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New Sonata plays the diesel tune best


With fuel prices rising, vehicle distributors are battling for the fuel economy high ground.

In Europe, small cars are key to a market ruled by congestion charges, and tax and insurance disincentives. But it’s different in New Zealand, where we’re used to driving everyday cars that’d be almost unimaginable in Europe. The British think you’re joking when you tell them the Holden Commodore is our second-biggest seller. Kiwis think you’re joking when you say small cars are the future.

Meanwhile, several companies are fighting a rearguard action; with hybrids (especially Toyota and Honda, with more to come); biofuel cars (particularly Saab and Ford, though it’s still academic here); and diesels. Everyone’s climbing on the diesel bandwagon, but it’s Volkswagen and Hyundai who are blowing the biggest trumpets – and have completed the most compelling eco runs.

VW managed a single-tank trip from Auckland to Wellington and back to the Bay of Islands in a diesel Passat wagon in February. Driven at more-or-less real-world speeds by eco-expert Maurice Reilly, it sipped a miserly 4.55 litres/100km. The Passat sedan managed 4.89 and the Polo an impressive 3.6 litres/100km. All were Bluemotion cars, models featuring a suite of eco-friendly adaptations.

Hyundai took a different tack when launching its Sonata update. It hired eco-warrior and famously pedantic driver Hans Tholstrup to drive a Sonata from Christchurch to Cambridge during the recent Mystery Creek Fieldays.
He was pitted against Brian Cowan, the NZ judge on world car of the year and himself a pretty committed tech-head. Cowan was a last minute ring-in and wasn’t familiar with Hyundai’s 2.0-litre diesel engine. The adjudicators mandated AA-practice driving rules after an earlier Hyundai eco run garnered bad press, when drivers crawled along highways and even opened their doors to improve rear wind-assistance.

This time conditions were closer to those you’d experience. Cowan drove to Cambridge at an average 74kph – a whiff slower than you and I might, perhaps, but certainly equating to real-world speeds once you factor in towns, ferry queues and the like.

Tholstrup’s car sipped 4.7 litres/100km and emitted 123.2g/km of carbon; Cowan’s, 4.99 for 130.6 - both carbon figures well under the mandated target currently being considered. Those are astonishing figures for a biggish car, though the impact on your wallet is less when you factor in road user charges, which are levied per kilometre.

Would you achieve such figures yourself? Unlikely. This level of eco-concentration is exhausting, and Tholstrup, at least, depressed the clutch on open-road downhills, not something driving instructors would approve of as an everyday practice. But it’s safe to assume that however you drive, you’d use less fuel in this car than in its petrol siblings.

All Hyundai Sonatas have had an update, with changes to the grille, side mouldings and head- and tail-lights, the wheels and character lines. They’re all minor changes which few will spot immediately, though more has gone on inside, with a new dash, fascia and stereo. Still small beer, merely enhancing what was already a handsome car.

Under the bonnet there’s a new 2.4-litre petrol engine with dual CVVT and a five-speed automatic transmission; an improved 3.3-litre V6, also with a five-speed auto; and changes to heat control to improve the 2.0-litre diesel where the result is a rather decent 305Nm of torque at 1800-2500rpm.

All engines get a touch more power yet drink a tad less fuel; and all handle a smidge better after retuning of the shock spring rate and steering response; again, nothing major, just refining of an already capable car.

Standard specification is good, including ESP stability control, ABS and six airbags for a starting price of $32,990. Yep, that’s the same as before, despite the improvements.

What’s it like to drive? The Sonata is still a competent sedan, with a good comfort-handling compromise.  Given that no Sonata is a sports car, the diesel has to be the pick of the bunch – that torque easily handling both round-town and open-road motoring. Naturally, it’s less thirsty than either of its siblings – sipping at a claimed 6.0 litres/100km for the manual or 7.0 for the auto to its predecessor’s 6.1/7.3. The 2.4 uses a litre or two more, and the V6 claims a 9.9 litres/100km thirst, though we achieved 8.6.

Hyundai’s having another good year so far, in part because its line-up includes lots of diesels. All we need now is a re-jig in road user charges; at present the standard per-kilometre charge penalises the exceptionally frugal small diesels. If the Government is really serious about encouraging drivers into more-efficient cars, road user charges for medium-to-small cars must be reduced opr eliminated.



Engines. 2.0-litre common rail diesel with variable geometry turbo, 110kW at 3800rpm, 305Nm at 1800-2500rpm. 2.4-litre dohc with CVVT, 126.5kW at 6000rpm, 224.6Nm at 4000rpm/3.3-litre quad-cam V6 with CVVT, 182kW at 6000rpm, 310Nm at 4500rpm.

Transmission. Front-wheel drive. Five -speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox.

Performance. 0-100kph, 10.7/11.6 seconds (2.0 diesel manual/auto); 9.3/9.8 seconds (2.4 manual/auto); 7.7 seconds (V6).

Fuel economy. (overall,Hyundai figures) 6.0/7.0 litres/100km (2.0 diesel manual/auto); 8.0/8.4 litres/100km (2.4 petrol manual/auto); 9.9 litres/100km (V6).

Dimensions. Length, 4800mm. Width, 1830mm. Height, 1475mm/ Wheelbase, 2730mm.

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