Hyundai expects its new Sonata mid-sized sedan to raise the brand's image in New Zealand, and increase its market share when sales start in the first week in June.
Hyundai New Zealand general manager, Philip Eustace, says the new Sonata is Hyundai's best opportunity yet to take a greater share of the local market.
Hyundai NZ executive director Richard Giltrap sees the new Sonata as "a benchmark product...which is a key stepping stone in the development of Hyundai. This is a genuine alternative to Japanese brands."
Hyundai is already snapping at the heels of Mitsubishi and Mazda for a share of the NZ market. Its new car market share rose from 3.2 percent in the first four months of 2004, to 5.1 percent this year.
Hyundai NZ has aggressive sales targets for the new Sonata, but won't talk specific numbers.
In its heyday, the previous model Sonata sold 80 a month, but by 2004 it was only 10th in hits sector, dropping to 11th this year.
After a first look and a drive, we think the new Sonata will meet consumers' expectations that a Hyundai should be good value.
It's also handsomely styled, remarkably refined and well equipped.
Its strong concave bonnet dome, distinctive rear-door line, four-barrel jewelled projector headlights and Euro profile give it a handsome shape that more than hints at plagiarism.
Hyundai may have used styling elements of the Audi A6 and A4, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in creating the Sonata's body shape but it works.
From any angle the car is well balanced and attractive with a well-rounded shape that is difficult to dislike. Its looks are conservative, offend no-one, yet are thoroughly modern and classy.
Slightly longer, wider and higher than its predecessor, the new Sonata's smooth styling hides the 4800mm length. The wheelbase has also increased to 2730mm, and the front track is fractionally less than the rear.
When designing the new Sonata, Hyundai ambitiously benchmarked the best sedans on the market and then sought to improve on them wherever it could.
The end result is an excellent package that seems assured of success.
Hyundai isn't joking when it says it's about to ruffle a few feathers.
Is the NF Sonata a defining moment in Hyundai's history?
After the initial inspection and drive, the answer is: yes.
The inside story
The new Sonata is wider than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Maxima, and both leg and headroom front and rear are excellent.
To improve ergonomics, the seats are mounted 2.5cm higher.
There's more distance between the driver and the A-pillar and increased room between the seat cushion and headlining. However, the seat squab is a little on the short side.
Hyundai has done a great job on the cabin, with keen attention to detail and a fine standard of finish.
The dashboard is attractive and well laid-out, and major controls require little familiarisation.
All versions feature a two-colour dashboard, with a darker top section and lighter coloured base.
Hyundai has ignored the current Japanese and European trend to black trim colours, and offers a choice of lighter grey and beige.
Access to the huge boot is eased by a four-bar link hinge mechanism with two assist struts. The bonnet also lifts on a single gas strut.
Two new engines
Both alloy engines are new.
The DOHC Theta 2.4 four-cylinder develops 118.5kW at 5800rpm, a 14.5kW increase on the old motor. Torque rises by 17Nm to 219Nm.
The 2.4 has a balance shaft for smooth operation, continuously variable valve timing, a plastic inlet manifold, electronic throttle control and stainless steel exhaust.
With its variable intake system and electronic throttle, the 171.4kW quad cam V6 has a 39.4kW power advantage over the old V6 and torque rises 59Nm to a healthy 304Nm.
Both engines have hydraulic mounts.
What you get and pay
Given the improvements to the car, the fifth generation Sonata's pricing is remarkable.
The 2.4 litre four-cylinder models are just over six percent and the lone V6 auto a mere five percent more expensive than their predecessors.
A price span of $7000 covers the four-variant Sonata range.
The entry-level 2.4-litre five-speed manual lists at a competitive $32,990, a $2000 increase on the previous generation model.
There's a $1500 premium for the four-speed automatic four-cylinder Sonata, but the 2.4 Elite auto is a tempting proposition at $36,990.
That's $2500 more than the standard auto but the car gains full leather seats, door trim and centre console, power adjustment for the front seats, electric-chromic rear view mirror, automatic light system, rear park distance sensors and climate control air conditioning.
The Elite also scores a seven speaker audio system with in-dash six Compact Disc changer (the standard model has a six speaker audio with single CD player).
The top of the line 3.3-litre V6 Elite five-speed auto is good buying at $39,990. Distinguished by dual chromed exhausts, the Elite V6 is $3000 dearer than the equivalent four-cylinder.
Power steering with a tilt and telescopically adjustable steering column and power windows and an auto-down/auto-up driver's window are standard across the board. Door mirrors are electrically heated.
All Sonatas have six airbags - dual front, dual side and dual curtain - along with active front headrests, ABS, EBD, brake assist and electronic stability programme. The last feature is a rarity in mainstream mid-size sedans.
All Sonatas have flush rear seat headrests for improved visibility, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters and a child seat LATCH system.
Front foglights are fitted across the range as are body colour door handles, side mouldings and door mirrors.
Wood or metal-look trim is used, depending on interior colour. The rear seats split-fold and the keyless entry system incorporates an anti-theft alarm and engine immobiliser.
Audio remote controls are fitted to the leather-bound steering wheel and the specs also include cruise control, trip computer, windscreen wiper de-icer and battery saver with automatic light-off function.
Base models have 16-inch alloys and 215/60 Korean tyres. Japanese Dunlop 225/50 tyres are fitted to the 17-inch alloy wheels on Elite models.
On the road
Pouring rain on deserted roads on the western shores of Lake Taupo is no place to test a new mainstream sedan.
But day two of test driving in better conditions through National Park and into the King Country highlighted the new Sonata's attributes.
Both four and six-cylinder models emerged as competent and comfortable mid-size cars.
They drive more like Japanese than European cars, but there's little doubt the new Sonata has greater international appeal than its predecessor.
Immediately apparent are low noise levels: both engines are barely audible at idle.
Engineers have succeeded in isolating mechanical and wind noise at highway speeds, citing increases in strength and stiffness of the subframe and body structure.
At 100km/h, the Sonata is said to run quieter than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, two cars that are hardly noisy.
Both engines are more economical, have reduced emissions, and better low-down torque.
The 2.4 litre four is lower geared than the V6 and commendably responsive. In manual form, the Sonata four reaches 100km/h in 8.9 seconds; the auto needs 10.4 seconds.
The gear change action is long and a shade clunky, and the transmission has a self-adjusting clutch which reduces pedal effort as it wears.
The mechanicals are subdued at cruising speeds, and at 100km/h in fifth the engine spins at a modest 2500rpm. Top speed of the 2.4 manual is an impressive 210km/h.
Four cylinder autos use a four-stage transmission with sequential sports shift; the V6 uses a new five-speed HIVEC automatic incorporating an overdrive lock-up torque converter.
The smooth changing V6 auto - also with an excellent manual override - couldn't be faulted.
At 100km/h in top, the V6 does a mere 2000rpm, rising to around 2700 revs in fourth.
Four-wheel independent suspension is stiffer than before, and an isolated top strut improves ride quality.
Ride is firmish at lower speeds, smoothing out above 70km/h, and body control is good. On really poor surfaces the suspension isn't quite so embracing, with some induced thump.
Steering lacks feel but is reasonably weighted and well geared. Certainly, the new Sonata can be hustled along with confidence, and the performance of both versions is strong.
At 1638 kg, the V6 is 100kg heavier than the four.
Four-wheel disc brakes, with the latest generation Bosch ESP8 system, operate particularly well and there is reduced brake pedal vibration when ABS kicks in.
- Donn Anderson.
Hyundai believes the wider perception of its brand image is lower than the reality. It says the marque's improvements are backed up by J.D.Power and media research. From now on there will be more emphasis on quality, design and performance.
Though they'll be sold in Europe, diesel Sonatas are unlikely to come here in the immediate future. New Zealand takes Australian-spec cars and there's no provision for a diesel Sonata in Australia.
Hyundai made 3.8 million cars last year and is forecasting a slight drop to 3.73 million for 2005. By 2007/08, combined sales of Hyundai and Kia are predicted to be five million.
Hyundai NZ general manager Phil Eustace says the push is for quality rather than quantity, with Toyota style improvements.
Hyundai is setting its sights high, targeting the new large Hyundai Grandeur at Lexus in the quest to be "the world best."
Last year New Zealand Hyundai sales were up 70 percent and have risen a further 66 percent in 2005.
Hyundai accounts for 32 percent of the growth in the local 4WD market, boosting its sales three fold.
Hyundai Sonata specifications
Engines: 2.4-litre, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder, CVVT; 118.5kW at 5800rpm; 210Nm at 4200rpm. 3.3-litre quad-cam, 24-valve, V6; 171.4kW at 6000rpm, 304Nm at 3500rpm.
Engines: Front-wheel drive.
Gearboxes: five-speed manual for 2.4; four-speed automatic with sequential shift for 2.4; five-speed automatic with sequential shift and HIVEC adaptive logic for V6.
Suspension: Front, independent by double wishbone, gas-filled shock absorbers, anti-roll bar. Rear, independent by multilink, coil springs, gas shock absorbers, anti-roll bar.
Dimensions: Length, 4800mm; width, 1832mm; height, 1475mm; wheelbase, 2730mm; kerb weight, 1531kg (manual); 1539kg (2.4 auto); 1638 (V6 auto). Fuel tank capacity, 70 litres.