2015 Sonata Hybrid New Car Test Drive
Like the perennial mid-size sedan sales leaders it seeks to upstage, the Sonata is a musical theme whose title persists through regular rewrites. This is the seventh revision, and, carrying the symphonic parallel a little further, elements of the composition have been changed but the melody lingers on: high quality, attractive inside and out, with an exceptional value proposition.
All-new, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata competes with stalwarts such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.
As noted, this 2015 Sonata is the seventh generation and, like previous redesigns, the overhaul is comprehensive; no area of the car has escaped revision. While the net of the redesign and engineering updates is strongly positive, the re-sculpted exterior strikes us as cautious, and a retreat from the dramatic character creases of the previous generation. Though a widened grille and LED accents give the front end a little more drama, the overall look resembles the new Genesis sedan, and in smaller scale the design loses some of the bigger car's powerful presence.
Still, the word big does apply, or, more accurately, roomy. Exterior dimensions of the 2015 Sonata put it mid-pack among mid-size competitors, but by EPA standards its interior volume places it in full-size sedan territory, always a welcome trait in a family car.
This latest Sonata adds a new powertrain to its inventory, expanding choices to four: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; a gasoline-electric hybrid, which carries over from the 2014 Sonata line; and a new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which Hyundai characterizes as the 1.6T Eco.
All but the new 1.6-liter are mated with 6-speed automatic transmissions driving the front wheels. The 1.6-liter is paired with a new 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual. The other transmissions are 6-speeds.
Styling notwithstanding, one of the most significant elements of the 2015 Sonata redesign is a major uptick in chassis rigidity. The new car's integrated chassis-body shell is composed of 50 percent high strength steel, according to Hyundai, compared to 21 percent in the previous Sonata. That, added to increased use of structural adhesives and more welds, adds up to a 41 percent improvement in torsional rigidity, 26 percent in longitudinal stiffness. The payoffs are reduced interior noise and improved dynamics. The high strength steel also reduces structural mass, which balances out weight gains from added content and sound deadening. On average, the new Sonata is about seven pounds heavier, model for model, according Hyundai.
The Sonata gives a good account of itself in terms of ride and handling, particularly in the Sport models, with slightly stiffer suspension and a more accurate electric power steering system (rack-mounted motor, as distinct from column mounted). Predictably, the turbocharged Sonatas are quicker off the line, and reduce passing exposure time on two-lane highways. But none of powertrain combos are likely to ignite a driver's inner racer. The virtues here are supple ride quality, quiet operation, and responses that inspire confidence, if not passion.
Safety is always a top priority in family sedans, and the Sonata meets contemporary standards, with the anticipation of a top a safety pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as well as high marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The expanded inventory of safety features includes only one in which the vehicle takes charge of its own operation; the adaptive cruise control is capable of stopping the car and resuming motion in stop-and-go traffic. But Hyundai has also added the availability of a lane change assist system that includes blind spot detection, as well as forward collision alert and rear cross traffic alert. There's the usual array of front and side airbags, plus a new airbag that deploys in front of the driver's knees, to keep him or her from sliding under the dash in a collision. Antilock braking, traction, and stability control systems are all standard features.
The 2015 Sonata SE ($21,150) comes with the 2.4-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include cloth seats, air conditioning, simulated metal interior trim, tilt-telescope steering, map lights, glovebox and trunk illumination, illuminated ignition surround, cruise control, power windows with driver-side auto up-down, three 12-volt outlets, 60/40 split folding rear seat with trunk pass-through, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with satellite and MP3, iPod, USB, auxiliary input jacks, heated power folding mirrors, satin finish grille, projector beam headlamps, LED daytime running lights, rear decklid spoiler, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, tire repair kit (no spare).
Sonata Sport ($23,175) upgrades with simulated-leather door panels, faux carbon fiber interior trim, chrome door handles, eight-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, rearview camera, 5-inch color touch screen, Gen. 1 Blue Link Telematics, side mirror turn signal repeaters, sport front bumper cover, three-bar sport grille, dual chrome-tipped exhausts, automatic headlight control, side rocker panels with chrome molding, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, compact temporary spare.
Sonata Eco 1.6 T ($23,275) uses the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; 7-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission; 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Sonata Limited ($26,575) upgrades with leather seats, dual automatic climate control, blind-spot detection, dark chrome grille, chrome door handles with welcome light, LED taillights, woodgrain interior accents, leather-wrapped shift knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel, floor console rear seat vents, front passenger window auto up-down, auto-dimming rearview mirror with electronic compass, rear window sunshades, blind spot detection, seven-speaker premium audio.
Sport 2.0 T ($28,575) uses the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, electric power steering with rack-mounted electric motor, 24 mm front antiroll bar, stiffer rear springs and 18 mm antiroll bar, steering wheel-mounted paddles shifters, HID headlamps, three-bar sport grille, sport front bumper cover, rear diffuser, quad chrome-tipped exhausts, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; and it is upgraded with leather seats with sport bolsters and contrast stitching, tech appearance interior trim, aluminum-clad foot pedals, leather-wrapped D-shaped steering wheel.
Sonata Hybrid ($26,000) and Hybrid Limited ($30,750) are equipped similarly to the Sonata SE and Limited models, respectively, but feature the hybrid gas-electric powerplant.