Sunday, October 12, 2008

2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited Review

I have been driving my Subaru Impreza Outback for 11 years. The Subaru was working well but I simply wanted a new car. We actually wanted hatchback or wagon but could not find one with good combination mileage and reliability. So we decided to go with a larger sedan.

After much research and test driving we settled on Hyundai Sonata SE. Unfortunately combination of color, style and 4cyl engine that we wanted is rare so we got Sonata Limited instead. I am not disappointed in this choice. OK may be just a little since I am not a big fan of leather and sunroofs. Other than that I am simply thrilled with this car.

*** Room
Sonata has plenty of room. It is as large as our 2008 Camry or maybe even larger. Trunk space is good and split folding rear seat make it even bigger. Trunk opening is large too. Of course this is not a wagon but I think it will do in the most cases.

*** Features
This car is loaded with features! Where do I begin? Telescoping steering wheel (not powered), XM radio, Infinity stereo system with MP3 and WMA playback. My favorite feature of the stereo is ability to play your music from USB drive. There is a USB jack in the armrest compartment in which you can plug your USB drive with music. Car stereo will recognize it and play it just like it would CD with mp3 files on it. Saves you from burning CDs especially if you are like me, like to listen to podcasts. I used to have small mp3 player just for that.
XM radio is very good as well. The car comes with 3 months subscription so you can sample the radio and see if you like it. I like it but not sure if I want to continue. Regular FM reception is great too.

There are 2 power jacks in the cabin - one in the center console and one in the armrest. I think modern car needs more of these, I'd say at least 4. So in this department Sonata is a bit short but few cars have more than 2.

Leather seats are comfortable but the leather is rather hard. Of course you don't pay for the luxury car so you can't expect top quality leather. Power driver seat is nice, controls are intuitive and work well. I have not used heated seats but looking forward to use that feature in the winter.

Another feature that will come handy in the winter is heated outside mirrors. It should improve visibility a lot especially when I leave work in the evening.

Auto dimming mirror with compass is a nice feature plus built in garage door opener adds to the long list.

Comparing to our 2008 Camry LE V6 which cost us nearly the same, Sonata is loaded with features.

One feature that I would like to have but it is missing from Sonata is rear window shade. Camry XLE has that as an option. I would like to have one even manual.

*** Ergonomics
Ergonomics are excellent. All control are where you expect them to be and work as you expect them to work. Clock is clearly visible during the day and at night. This was one of the problems with Impreza. Very good experience over all.

If you are like me, trying to maintain your car yourself, you will be pleased with the placement of the oil filter and all of the dipsticks. They are easy to access and when oil is drained it will not run all over your engine. You also do not need to jack up the car or put it on the ramps to access the oil filter (unlike Camry V6).

*** Build quality
Build quality is better than expected. Materials are high quality, all parts fit well. Car has expensive feel to it. Comparing to our 2008 Camry it wins hands down. Toyota's quality has been slipping over the last few years.

Door panels made plastic that feels and looks good. Leather wrapped steering feels nice. There is no large gaps in the panels (unlike American cars) and exposed edges finished well (unlike Camry). Excellent job Hyundai!

*** Peformance
Performance is very good. I have not had a situation where I would say that I needed more power. I drive this car to and from work, mostly on the freeway. Engine power has been more than sufficient. Maybe if I take the car to the mountains 4 Cyl engine will show its deficiencies but that is to be tested yet. Transmission shifts when you expect and it is very smooth. Since the car is new I have not pushed it much and in general I do not push my cars. I am more after comfortable ride then after performance and Sonata delivers there.

*** Fuel Economy
WOW! That is all I can say. Car is rated to 32MPG on highway and that is where I drive it. When the car was brand new I was driving it rather slow to break in the engine. I was getting 35MPG consistently and few times as high as 37.5MPG. My record per tank was 35.5 MPG.
Now I am driving more inline with the traffic with speeds between 60 and 70 MPH. I am getting 33 MPG without even trying. This car exceeded all of my expectations in the fuel economy department. I think having computer that monitors MPG helps since you see what you are getting and you can adjust your driving accordingly. It would be nice if Hyundai added instant MPG readings but even average is a big help.

*** Ride
Ride is very nice. Car is quiet but there is some engine and road noise. Nothing bad though. You can comfortably talk and listen to the radio. Comparing to my Impreza it is a HUGE improvement. Car behaves predictably on the road and over all is a pleasure to be in.
We love our Camry ride which is very quiet, probably due to very powerful V6. Sonata does not fall far behind even with 4 Cyl engine.

*** Shortcomings
- Gas tank easy to overflow and spill during top off. Somehow it is constructed in a way that if you try to top off it will spill pretty much immediately. Just need to remember that and do not top off.
- You cant turn on or off audio from steering controls but have to use a power knob on the radio. Not a big deal but Camry can do this with half the buttons.
- Few too many buttons on the radio controls. You do not need all these buttons. Mute? You can just turn radio off. It should be safer with less buttons. This is not a big deal since you can just not use them.

*** Over all
I am very happy with my Sonata, save for a few minor details. If you are on the market for midsized sedan and do not mind how Sonata looks, I strongly urge you to give it a try. Sonata exceeded my expectations in all aspects, especially for the price. Our family tends to keep cars for a long time and long warranty should help us there.
Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have a worthy competition and should be worried.

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