Family sedans aren’t the biggest draw to showrooms these days, with crossovers and SUVs taking center stage and providing most of the profits. Still, a few customers in the outfield (*raises hand*) prefer a four-door car for their daily tasks.
The stalwart Toyota Camry has been around for generations, earning a reputation for bulletproof reliability and a severe lack of charisma. The big T has attempted to address that second issue with this most recent version of the Camry, dressing it in more aggressive clothing.
At Hyundai, the Sonata has traditionally sought to play the value card, though it could be argued that the brand has long since moved on from those days when that was its number one attribute. Hyundai vehicles are still packed with value but they are, increasingly, very pleasant places in which to spend time.
Note well: both these machines are available with an optional gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain. However, those variants are sufficiently different in terms of propulsion and other metrics to warrant their own article. This one will focus on the gasoline-propelled trims.
Interested? Good. Read on to find out which one is a better fit for your family.
Camry: A choice of two powerplants are available to Camry buyers, both of which are available from base models to nearly top-of-range. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque in most models save for the snazzy XSE which earns three more ponies and two extra units of twist. Stepping up to the 3.5-liter V6 brings 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque but it is only available with the XLE, XSE and TRD trims. An eight-speed automatic backs both engines. Surprisingly though, only the 2.5-liter powertrain is available with AWD while the 301 hp V6 is left to FWD.
Sonata: Including the new N Line, the Sonata now comes with three engine options. However, all three are four-bangers. Trims with the 2.5-liter naturally aspirated mill make 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. Opting for the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine essentially reverses those numbers, putting them at 180 and 195, respectively. Like the Toyota, an eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice these days. The N Line however, comes with a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter four-pot and dishes out 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of peak torque. Though it is front-wheel-drive, it comes with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, sporty stuff.
Bottom Line: Both the Sonata and Camry are pretty evenly matched. While the Camry offers more outright power, the Hyundai comes with more torque in the N Line and also has three different engines in its lineup. Plus, it uses a dual-clutch box. Hence it is the winner here.
Technology and Features
Camry: All models are finally equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with satellite radio capability and a brace of USB charge ports (the latter do not appear on the base L). Upper-end XSE and XLE trims earn the brand’s 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system compared to everyone else who must suffer the indignity of possessing a 7.0-inch touchscreen. Toyota does a great job of including its STAR Safety and Safety Sense P systems across the board, a suite of products that includes smart-stop technology, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection.
Sonata: Even the cheapest Sonata earns an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, with a jazzy 10.25-inch unit being optional on SEL and SEL Plus (standard on Limited). Note that satellite radio doesn’t show up on the base SE. Smart cruise control with start/stop is standard across the board, as is forward collision avoidance technology. Limited trims also get a very helpful blind spot view monitor which deploys cameras from the around view monitor to display an image on the dashboard of one’s blind spot when they signal to change lanes.
Bottom Line: That final feature mentioned in the Sonata roundup quickly becomes helpful in real-world conditions, though it should be noted that it only appears on the most expensive model. Dollar-for-dollar, the Hyundai’s infotainment screen is snazzier as well. Both cars go a great job of including safety gear that was the domain of expensive German machinery not that long ago.
Camry: Those who select a Camry with the inline-four should get very nearly 40 mpg in highway driving, according to EPA estimates. Thanks to weight and myriad other factors, the base L is rated at 41 mpg, midrange LE/SE are 39 mpg, and zooty XLE/XSE earn a 38 mpg highway rating. Around town, expect roughly 29/28/27 respectively for those trims. As for the V6, the EPA suggests a highway mileage of 33 mpg for the XLE, with XSE and TRD models taking a 1 and 2 mpg hit respectively. City economy is 22 mpg across the V6 board.
Sonata: For 2020, Sonata brings the goods in terms of fuel economy. Turbocharged models are rated at 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, equating to 31 mpg combined. The larger displacement naturally aspirated engine does even better, chalking up a heady 38 mpg in highway conditions, 28 mpg around town, and 32 combined. The 2.5 turbo in the N Line however, manages 23 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway for a combined figure of 27mpg.
Bottom Line: Less horsepower seems to pay off in this category, with the Hyundai soundly beating the Toyota in city mileage. Highway economy is roughly on par, so make sure to carefully consider your commute routing before signing on the dotted line.
Sonata: See above.
Bottom Line: In a world where modern sedans feel the need to stand out in order to be noticed amongst a sea of milquetoast crossovers, manufacturers feel the need to incorporate wild styling cues into their four-door midsize family rides. The Camry, especially in TRD trim, looks as if your math teacher suddenly decided to wear hoodies and a backwards baseball cap to class in an effort to be cool. The Sonata has a brilliant styling flourish in its LED lamps that strake across the hood – concealed by a strip of chrome – but has a mouth on it like a gasping walleye. Hey, at least the segment isn’t boring anymore.
Camry: Since engine choice matters not in terms of interior space with these cars, all the dimensions listed here apply to both the four cylinder and V6 variants. A voluminous 38.3 inches of headroom greet front row occupants, along with 42.1 inches of legroom — measures which rival some of the larger SUVs on the market. Shave 0.8 of an inch from that headroom figure if selecting a trim with the moonroof. Head- and legroom in the second row are equal at 38 inches.
Not a fan of an all-red interior? No worries: it’s only optional on the sporty XSE.
Sonata: Headroom up front in the Hyundai totals 40.0 inches even but the sunroof rudely robs 1.6 inches from that measure. That’s not an insignificant amount. Legroom, however, is listed at an astonishing 46.1 inches, meaning front seat passengers can splay their feet as if they were wearing cowboy boots. Rear seat occupants make do with 34.8 inches of legroom and just under 38 inches of headroom.
Bottom Line: Space for passengers in the aft compartment is slightly tighter in the Hyundai than in the Toyota, so be sure to plug your family unit into both machines before making a purchasing decision. If your count numbers no more than two, the front seat accommodations in the Sonata may be slightly more commodious.
Camry: A total of 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space greet owners of a 2020 Toyota Camry. Strangely, the base L model gives up one cube of room compared to all other models. Perhaps that’s for the extra cash you save by choosing the base car. Or, more likely, it’s thanks to the more primitive trunk lid closure mechanism found on the el cheapo model.
Sonata: A not insignificant 16.3 cubic feet is found in the trunk area of the Sonata. Unlike the Camry, this number is good for all four trims, so it matters not if one chooses the base SE or the high-zoot Limited — all will be equal in the eyes of your vacation luggage.
Bottom Line: The Hyundai has a larger trunk — simple as that.
Camry: Prices for the four-cylinder 2020 Camry L start at $25,965 and rise to $36,540 for a V6 XSE model. Along the way, four-banger XLEs are $30,865 and four-cylinder SEs are $27,480. Opting for the V6 is not a trifling decision, as the cheapest six-pot checks in at $33,180 for the TRD.
Sonata: Hyundai historically ladles the value upon its model range, a decision which spills over onto the Sonata. Non-turbo SE and SEL trims cost $24,705 and $26,805 respectively. Upgrading to the turbocharged 1.6-liter mill brings the total to $29,305 for an SEL Plus and $34,955 for a snazzy Limited model. The sporty N Line costs $600 less than the Limited but is almost equally well equipped.
Bottom Line: Both cars have a roughly $10,000 price spread, with the Camry starting less than $700 north of the Sonata. For better or worse, there are many more trims available on the Camry, allowing customers to fine-tune their content preferences without having to pay for features they may not want.
Verdict: The days of automatically handing the family car crown to a Toyota are behind us, given strides other brands — especially the Koreans — have made in this segment. Both cars receive plaudits from the likes of J.D. Power in terms of quality and value. The Hyundai does have a slight edge in terms of gadgets and beats the Toyota in front seat space measures. Our advice? Try both, shop around, and bargain aggressively.