Reviews

Published on November 23rd, 2020 | by Joshua Chin

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First Drive Impressions: Hyundai Sonata 2.5 Premium

The new Sonata is definitely a striking looking car, but does it have the substance to back up its style? 

Ever since the mid 2000s, a Korean culture tsunami has swept across the entire globe. This Hallyu wave brought with it K-pop, Korean food, Korean cosmetics and even Korean consumer electronics has since ingrained itself into the everyday lives of people all across the globe.

Interestingly however, while Malaysians took too all of these K-products and lifestyle, the one thing that the locals here didn’t quite take a fancy towards from this Hallyu wave were its cars. Unlike in the rest of the world today where South Korean cars are booming in popularity, both Hyundai and Kia have failed to replicate its overseas success here in the Malaysian market. No matter how hard they tried. 

Nobody Bought The Old One, Will This Be Any Different?

The easiest example to prove this point is perhaps just by taking a look at the previous generation Hyundai Sonata. Poised to compete with the conventional D-segment stalwarts of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, it offered more features for less money. It also garnered much praise from the motoring media, both abroad and locally, who lauded its ability to offer European levels of luxury for pennies on the dollar. 

Despite this generous shower of praise however, the sales figure of this South Korean sedan didn’t live up to the critical acclaim. While the Camry and Accords of the time weren’t also all that crash hot, due to the booming SUV market stealing buyers away from these large sedans, the last Sonata here was nevertheless outsold by its Japanese rivals in stratospheric proportions. 

Moreover, the few who actually bought into this 7th generation Sonata loss most of their money when they came to sell it on the used market.

A used 5 year old example of the Sonata typically sells for RM 60k – 65k. The equivalent Accord however is currently selling for RM 5k – RM 10k more, with equivalent used Camry prices meanwhile hovering around the RM 80 – RM 90k mark. 

Saying all that, the previous generation did come with a lower starting price out the showroom, meaning that those who bought into the old car didn’t actually lose all that much. This new model however has completely shunned this proven sales pitch, because fully-imported unit from South Korea now costs RM 206,888 (with sales tax included). Or to put it plainly, a not insignificant margin more than both the Accord and the Camry. 

Seeing now that, with this new Sonata, you’re probably going to be getting less money out the end and you’re putting more money in it in the first place, it therefore begs the question as to whether this new 8th generation Korean large sedan is actually worth the significant additional chunk of financial expense?

Exterior Design

Let’s begin with the positives and start with its exterior styling. Make of it what you will about the styling, the new Sonata is a certainly unique and striking car. 

Some have indeed raised objections to parts of the design, calling it fussy and over-the-top. That said, with its sleek silhouette and unique lighting signature, this Luc Donckerwolke design is most definitely a car that most other motorists will probably do a double take when seeing this sedan on the road. 

Driving Dynamics

Being behind the wheel of the Sonata meanwhile is also suitably pleasant. The steering might be a tad on the light and inert side, but such is the case with all the electric power steering systems nowadays. The upside to this light steering though is that it shrinks the car around you. Making it a much easier task when it comes to manoeuvring this large sedan about, especially in tight city streets. 

The ride too on the Sonata is decent enough. It is not exactly Rolls-Royce levels of waftiness, but with McPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup behind, it is indeed on par with its conventional competition on both the ride and handling aspect.

It could be said though that the damping on the Sonata is tuned more for comfort rather than sport, so it won’t perhaps be the best car for hitting the mountain passes. That however is exactly the way it should be for this segment of car. Soaking up the majority of the larger potholes and road imperfections, while still maintaining a modicum of composure when the roads ahead gets twisty. 

Interior & Technology

Speaking of comfort, the Sonata’s interior is definitely a comfortable place to be in. Being a D-segment sedan, it is no surprise that there is more than sufficient space up front and in the back to get comfortable. An equally large boot out back will also comfortably swallow all the cargo the 5 occupants bring along. 

Nevertheless, what is perhaps more impressive about the Sonata’s interior is the distinct feeling of quality that is present within the cabin. Plush and well-appointed throughout, the cabin is pretty well insulated from the outside world, with only a hint of tire noise coming from those large 18 inch turbine-style alloys at highway speeds.

The fit and finish is also worthy of a commendation. All the switchgear all have a quality feel to them, further contributing to the air of quality within the cabin. 

As for the cabin design, it is just on the right side of modern minimalistic tastes. The leather-lined dash layout is clean yet all the regular use switchgear are on physical buttons and dials for added ease of use.

On the topic of making life easier, the 8-inch central touchscreen with integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is responsive and a breeze to use. The 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster meanwhile is also crisp and intuitive to use, with all the information you’ll ever need at your fingertips that is operated by the multi-function leather steering wheel.

Other standard interior features worth a mention on the Sonata is the panoramic sunroof, heads up display, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, an electrochromic rear view mirror, a Qi wireless charging pad and keyless go. 

Safety

Much like its conventional competitors, this new Sonata features a full suite of passive safety aids and its accompanying acronyms. Perhaps to justify its higher price tag, the Sonata comes too with the slew of active safety tech like 360º surround view camera, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), auto cruise control and the like. Out of all these safety tech however, perhaps the most impressive bit of kit on this South Korean sedan is its blind spot camera system. 

Yes, it has come to my attention that the new Accord also features Honda’s LaneWatch system, but the one on the Hyundai is way cooler (and works on both sides of the car).

Flick the indicator one way and the corresponding dial on the digital instrument cluster will display a feed from the blind spot camera. Flick it to the other way and the other feed displays instantly. Honestly, it is really such a useful feature that wing mirrors were really made redundant for most cases while out on the move.

Engine

Moving on to the engine, a 2.5 litre naturally aspirated Smartstream petrol four-pot is found under the hood of this large Korean sedan. A power figure of 175 PS and a torque figure of 232 Nm generated from this large engine are level with its Japanese rivals.

Such is the way with such a large naturally-aspirated engine, the power delivery of the Sonata is expectedly linear and smooth, with a gentle surge of power being sent to the front wheels as the revs creep upwards.

To those who seek a tad more punch, perhaps the downsized and turbocharged 1.5 litre power plant of the latest Accord is more your cup of tea. For those though who wish to glide everywhere in comfort, this engine is more than up to the job in providing forward motion. There are even 4 drive modes to choose from to suit the occasion: Smart, Comfort, Eco & Sport. Though to be frank they all felt by and large to be the same. 

The downside to having such a large capacity engine however, is that with Malaysia’s antiquated road tax system, the annual running costs of the Sonata will be a tad higher than its the smaller engined Accord. Fuel efficiency does takes a slight hit too with the larger capacity engine. 

Transmission

Another minor gripe about the drivetrain is in regards to the six-speed automatic transmission. Button operation isn’t the problem with it, nor are the nicely-weighted paddle shifts. The complaint with the gearbox however lies with the fact that the gear changes are just slightly on the slightly wrong side of smooth. 

To describe it more accurately, this six-speed automatic transmission in the Sonata behaves more like a quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission, instead of the normal smooth shifts expected from conventional torque converter automatic. The latter of which is really what one desires for a transmission when wafting is a main priority.

Sound System

Continuing on the gripes, the sound system is also worth bringing up. To put it plainly, the sound quality emitted from its six speakers is just not as good as its competitors. 

Some might now say that I’m picking nits here, but for the amount of money this Sonata costs, the buyers of this car should have every right too expect a certain standard of audio fidelity, especially in such a nice interior. 

Value & Final Remarks 

Back to the money conundrum, is the new Sonata worth considering then? Well, in a word (or more accurately two): kind of. 

There are certainly a lot to like about this new Sonata, and more importantly not a lot to dislike about it. It may be knocking on the door of BMW 3 series money instead of its conventional Japanese rivals, but it probably just edges the rivals ahead in the finer qualitative aspects. And if that doesn’t seal the deal, perhaps its striking looks might. 

Adding to that, especially now with the sales tax incentives still ongoing (till the 31st December 2020), this new Sonata is currently selling for just RM 189,888.00. At this price then, to anyone who is in the market now for a D-segment sedan, there is no doubt that the sleek Sonata is definitely worth a test drive at the very least.

Hyundai Sonata 2.5 Premium Technical Specifications

Engine: SmartStream MPi four-cylinder petrol

Displacement: 2,497 cc

Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission

Max Power: 175 PS @ 6000 rpm

Max Torque: 232 Nm @ 4000 rpm

Selling Price: RM 206,888 (RM 189,888 with current promotion and sales tax exemption)

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About the Author

Automotive journalist. Professional work on dsf.my and automacha.com. Personal writing found at driveeveryday.me. Instagram: @driveeveryday



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