinder engines, both of which fall on the lower end of the power spectrum. Base SE and SEL models will use a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter I4 with 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, while SEL Plus and Limited trims get a 1.6-liter turbo-4, with 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet. Both engines will pair with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive, though I’m told. Both of these engines seem quite anemic on paper, but I’ll reserve final judgment until I can spend real time driving them on public roads. A very brief stint (like, less than 5 minutes) behind the wheel of a Sonata 1.6T reveals it has adequate pep in its step, but it lacks the punchy acceleration of 2.0-liter, turbocharged versions of competitors’ sedans, not to mention other V6-powered classmates.
A more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-four engine is in the cards for other markets, including China, and Hyundai is investigating bringing this powertrain to the US, as well. On top of that, Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In models are expected in due course.
The 2020 Sonata rides on a brand-new platform, called N3 internally, which will go on to underpin a number of other Hyundai products, including crossovers and SUVs. On my Limited tester’s 18-inch wheels, the Sonata offers a really smooth ride, with a nicely damped suspension that filters out small-to-medium imperfections while still giving a sense of plantedness on the road. The Sonata is quick to turn in, with nice heft to the steering’s action, even if feedback leaves a little to be desired. I don’t think the Sonata will suddenly edge out theor for best-driving car in the midsize sedan segment, but it’s clear the Hyundai’s dynamics have improved markedly.
Coming out swinging
In every regard, the 2020 Sonata makes great strides toward being a more premium offering than ever. And best of all, Hyundai is committed to offering this package without any real price hike. That means Sonata pricing should start around $23,000 on the low end, and top out in the low-$30,000 range.
Considering what Hyundai is bringing to the table at those prices, this represents impressive value. But even before you find all the goodness within, it’s obvious the 2020 Hyundai Sonata is punching well above its weight.
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