Recently I had the opportunity to rent a 2015 Hyundai Sonata. Well, not initially. At first, the Enterprise rep (Tim) gave me a Chevy Tahoe because “that is the only vehicle we have available immediately.” Tim was pleased to report that the Tahoe was brand new, showing only a few hundred miles on the clock. And indeed the new car smell and excellent stereo were initially intoxicating. But after 3 days of skippering this fearsomely enormous vehicle through the streets of Manhattan, entirely certain that I would sideswipe a Chinese food delivery guy steering a bicycle with his right hand and holding a Menthol cigarette in the other, I gave the Tahoe back to Enterprise and demanded they give me something civilian sized. What they came up with was a 2015 Sonata with about 10k on the odometer.
Commanding view atop the fly bridge of the Tahoe. But had to dock the rig permanently.
Who doesn’t like clean, white gauges? Pity about the screen on the stereo head unit, though.
As I settled into the Sonata’s seat, it became abundantly clear that a reduction in sticker price of around $30,000 from the Tahoe has a few undesirable effects. First and foremost: the driver’s seat felt like getting demoted from first class to coach. The driver’s seat bottom cushion feels perfectly level, which gives the sense that the seat bottom is actually pitched forward, ready to dump you out like a wheelbarrow unloading mulch. No amount of jacking the seat up, down, fore or aft appreciably affected the angle of the seat cushion. Well, so be it.
After an adjustment of the mirrors, we set out into the pod of traffic headed uptown, the tidier dimensions of the Sonata immediately putting me at ease. In the Tahoe I felt as though I should be barking out maneuvers to an enlisted man. The Sonata felt like Tahoe’s Zodiac tender, spry and maneuverable in comparison to the ungainly mother ship.
First impressions: holy throttle response, Batman! In Sport or Normal Drive Modes, the first quarter inch of throttle tip in yields about 30% of WOT and the car leans back on its haunches. This being NYC traffic, about 5 seconds later I’m standing on the brakes as a cabbie cuts me off. The car pitches forward and feels as though it’s about to place the front air dam on the pavement. Bystanders must assume I have either: (1) cleverly disguised a 1978 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham as a 2015 Hyundai Sonata, or (2) elected to fit this vehicle with a $5,000 hydraulics system in order to build credibility among #stancenation. From inside, it feels like I’m atop a 25 cent-a-ride miniature spaceship in front of the neighborhood grocery store.
I begin to approach the throttle with the circumspection of a bomb diffuser in Hurt Locker. Relief comes when I find that switching the Drive Mode Selector to Eco calms down the throttle response. Unfortunately, Eco mode also lightens the steering weight compared to “Sport” mode. In these matters, one cannot chose a la carte. Personally, I’d prefer these input weights be wisely judged and locked from the factory rather than being asked to select which tuning I prefer, especially if I can’t mix and match the different parameters.
Upon escaping the NYC megapolis, we’re heading north on the Merritt parkway through the rarified environs of Fairfield County, CT. The Merritt is a classic New Deal era parkway: closed to commercial traffic, no shoulder to speak of, and decreasing radius turns taken at alarming speeds by Range Rovers and GL550’s whose drivers are more focused on their phone call than, say, the lateral acceleration their SUV can safely maintain. Going into high speed sweepers, Sonata’s yaw resistance feels much better than its dive-and-squat control at city speeds and it carries me up towards Hartford at a very comfortable 75 mph.
On the parkway, the NVH gains of the past 15 years make themselves especially evident. The Sonata is quiet and composed at strong highway speeds and rides serenely over pavement imperfections. While some of that, surely, is due to the high profile 65-series tires and (small by today’s standards) 16 inch wheels, the lack of wind noise is notable. When cruising, the transmission keeps the engine RPM low for a four cylinder. I found, to my delight, that Sonata’s infotainment system paired consistently with my phone over Bluetooth, and allowed me to control Spotify with the steering wheel controls. Huzzah! There are $75k cars that can’t do this as well as this $21k Hyundai.
Got your suspension compliance right here, chief.
However, the leisurely cruising RPM is especially important given the vibrations and groans that emanate from the engine compartment when you boot the throttle and the transmission delivers a 1 or 2 gear kick down. On heavy acceleration, the 2.4L engine sounds strained and, frankly, cheap.
Remember the 2006 to 2010 Honda Accord? The very ugly one? The one that on visual inspection seemed to imply that Honda had lost the plot for good? That car handled better, steered better, had better body control, and a far superior four cylinder engine than the 2015 Sonata SE. Is there any reason to think the 2015 Accord is worse in any of those respects? No. If you don’t want an Accord because your neighbor just bought an EX-L V6, then you can sign the note on a Mazda 6 and rest assured no one else on your block will have one.
Overall, the Sonata seems to have drawbacks some of the other segment offerings lack. The ride compliance of the Sonata is commendable. But it comes at the expense of body control. The Sonata delivers excellent real-world highway MPG (33 mpg observed, with hills and high average speeds), but the throttle calibration is far too sensitive in default mode and the engine sounds thrashy and unpleasant at anything above 3,000 RPM. Those who prioritize cruising comfort may have reason to consider a Sonata, but probably not with the 2.4L engine. Be advised: the best accelerating and stopping model, with the best fuel economy, is only the 2nd most expensive and starts at $23k: the 1.6L turbo, 7 speed dual-clutch ECO model. I suspect that model is far more satisfying under acceleration than the 2.4L SE and well worth the additional $2k asking price.