We've been waiting the 2006 Hyundai Sonata to pull in the Autoblog Driveway ever since glowing reviews of the car hit the pages of every major auto rag. It's obvious at first glance that the 2006 Sonata is a major improvement over past iterations. There are so many questions to be answered, however, like whether it has improved enough to become a legitimate player in a family sedan market that's dominated by a pair of relatively pricey Japanese heavyweights: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

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One fact that no one seems to be questioning is that the Sonata looks great on paper. We received the GLS model with the 3.3L V6 that has a base price of $20,895, above which resides only the LX starting at $22,895. The only available options on the GLS are a power tilt-and-slide sunroof and a sorely missed Premium Sport Package for $1,500 that includes the aforementioned sunroof, a power driver?s seat, a few odds and ends and larger 17? alloy wheels, all of which our tester lacked. What it didn?t lack was an incredibly long list of standard features including six airbags, nearly power everything, cruise control, a CD/MP3 stereo with wheel-mounted controls, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 16? alloy wheels, a 5-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC and, of course, the new 235-hp 3.3L V6 with continuous variable-valve timing.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS 450 AB

All of that for just $20,895 less tax and delivery, which, according to this Edmunds comparison, is $2,880 less than a comparably equipped Camry and $3,055 less than an Accord, neither of which is even available with such dynamic hardware as ESC or TC. Sure the new Sonata?s a great deal, sure it?s the best product to come out of Korea yet, and sure, it?s pretty good looking to boot. But while me, you and every other car guy knows how far Hyundai has come with the Sonata, it?s those other folks out there who still associate Korean cars with basic, no-frills transportation that Hyundai has to reach.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS 450 AB

For an automaker, trying to reverse a negative image with consumers is a painfully slow process ? just ask one of the domestics. But Hyundai?s making all the right moves with this car and creating converts faster than Billy Graham in a biker bar. While I would certainly count myself among the converted, I?m still not convinced that the new Sonata can successfully compete at the elevated price level of its competitors.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS 450 AB

As we learned from an earlier post, the car has been selling like gangbusters compared to the model it replaces and transaction prices at the dealership have also been rising. But as a car person you have to ask yourself, deep down, if someone gave you the choice of a loaded Accord or Sonata for free, which would you take? Yeah, it?s a tough question to answer. Is the Sonata a better car than the Accord or Camry? No, it really isn?t for reasons we?ll touch on later in the week. Is the Sonata a better car for the money? Yes, it absotively, posolutely is, and that?s enough in my book to earn it a pass to play with the big dogs.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS 450 AB

Over the next week we?ll get into the experience of driving the Sonata, particularly how Hyundai?s new 235-hp 3.3L Lambda V6 performs in concert with the car?s 5-speed slushbox. The Sonata will accompany me on a trip that spans the length of Ohio so I?ll have plenty of seat time to evaluate the handling as well as the car?s interior design and overall fit and finish. I?m curious to know whether by the end of the week the Sonata will have me on my knees praising Hyundai or merely continuing my defense of it to those who still wrongly consider Korean cars to be crap.

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