2009 Hyundai Sonata Review

Cost-conscious luxury sedan

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2009 Hyundai Sonata Review
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Hyundai continues to be a major threat to just about every car maker. In fact, the Korean manufacturer is getting aggressive with not only its pricing, but also its products, to the point where no automaker is safe - the all-new Genesis is definite proof. But don't expect the existing lineup to get left behind, because with revised, more efficient powertrains, updated interiors and enhanced suspensions, the 2009 Hyundai Sonata will continue to garner serious consideration from cost-conscious buyers.

FAST FACTS

1. V6 models now get 249 hp.

2. Mostly unchanged exterior but with a completely redesigned interior.

3. Initial quality is top notch.

MORE POWER FOR BOTH ENGINE OPTIONS

Already in dealerships, the restyled 2009 Sonata comes in three distinct trim levels – GLS, SE and Limited – with power coming from either a 2.4L DOHC inline-four producing 175 hp and 164 ft-lbs of torque, or a 3.3L V6 making 249 hp and 229 ft-lbs of torque. Compared to their respective predecessors, the four-cylinder model has eight percent more horsepower while the V6 version gets a six percent bump.

The only model offered with a manual transmission (a five-speed one) is the entry-level GLS, for the 2.4L four-cylinder engine. An automatic tranny with Sportronic shift modes is also available on the base GLS.

Other available trims include the SE and Limited. Both trims can have either engine paired to a new-for-2009 five-speed automatic transmission, which has helped achieve approximately five percent better fuel economy over previous versions to the tune of 21/30 mpg (city/highway) according the the U.S. EPA. New variable air induction and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) systems on both powerplants are also part and parcel to the improvements.

EXTERIOR ADJUSTMENTS PLUS A COMPLETELY REFURBISHED CABIN

On the exterior, minor changes to the front and rear bumpers are punctuated by new headlights, taillights and grille work. A nice feature is the use of hydraulic prop rods for both the hood and trunk lids and that BMWesque “shark fin” antenna has also been redesigned.

Likewise, the interior got completely redone for a more refined and comfortable upscale feel. All models feature two-stage front tush warmers, as well as a tilt/telescopic steering wheel (with integrated audio controls) and shift knob, power windows and door locks, power heated mirrors, a keyless entry and alarm system, plus cruise control as standard.

A rear center headrest, drivers seat lumbar support and trip computer are also included. And, the basic audio system, which features an AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, is hardly basic. Besides sounding pretty darn good, it features an auxiliary MP3 input with USB/iPod input hidden in the center console storage bin.

V6 models get a dual exhaust system to help tell them apart from the four-bangers. All versions continue to offer outstanding occupant protection through a host of standard safety features such as electronic stability control (ESC), traction control (TCS), four-wheel ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), a tire pressure monitoring system, front active head restraints as well as front, front seat side and curtain airbags.

LONG LIST OF OPTIONS INCLUDING NAVIGATION

Two popular equipment option packs are available for the GLS while a premium package can be tacked onto either the SE and Limited models. The latter includes a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof, AM/FM/XM/6CD/MP3 audio system with iPod/USB and auxiliary inputs, subwoofer and amplifier. There's also an electrochromic auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with HomeLink integrated transceiver and compass for good measure. A navigation system is also available on some models.

Besides chrome side moldings, bumper inserts and door handles to help subtly differentiate them from lower trim level, moving up to the Limited range adds equipment that is optional on lower trim levels. Both the four-cylinder and V6 Limiteds get a leather seating wheel, woodgrain interior trim, dual zone automatic climate control and upgraded Infinity stereo.

THE DRIVE: MORE COMFORTABLE THAN SPORTY

I drove the four-cylinder GLS as well as both Limited trims at a Sonata event and while I naturally preferred the leather interior, I found the cloth seating just as comfy. Both engines are extremely quiet and there's hardly any road or wind noise to complain about. Overall, fit and finish is excellent and all nooks and crannies are buttoned up nicely on the inside and out.

The engine-speed sensing, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is smooth and lightweight, though it seems many tiny corrections are needed to keep the vehicle tracking dead straight. Leaning more towards comfort (rather than sporty), the independent double front wishbone and multi-link rear suspensions get the job done predictability with some body roll noticeable at normal cornering speeds. The whole package though, from how it feels to how it drives is very well-rounded and reasonably priced.

THE VERDICT

Believe it or not, the Sonata platform is 20 years old and the current generation is up for renewal around 2011. Improved looks, decent performance and a plethora of standard safety, convenience and entertainment features will help this refreshed Sonata stay fresh until then.

PLUS
New 5-speed auto tranny gets 5% better fuel efficiency
Navigation now offered
Excellent fit and finish
MINUS
Facelift helps but the model is still getting old it the looks department
Chassis continues to exhibit more body roll than is ideal
Slightly vague steering

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