For the first time in its history, Hyundai has hewn a vehicle that is appealing from every angle.
2011 Hyundai Sonata
While Moore's Law holds all that is sacred in predicting IT's future, describing how the speed of computers doubles approximately every two years, the automotive equivalent would have to be known as Chung's Law. Chung Ju-yung established Hyundai Motor Company in 1967, and since then its models have leapt forward in looks, quality and appeal seemingly as quickly as computer processors have done in Silicon Valley. From a firm that started producing Ford Cortina knock-offs in 1967, charged through the 1980s with its Pony and now produces some of the best cars in their respective classes, Hyundai has moved faster in just a short time than many manufacturers have done.
It's hard to believe that today's Sonata, brand new in almost every way from its previous incarnation, traces its name and DNA to a humble three-box saloon from 1985. Then, boasting more plastics than Sabic and the desirability of Tupperware, the Sonata was a cheap, worthy and wholly uninteresting people's runabout. However, the new model is a true rival for anything that Germany, Europe and America can throw in its direction.
Hyundai has a tried and trusted technique of modernising its fleet. Indeed, where would a self-respecting Korean saloon be without its traditional paean to other manufacturers' lines. With design ingredients clearly supplied by Mercedes, Volkswagen, Lexus and BMW, it is an automotive salad of panels and shapes that combine well as a main dish. For the first time in its history, Hyundai has hewn a vehicle that is appealing from every angle.
Appearing compact, even if it is longer, wider and lower than the model it replaces, it has excellent proportions that gain muscle through the waves adorning its bonnet and flanks. The stretched headlamp clusters are the shape of Mr Spock's ears and have become one of the signatures of the latest-generation Hyundai design philosophy, known as "Fluidic Sculpture". While this name may sound like a joke told by men with modern haircuts, complicated glasses and expensive sketchbooks, it is more than a designer's gimmick. You would probably need to be a style guru to understand why but put simply, it works very well.
And the looks are backed up by the Sonata's excellent build quality, inside and out. Contrasting heavily with the tin shells that were vintage Hyundais, the contemporary one feels substantial and hearty. The interior borrows much from its competitors, with the dash of the Altima and even a Volvo Man directing the aircon. While the plastics remain from 1985, they have been upgraded to a high-quality, dark matte fascia-scape that is easy on the eye and to the touch. Accented silver trim makes a sweep up along the centre stack that offers plenty of storage and ends at the test car's 6.5-inch infotainment display.
The spec list is exactly what you would expect for a Hyundai: namely, nicely stocked. There's an MP3 socket, an economy light on the dash that tells you when your driving is environmentally acceptable, six air bags and, in the test model at least, heated rear seats. Available optionally is a three-piece moon roof. Paddle shift is wholly unnecessary on a car with sporty credentials that include the styling - especially the cool LED rear lights - and little else.
It is all very tasteful and equally as comfortable. The seats offer support to front and back and the interior volume of 3,400L leads the Sonata's class, a segment that also includes the Accord, Camry and Lumina. While there is plenty of knee and lateral room, the sweep of the roofline might impact on rear-seat passengers more than six feet. While the last Sonata was somewhat dull, even if it was a good car, the 2011 edition offers much more performance. No car in this segment will ever set the black-top alight, but the new car's 60kg weight saving is apparent from its behaviour as much as from a spec list that numbers two four-cylinder engines. Indeed, in an effort to keep the Sonata light, any suggestion of six-cylinder units was dismissed.
But a combination of the 2.0L or 2.4L engine mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox and a significant drop in weight feels right on the road. This is especially so when the test model's 2.4L engine could generate 178hp and 229Nm of torque. As one would expect of a car in this segment, the Sonata is designed to travel comfortably and quietly, although the suspension is tuned slightly firmer than its competitors. While this does make itself known on rougher surfaces, it does make for responsive cornering. Much of the above could describe any modern Japanese car, but the only vehicle in question is a modern Hyundai. For such a young car maker to make such giant leaps to produce a car with as much class and quality clearly shows how far the Koreans have moved. Looking ahead, they should have a world-beater in just a couple of years' time.
As of this week, there is no confirmation from Hyundai Middle East on when the 2.4L model will be here or its price. email@example.com