After a full week of wringing out the Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 we've come to some conclusions. Before we get to that, however, let's talk about performance.
P.S. There's a special surprise at the end of the review, at least it was for us.
The 3.3L V6 in the new Sonata is part of Hyundai's new Lambda series of engines, and for the 2006 model year it's
the most powerful powerplant in the company's stable. The 3.5L V6 in the Santa Fe and XG350 have a slight displacement
advantage, but fall short in both horsepower and torque to the 3.3L. This is an important engine for Hyundai, and one
that seems more than capable of competing with the V6 powerplants of its peers.
The 3.3L develops 235 hp and 226 lb-ft. of torque, and those numbers are all present and accounted for when you tromp the gas pedal. The five-speed automatic transmission is nearly transparent in operation as it quietly goes about choosing which gear will get the most out of the engine's powerband in any particular situation. While the engine doesn't have the grunt of the Accord's 244-hp 3.0L V6 or the Nissan's 250-hp 3.5L V6, it holds its own and comes out ahead against, say, the 210-hp 3.3L V6 in the Camry. It's the strong, silent type, which is right on target for this class of vehicles.
As is the case with many family sedans sporting a large V6, the Sonata's handling doesn't really measure up to its powertrain. We had to remind ourselves repeatedly that this wasn't the LX with the 17" wheel package and that the GLS was designed more for suburban reconnaissance than backroad barnstorming. While anti-roll bars are present front and rear, their participation in turns seems absent. Perhaps it was the Sonata's generous weight of 3,458 lbs (heaviest among the Accord, Camry, Altima and recently added Fusion against which we've been comparing the car) that was overwhelming the suspension. Regardless, the GLS isn't the model that's meant to be pushed. It's meant to be comfortable, and to that end it succeeds.
The Sonata's steering left us a little bewildered. At first the car was drifting to the right while cruising at 35-mph, which we initially attributed to a bad alignment caused by over 5,000 miles of abusive automotive journalists. During our time on the highway, however, the Sonata also happened to drift to the left on occasion. That it didn't seem to track straight was certainly an annoyance that detracted from the car's otherwise relaxing demeanor. The variable-assist power steering felt like it was still assisting too much at higher speeds where minor unintended inputs from the driver could easily cause the car to alter its path.
The Sonata's turning radius of 35.8 feet, however, must be commended. It's the best in our class of comparos and is much appreciated in parking lots that seem to be shrinking by the day.
After living with the new 2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 we're prepared to say that it's a winner. While everyone keeps saying that it's a good car for the money, we've come to the conclusion that it's just a good car. While it may fall short in some areas to its peers, it flat out ties or beats them in many others. The Sonata, for instance, is King of the Hill when it comes to safety, offering the most comprehensive standard safety package that includes both Traction and Electronic Stability Control. It also offers a better warranty than any of its competitors.
Since it seems that no one can talk about the Sonata's virtues without also talking about its price, let's put it another way. We see the Sonata's relatively low price as not merely undercutting its competition, but rather reestablishing the price of full-featured family sedans back in the low-to-mid $20K range where it belongs. Option out a Camry, Accord or Altima to meet the Sonata's equipment level and chances are you'll be staring at the belly of a $30K price tag. That's not family sedan territory, that's entry-level luxury territory.
The Sonata reminds us that a bread-and-butter sedan should be about value, safety and performance, in that order. At the moment, its competitors are confused and have it backwards. The arrival of the Sonata on the scene, as well as the value-driven 2006 Ford Fusion, may mark the beginning of a return to values for the mainstream family sedan, and we think the new Sonata has positioned itself perfectly.
Now, speaking of the 2006 Ford Fusion...
We got a call from some white-collars over at Ford who were going to be in town with a brand new Fusion while we were reviewing the Sonata. They wanted to know if we were interested in parking the Fusion next to the Sonata and maybe talking about the future of the family sedan. I replied, "Sure, if you let me drive the Fusion."
The people we spoke with at Ford seem to have genuine respect for the new Sonata. It's obvious to everyone, even its peers, that Hyundai done good with this one. Everyone at Ford, however, is literally beaming with pride over the Fusion and they're more than confident it will not only sell well, but also change what people think about Ford.
The price ranges for these two cars are nearly identical, with both starting just below $18K and topping out around $25K or so. And while both will compete in the same class, they are obviously aimed at different ends. The Sonata is so obviously targeted at the Camry that it's hardly worth mentioning again. It's a safe driving, safe looking and just plain safe sedan. The Fusion, however, is much more dynamic, not only in its original and (we think) attractive styling, but also in its performance and handling. With a pair of engines slightly smaller than the competition, the Fusion isn't so much about how fast you can go but rather what you can do while going that fast.
It's good to have friends in high places, because our new buds at the Blue Oval have offered to set us up with a Ford Fusion to review ASAP. This is a treat as we'll be able to review perhaps the two most significant family cars of 2006 nearly back-to-back. It seems that the Year of the Car, which Ford touted throughout all of model year 2005, will be around for at least another 365 days thanks in no small part to this pair of sedans.