By Bruce Caldwell
I can’t pick lottery numbers, racehorses, Super Bowl winners, or even the right socks for a pair of pants, but I did predict that Hyundai was going to greatly increase their share of the American auto market. I made my call after a press function where Hyundai management announced their ambitious warranty program. Hyundai quality had been rapidly improving and now the company was prepared to stand behind its cars at a previously unheard of level.
Today, Hyundai cars have improved so much that customers want to buy them because they’re excellent cars, not just sound financial equations. The Hyundai Sonata has been a leader in the company’s North American charge. It helped change the public perception of Hyundai from a maker of tiny economy cars to a company with a full range of cars and SUVs.
Walkaround: The 2009 Sonata exterior has been freshened with new front and rear fascias and body-side molding. The overall styling is crisp and very pleasant if not a little generic. There seems to be a similarity to many midsize sedans. The flattering thing about the Sonata styling and fit/finish/overall quality is that if it had Honda or Toyota badges no one would doubt that it wasn’t one of those cars.
Interior: The interior was also freshened for 2009. The layout is patterned after the Veracruz SUV. The gauges and controls are well placed. The blend of colors and textures is appealing. It looks like much thought was given to the interior design. Front seat room and comfort are very good. The optional sunroof deducts some headroom. Rear seat accommodations are good for two adults with the usual compromised middle position. Trunk space is ample and flexible thanks to split, folding rear seats. Trunk support struts maximize cargo space.
Under The Hood: Horsepower is up. The base 2.4-liter inline four gained 13 hp to 175. The 3.3-liter V-6 added 15 hp bringing its total to 249. Torque is 168 lb-ft and 229 lb-ft, respectively. Four-cylinder cars have a choice of a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 is only available with the automatic. The four-cylinder engine is quite lively when mated to the manual transmission. Fuel economy is very respectable and quite similar for all three powertrain combinations. EPA numbers are 21/32 for the 4-cylinder/manual, 22/32 for the 4-cylinder/automatic, and 19/29 for the V-6/automatic. The fuel economy penalty for the more powerful V-6 is minimal. The added cost for the V-6 is approximately $2,000-$2,500 depending on the model.
Behind The Wheel: The front-wheel-drive Sonata has revised suspension tuning for 2009. The GLS and Limited models now have firmer suspension tuning. The SE model has always been the sportiest Sonata and now it gets a unique sport suspension. Even though the SE suspension is firmer it doesn’t compromise ride quality. The SE gets 17-inch alloy wheels, which are a handsome improvement over the 16-inch GLS wheels and wheel covers.
Whines: We’d like it if the 5-speed manual transmission was available with the SE V-6.
Bottom Line: The Hyundai Sonata is an excellent choice for anyone seeking a competent, well-built, reasonably priced midsize sedan. The 2009 Sonata is a fine car and an excellent value.