$18,000 - $23,000 Mid Sized Front Wheel Drive Sedan
Who should buy this car:
A family looking for a low cost mid-sized sedan with a long warranty, decent quality and high content levels
Comparable models in this class:
Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Stratus, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6, Saturn L300, Suzuki Verona, Toyota Camry
Settle inside the 2006 Hyundai Sonata, twist the key and its clear that the family-sedan landscape is undergoing a substantial change.
The all-new South Korean four-door, built at Hyundais plant in Montgomery, Ala., evinces a level of sophistication and refinement that gives no quarter to its main competitors and leaders of the segment, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. And it does so with very competitive prices and a long warranty. The warranty for the Sonata is five years or 60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Hyundais continued emphasis on new products with long warranties goes a long way toward advancing its reputation.
The four-cylinder GL starts at $17,895. The popular GLS with a 235-horsepower V-6 starts at $20,895 and the top LX begins at $22,895.
Standard equipment on the GLS V-6 includes alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, side-curtain airbags, keyless entry, power windows and an AM/FM/CD audio system.
Hyundai said its all-new Sonata was designed specifically to meet the needs of the American market, and it is the product of three years of development at Hyundai's global research and development operations, including those in Michigan and California.
The understated styling has a Teutonic flair. The panel gaps are tight and bumper cover seams are cleverly shaped to integrate into the outline of the taillights. This attention to detail is like that of some German cars, and it is a good example of how Hyundai is moving the bar for itself.
There are two engine choices, and both of them are new. The base engine for the GL and GLS is an aluminum 2.4-liter, four-cylinder with continuously variable valve timing and a counter-rotating balance shaft. This engine produces 162 horsepower and 164 pound-feet of torque, numbers that are almost identical to the Honda Accord.
Optional on the GLS and standard on the LX is the 3.3-liter V-6 with 235 horsepower. This was the engine in our test car. This engine has very little vibration because it is mounted on a subframe that uses hydraulic mounts to isolate the engine from the car. The aluminum powerplant has continuously variable valve timing. It is exceptionally smooth over the road, and it produces more torque, at lower rpm, than one of its Japanese rivals. The V-6 pulls away from stops with authority, makes clean passes on the highway and has the torque to power up hills without flattening the throttle.
Fuel economy for the V-6 is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway.
The five-speed automatic transmission works in concert with the engine to reduce the intrusion of gearshifts. The gear lever moves through a notched gate on the console, and it can be shifted manually for sporty driving or more control in bad weather.
Four-wheel independent suspension yields a ride that is soft enough to be plush yet firm enough for decent handling.
The Sonatas cabin is comfortable, spacious and very nicely designed. The level of standard equipment is startling for a vehicle in this price range. A good variety of textures on the instrument panel gives the appearance of expensive materials. The top of the dash is covered in dark material while the lower section is light to give a sense of space. A thin strip of brushed aluminum separates the two colors.
Gauges are white-on-black with bright trim on the speedometer. The tachometer is small and tucked away on the left side. Controls for HVAC are large and work as smoothly as those of a more expensive car.
The leather-covered tilt steering wheel has audio and cruise-control buttons.
Headroom and legroom in the front are quite generous. My only complaint came when I was trying to find just the right seat/steering wheel/pedal position for me. It seemed that when I was far enough to reach the pedals comfortably the steering wheel was too far away.
The back seat is not only comfortable, but it has good legroom. The trunk is large as well.
Hyundais redesign of the Sonata puts it in serious competition with other family sedans.