2016 Hyundai Sonata - The Car Connection

   
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The Car Connection Expert Rating Breakdown



The Car Connection Expert Review


Kirk Bell

Kirk Bell

Editor


  • Likes
  • Spacious interior
  • Fuel efficient
  • Eco edition is no mild hybrid
  • Android or Apple, your interface is okay
  • Controlled ride and handling
  • Dislikes
  • Beginning to blend in
  • Not as quick as some rivals
  • Manuals are gone for good
  • Woodgrain trim is unconvincing

Spacious and fuel efficient, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata is a worthy rival for America's best-selling family sedan.


The 2016 Hyundai Sonata, now in its seventh generation, competes against a squadron of well-qualified family four-doors, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu, as well as the VW Passat, Kia Optima, Chrysler 200, Subaru Legacy, and Mazda 6. That's some tough competition.

The Sonata was redesigned for 2015, and this generation has more conservative looks and higher refinement levels. The flamboyant styling is replaced by a more even-tempered look inside and out, and it may end up aging better despite media criticism that it's become too bland. The reorg works better in the cockpit, where the trapezoidal cues run along tracks laid by German sedans four decades ago. It's formal, and a bit like the design used in the closely related Kia Optima. Skip the wood grain, though; the carbon fiber and aluminum-like trims do a fine job of dressing up what's become a sober den.

Changes for 2016 include the use of several aluminum suspension components, the addition of emergency braking to the forward collision warning system, a new 7.0-inch touchscreen audio system with the Android Auto smartphone interface, and some equipment shuffling. The Limited trim also gets the Sport trim's more aggressive front bumper. In addition, the Sonata Hybrid is updated this year, and Hyundai offers a new Plug-in Hybrid. You can read about them here.

One of the lighter cars in its class, the Sonata was also one of the first to move to an all 4-cylinder lineup, and it doesn't want for more. The base 185-horsepower 2.4-liter inline-4 and the twin-scroll turbocharged, 245-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 are free-revving engines that deliver their power fairly quietly and almost free of vibration. With either engine, you get a 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual controls and quick, smooth shifts. Sport 2.0T models have paddle shifters, and all Sonatas get a three-mode driving selector that fiddles with shift timing, throttle delivery, and power steering assist through Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. In Eco mode, the Sonata really dithers over downshifts, but the milder differences in Normal and Sport modes probably mean owners will play with the feature once before leaving it in default mode.

Hyundai enlisted Lotus Engineering to iron out the 2015 Genesis' handling, and those lessons have been applied to the Sonata as well. A stiff body structure helps it damp out bumps and take direction. It's settled at any speed, and compliant. The addition of several aluminum suspension components for 2016 should aid both handling and ride quality. Sport 2.0T tuning isn't much different, with just a 1-mm change in stabilizer-bar thickness and moderately beefier P235/45R18 tires. The electric power steering tracks well and maintains its sense of true, without much wandering or excessive weight. Even if it's not talking back to you, at least the steering is listening.

As for the Sonata Eco, our brief exposure to it was mostly a good one. The Eco is no mild hybrid. It's a small-displacement turbo inline-4 mated to a dual-clutch transmission. With 177 hp and a booming exhaust note, it reminds us of Ford's mid-line Fusion in its eagerness, and gas mileage is pegged at 32 mpg, putting it on the non-hybrid leaderboard.

Space is a strength for the Sonata. It's technically defined by the EPA as a large car, but the Sonata is marketed as a mid-size car, so it can be compared favorably to a Fusion or Altima, but shy of a Chevy Impala.

There's plenty of room for 6-footers in the front seats, and the seats are comfortable, with plenty of bottom cushion and bolstering. In back, there is an excess of knee room, enough to cross over a knee into a freestyle yoga pose. The back seat leg room isn't quite as expansive as in a Passat, and head room is like most of the cars in this segment—a little snug when the sunroof is ordered, fine for anyone 6 foot or shorter.

The Sonata's positively awash in storage bins, perfect for hiding stuff from drivers and passengers. Trunk space is generous at 16.3 cubic feet, and it has handy seat-fold levers inside the trunk. The cabin is relaxed, too. It's quiet enough, even at a good driving pace, to hear front-seat conversations without straining.

In crash testing, the Sonata has earned five-star federal scores, as well as across the board "Good" ratings from the IIHS. It also offers blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, a driver knee airbag, and a forward collision system with emergency braking.

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata lineup is varied. With the 2.4-liter inline-4, it comes in SE, Sport, and Limited trim levels; with the 2.0T it is offered in Sport and Limited trim; and with the 1.6T it comes as the Eco.

The SE model starts at about $22,000. Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear lip spoiler, automatic headlights, cloth upholstery, an AM/FM/XM/HD/CD radio with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Hyundai BlueLink telematics, Android Auto, a rearview camera, a USB port, and Bluetooth with audio streaming.

Equipment increases by model, and the Sport 2.0T models are delineated by paddle shifters, a sport suspension, sport-tuned steering, quad exhaust tips, a rear diffuser, 18-inch wheels, aluminum pedals, and sport seats, among other features.

The Sonata's infotainment systems comes with a large 8.0-inch touchscreen, smartphone-app compatibility for Pandora and SoundHound, and HD radio. Navigation-equipped cars get Apple Eyes Free Siri integration, and all models now have Google’s Android Auto smartphone system. Apple CarPlay is soon to come.

All three Sonata powertrains were built with fuel efficiency in mind, from the chart-topping Sonata Eco's 38 mpg highway rating to the Limited's highway legs at 31 mpg. There's really not a bad pick here.

Styling
8.0

Though not as bold as the last-generation, the current Sonata's more conservative exterior may age better; inside the look is formal and attractive.


Compared to the bold last-generation Sonata, the 2016 model is arguably classier and more sophisticated but more conservative. Many have criticized the new design for being too bland, but we feel it might age more gracefully than the innovative 2011-2014 Sonata. It's less busy overall, with fewer surfaces crashing up against each other, and no more awkward cutlines.

The look is derived from Hyundai's latest design theme, which was first seen on the 2015 Genesis. It lacks a bit of the exuberance that the last Sonata had and the Genesis manages to achieve as well. The "sabre" line still gives the Sonata wide shoulders, but it doesn't dive for the front wheels anymore. Instead, it's a straight shot down the body. Horizontal lines everywhere calm down the shape, from the rear lip spoiler and its chrome surround, to the dual exhaust and its bright tips, to the bend at the bottom of the decklid that takes some heft out of the rear end. It's closer to the invisible ideal of the modern family sedan.

The Sonata Sport is the visual standout of the lineup, with its distinctive front-end appearance, side rocker extensions, and added chrome body-side molding. Sport 2.0T models get an additional rear bumper fascia and quad exhaust tips, with showy 18-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the cabin is mostly trimmed in a good grade of plastic and leather. The printed wood-grain pieces aren't convincing, but the textured looks meant to mimic carbon fiber and aluminum do a fine job of dressing up a somewhat sober den.

The Sonata features horizontal lines on the dashboard, with controls grouped in distinct zones. The center screen's framed off inside a trapezoid that looks utterly German, and the stack is rich with knobs and buttons. It's a formal appearance, and a bit like the design used in the closely related Kia Optima. The steering wheel has a sporty look, and the 2.0T models get an even sportier flat-bottom steering wheel.

Though not as bold as the last-generation, the current Sonata's more conservative exterior may age better; inside the look is formal and attractive.

Performance
8.0

Light weight and a stiff structure contribute to a controlled, composed ride, and new aluminum suspension components should add a touch of sportiness.


The Sonata is one of the lighter cars in the segment, and its 2015 redesign gave it a stiffer structure that helps it do a better job of damping bumps and taking direction. Hyundai enlisted Lotus Engineering to iron out the 2015 Genesis' handling, and those lessons have been applied to the Sonata. In our test drives, the Sonata has responded with a gentle, able feel. It's settled at any speed. Roll over a train track at 60 mph and it reacts with compliance, and little drama, even with the 18-inch tires on 2.0T trims.

We haven't driven the 2016 model yet, but Hyundai has put in more work this year to improve the dynamics even more. The steering knuckle, front lower control arm, rear upper control arm, and rear assist arms are now aluminum. Reducing the unsprung weight should make the car even more compliant and quicker to react to driver inputs.

Sport 2.0T sedans have slightly different tuning, with a 1-mm bump in anti-roll bars, and moderately beefier P235/45R18 tires. It's a small difference, though the ride is a bit firmer but the handling a bit more crisp. Turbo sedans also get an electric parking brake (as do the Limited sedans), while other versions have a foot-operated brake.

Steering is driven by electric motors on all Sonatas. All but the 2.0Ts have column-mounted setups, while the turbo sedan has a dual-pinion rack that's supposed to deliver better steering feel and finer responses. The slight uptick in the turbo's attentiveness probably comes as much from the bigger tires as from the more costly steering rack. In either setup, most of the wandering has been filtered off, leaving behind the sense that even if it's not talking back to you, at least the steering is listening.

The base 2.4-liter inline-4 makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. It winds happily and smoothly through its powerband, though it isn't particularly quick.

The Sport 2.0T Sonata produces 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It's smooth for a turbocharged inline-4 and is almost free of vibration. It's certainly stronger than the base engine, but isn't as quick as other turbo-4 and V-6s from the competition.

In either case, you get a 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual controls. Sport 2.0T models feature paddle shifters, and all Sonatas get a three-mode driving selector that fiddles with power steering assist, shift timing, and throttle delivery through Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. In Eco mode, the Sonata really dithers over downshifts, but the milder differences in Normal and Sport modes probably mean owners will play with the feature once before leaving it in default mode.

Our brief exposure to the Sonata Eco was mostly a good one. The Eco combines a small turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 with a 7-speed, dry dual-clutch transmission for higher fuel economy than the non-hybrid models. It has an output of 177 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The turbo is a twin-scroll for quicker boost, the DCT has electronic clutch and gear actuation, and generally, the powertrain here has more exhaust noise and peakier behavior than the other choices.

The Eco's engine is comparable to the turbo 1.5-liter inline-4 in the Ford Fusion, as much for the perky acceleration feel as the booming exhaust note. It's a hard worker, hauling around a little more than 3,200 pounds, but not an unhappy one. Some pre-production dual-clutch chatter aside, it was hard to perceive the transmission's shifts at anything but very low speeds. Minus a couple hundred pounds or so from the Sonata Limited, the steering feels considerably lighter, too.

Light weight and a stiff structure contribute to a controlled, composed ride, and new aluminum suspension components should add a touch of sportiness.

Comfort & Quality
8.0

Ample rear-set leg room makes the Sonata one of the roomiest midsize sedans.


The Sonata is technically defined by the EPA as a large car but is marketed as a mid-size car, against vehicles like the Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion.

The Sonata is 191.1 inches long, and it does more with its dimensions than even the Honda Accord, which is longer, but less spacious. The Sonata has the same wheelbase as the Passat, at 110.4 inches, but packages in more people and cargo space than the Volkswagen—barely. Inside, there's a total of 122.4 cubic feet of space, split between 106.1 cubic feet for the humans and 16.3 cubic feet for cargo.

Off the spec sheet, there's very good space for 6-footers in the front seats, and the seats are are well bolstered, especially in the 2.0T Sport model. A power passenger seat can be had, though it's only offered on upper trim levels, where you'll also find heated and ventilated seats and a serviceable grade of leather upholstery.

The Sonata's positively awash in storage bins, perfect for hiding stuff from drivers and passengers. The covered bin ahead of the shifter tucks away USB and power points, and there's a handy rubber-lined bin to the right of the lever that's made for smartphones. The console and glove box are deep enough for stowing tablets. Cupholders, door pockets, a trunk with pulldowns for the rear seat inside the trunk itself—it's all where you need it.

In back, a 6-footer has plenty of knee room behind another 6-footer, enough, in fact, to cross over a knee into a freestyle yoga pose. The back seat leg room isn't quite as expansive as in a Passat, but head room is like most of the cars in this segment—a little snug when the sunroof is ordered, but fine for anyone under 6-feet tall.

A strong structure and plenty of sound deadening material make the Sonata quiet at a good driving pace, plenty quiet for normal conversation.

Ample rear-set leg room makes the Sonata one of the roomiest midsize sedans.

Safety
9.0

Top crash ratings and plenty of available safety features gives families a little peace of mind.


The 2016 Hyundai Sonata has an impressive safety record. It comes standard with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee bag. It also offers blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, active cruise control, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.

The Sonata has also managed some quite impressive safety ratings from both the federal government and the IIHS. In government testing, it scored excellent five stars both overall and in frontal and side-impact categories. That includes five stars in both subcategories of the frontal test (for a male-size driver and female-size passenger), as well as a perfect five stars in all subcategories of the side barrier test and the side pole test.

That's in addition to a perfect set of scores from the IIHS, which rank it "Good" in all tests. The 2016 Sonata also earns the best IIHS "Superior" nod for front crash prevention when equipped with the optional Forward Collision Warning system. That's improved from "Basic" last year due to the emergency braking added this year. All together, the safety features merit the Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS.

The only thing stopping us from giving it a 10 is the Sonata's four-star rollover score, which is a calculated score rather than an actual test.

Top crash ratings and plenty of available safety features gives families a little peace of mind.

Features
9.0

Feature availability is a strength, even though you might have to pay for that rearview camera. The Sonata offers both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.


The 2016 Hyundai Sonata lineup is varied. With the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, it comes in SE, Sport, and Limited trim levels; with the turbocharged 2.0-liter the Sonata is offered in Sport and Limited trim; and with the turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, the Sonata only comes as the Eco.

The SE model starts at about $22,000. Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear lip spoiler, automatic headlights, cloth upholstery, an AM/FM/XM/HD/CD radio with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Hyundai BlueLink telematics, Android Auto, a rearview camera, a USB port, and Bluetooth with audio streaming.

The Eco adds a power driver's seat, faux leather upholstery on the door inserts, and LED daytime running lights.

The Sonata Sport gets 17-inch wheels, carbon fiber-look interior accents, and various sporty exterior trim bits. A technology package for the Sport comes with a navigation system, upgraded gauges, a Dimension premium audio system, SiriusXM Travel Link, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener.

The Limited adds a sunroof, LED taillights, a hands-free smart trunk, chrome exterior trim, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front and rear seats, woodgrain interior trim, a power front passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, keyless ignition, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts.

A technology package for the Limited adds a panoramic sunroof, navigation, Infinity audio, HID headlights, LED interior lighting, upgraded gauges, a heated steering wheel, rear side shades, SiriusXM Travel Link, and memory for the driver's seat and exterior mirrors. The ultimate package adds to that adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, a forward-collision warning system, rear parking sensors, and automatic high beams.

The Sport 2.0T is fitted with paddle shifters, a sport suspension, sport-tuned steering, blind-spot monitors, HID headlights, LED taillights, quad exhaust tips, a rear diffuser, 18-inch wheels, aluminum pedals, and sport seats.

The Limited 2.0T adds the hands-free smart trunk, keyless ignition, automatic climate control, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, a forward-collision warning system, automatic high beams, the panoramic sunroof, rear side sunshades, memory for the driver's seat and side mirrors, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Infinity audio, navigation, and the upgraded gauges.

Hyundai's navigation system has smartphone-app compatibility for Pandora and SoundHound. The system also includes a split-screen view, the ability to record up to 22 minutes of satellite radio, and Apple's Siri Eyes Free. Google's Android Auto smartphone interface is standard on all models. Apple CarPlay will arrive soon as well, according to the automaker.

The Blue Link services include such things as remote start, destination search (powered by Google), and a car-care in-vehicle app.

Feature availability is a strength, even though you might have to pay for that rearview camera. The Sonata offers both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Fuel Economy
8.0

You can save money at the pump with with the Eco model or a hybrid.


The 2016 Hyundai Sonata offers three 4-cylinder powertrains, all of which are fuel efficient. In fact, one of those powertrains is aimed specifically at fuel economy.

Last year, Hyundai added the Sonata Eco, with a 1.6-liter turbo-4. It is rated at 28 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined, putting it on the non-hybrid leaderboard.

The 2.4-liter four earns 25/38/30 mpg in most models and 25/36/29 mpg in the Sport Limited.

The turbocharged Sport 2.0T is rated at 23/32/26 mpg and the 2.0T Limited checks in at 21/31/25 mpg.

You can save money at the pump with with the Eco model or a hybrid.




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