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Hyundai Sonata


Hyundai's new generation Sonata certainly looks like business in the mid-sized four-door market sector.

We detect traces of Jaguar S and Rover 75 influences in its slightly-retro styling, and its four headlight front has a Hyundai family look that is a milder take on the wild coupe's arched-eyebrows look.

The formal grille is reminiscent of British cars of the 1950s, as is the indented rear numberplate surround.

There are chromed styling accents but they're not garish.

The view forward over the bonnet is imposing and upmarket sports sedan-like.

No question, the Hyundai Sonata looks good.

The test car was the 2.0-litre four cylinder fitted with the four-speed automatic gearbox. The gearbox can be left in Drive or shifted sequentially and manually using a centre console-mounted lever.

The 1997cc Double Overhead Camshaft 16-valve motor develops 98kW at 6000rpm and peak torque of 181Nm at 4500rpm.

Even though the Sonata is a fairly heavy car at 1491kg the 2.0-litre four provides brisk performance and the car accelerates strongly and cruises with ease. It handles hilly going without fuss.

It's not a sporting engine, though, not in sound or in nature.

The motor is commendably quiet at idle and at moderate throttle openings, but becomes quite raucous when asked to work hard.

The bodywork seems to have a good wind shape which helps acceleration at open road speeds. The car performs strongly in the 80-100km/h speed range.

Mechanical noise is low till you ask the engine to work hard, and wind and road noise are fairly well controlled.

Wind noise was evident only on crosswinds, and the Hankook tyres transmit little noise on smooth-surfaced roads. There's a fair amount of tyre and road roar on chip-sealed roads, though.

The automatic gearbox shifts very smoothly if left in drive and holds ratios well into the rev range during acceleration.

You push the sequential manual "sport" shift lever forward to go up the gearbox and pull it back to go down.

The shifts are smooth at moderate revs, less so when you're pushing hard.

Generally we found it worked well, though we were irritated by its reluctance to select second gear at times. We then found ourselves heading into a corner a ratio too high. At other times it worked fine.

We suspect it was speed-related, the gearbox's "intelligence" overriding the driver's desire to be a cog lower.

Suspension is by independent double wishbones at the front and multi-link system at the rear.

There's reasonable suspension travel, but the car is happiest on smooth roads.

It didn't like uneven sealed surfaces and the ride was a little unsettled on bumpy roads.

Understeer dominates the handling, and pushed hard in tight corners on wet roads the 205/65 R15 Hankook tyres had a tendency to sledge slightly. Nothing alarming, just a reminder that you were driving an understeering, front-wheel drive car.

The Sonata isn't a car for storming a winding country road (though its strong brakes were completely fade-free).

It's happiest on long constant-radius corners like those found on State Highway 1 where it corners flatly and smoothly.

I had fun driving it on winding roads, but the passenger was less impressed.

There's a bit of body roll in vigorous cornering as the weigh settles on the offside rear wheel.

I found the steering wheel's diameter to be a tad too great, though the rim width was comfortable. I also found the rake angle a little too great for my liking.

The steering itself is not over-servoed, though it's a little vague around the straight-ahead position.

The Sonata's cabin is roomy with excellent front and rear seat legroom and a generally high-quality air.

The light tan cloth upholstery looked robust.

I found the driver's seat comfortable, but the front seat passenger said her seat could have done with more lateral and shoulder support when the car was being cornered briskly.

The Sony single-disc Compact Disc player produced good sound, but that rather fussy controls and irritating running text messages. At night the major controls were illuminated with a garish blue light.

The analogue instrumentation is clear and easy to read, and the controls are well-placed and work well.

I particularly liked the precise, solid action of the windscreen wiper stalk. The wipers themselves were excellent, sweeping the screen of water very efficiently. Incidentally in light rain the car's wind shape clears the screen of rain spots very effectively, requiring only the occasional sweep of the wipers.

Standard equipment includes dual front airbags, electrically-wound windows (but, oddly, manually-adjusted exterior mirrors), door-mounted remote switches (a-la-Saab) for the remote boot and fuel filler cover releases, dual front cupholders in the centre console (they're covered by a lid which opens at finger pressure), four-speaker CD player, air-conditioning, remotely-controlled central door-locking, lockable folding rear seatbacks, power aerial, mudflaps and styled covers for the black-finished steels wheels.

So it's well-equipped (there are even power outlets in the lower dashboard and in the roomy boot).

The Sonata has a solid, well-built feel and the doors and bootlid fit couldn't be faulted. The car was absolutely rattle-free, adding to the air of quality.

In essence the Sonata does everything you want from a car in day-to-day use.

It's easy to drive, feels well-built, has adequate performance and a smooth-shifting automatic gearbox.

We'd like its bumpy road ride to be better and it's steering to have a more involving feel.

We also think its lack of handling sharpness sells short an otherwise rather good mid-sized saloon.

It sells for $35,790 and you get a lot of car with many good features for your money, and it's a car whose styling we thought was classy and upmarket.

Now if only it were more nimble...

AutoPoint road test team.

Auto Trader New Zealand