Tested: 2010 Hyundai Sonata

The Korean contender

Who would’ve thought that one day you’d be reading about an exciting new luxury car from Hyundai, or discover that the car in question manages to turn heads and initiate fights between motoring journalists when the keys are being handed out.

Hyundai did. The sixth generation Sonata was recently launched in Cape Town to reveal the subject of their “rethink luxury” campaign as their contender for the German-dominated entry-level luxury sedan segment.

A negligible amount of research on the Korean manufacturer will yield results that boggle the researcher’s mind and frighten the pants off the competition. With 15 models, 33 derivatives and a substantial waiting list for their ix35 SUV, Hyundai is just as successful in South Africa as it is in the rest of the world.

The 44-year old company shot from 10th to 4th largest vehicle manufacturer in under 10 years, strengthened by the quality and value of their products, relentless drive to improve all aspects of their company and cars, an exciting new design language and a fresh look at their target market.

With a shifting global consciousness towards self-aware, responsible, creative people Hyundai plans to capitalise by targeting what they call “modern expressives”. Unpretentious style, value, safety, comfort and features for a new generation of buyers.

The new Sonata deals with style quite well; so you’ve always flirted with a Mercedes CLS and tried to rationalise the purchase of a Volkswagen CC. Although the new Hyundai doesn’t feature pillar-less doors its sleek silhouette, striking creases, bold light clusters and dark roof look equally, uhh, desirable.

Let’s get to the value bit later, but safety is served by ABS brakes with ESP and brake assist, six airbags and hill start/descent control, active headrests, auto-this and electric that, constructed on a clever platform that promotes lightness, rigidity and safety.

Comfort finds its place in the new Sonata by increased proportions (except rear headroom due to the sloping coupe-like roof), soft leather seats, immensely complicated cabin lighting, stylish and comprehensive instruments, and amplitude selective dampers with a bias towards smoothness.

More features of the latest Sonata (called i45 elsewhere) include auto self-leveling Xenon headlights, auto wipers, climate control, central locking, power steering, electrically adjustable and retractable exterior mirrors with side repeaters, electric windows, full size spare and a panoramic glass sunroof.

Expect to also find colour-coded everything, some tasty chrome details, yummy 18-inch wheels, mean-looking fog lights, keyless entry and ignition, clever seatbelts, RDS radio, CD, mp3, Aux, ipod/USB, 6 speakers, multi-function steering wheel, variable trip computer, heated exterior mirrors, an alarm and immobiliser.

All these goodies add up to a kerb weight of 1411kg and are propelled forwards by a 2.4-litre variable 16-valve petrol 4-cylinder engine kicking out 131kW (178hp) at 6000rpm or 228Nm at 4000rpm through a 6-speed automatic gearbox with steering-mounted shift pedals.

This translates into a 0-100km/h sprint of 9.5 seconds, a top speed of 208km/h, average CO2 emissions of 195g/km and average fuel consumption of 8.2L/100km from its 70L tank. So performance isn’t electric but consumption is exemplary for a luxury vehicle.

As I write this text, one of the Sonata press cars is happily slumbering in my driveway, not because I nicked it, but because Hyundai insisted that each journo take a fresh example of their newcomer home and try it out for a month. A month. Four weeks. Thirty days. I love my job.

So far I’ve exposed my snazzy Korean to the highway and introduced it to some suburban roads with accompanying speed bumps. And wouldn’t you know it, the car immediately adapted to its new monthly prison with grace and competence.

The McPherson strut / multilink suspension is big on comfort, grip levels are more than adequate and feedback from steering and brakes is easily on luxury car levels. Engine and gearbox deliver quiet, smooth forward momentum with only the occasional snarl and T/C light appearance on full throttle.

Furthermore, the leather 2-memory electric seats are utterly comfy, the sound system is great, there’s plenty of room everywhere, the boot is massive, my seat moves backwards to let me out and then the lights stay on (programmable) until I’m inside my mansion.

A vehicle sales manager, two neighbours, countless friends and especially yours truly have spent many hours admiring the unexpected beauty of this Korean, my personal favourite being the chrome strip which almost spans the entire length of the Sonata.

And best of all, a Sonata GLS only costs N$279 900 while the up-spec Exec (as tested here) retails for N$299 900 with the fantastic 5-year 150 000km warranty and a 5-year 90 000km service plan included. Am I a fan of the new Sonata? Possibly. Am I a fan of Hyundai’s ideals and ambitions? You better believe it.


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