With rising fuel prices, many are looking towards four-cylinder family cars
that still have plenty of room, good refinement and the high equipment level
they’ve come to expect. With apparently perfect timing, enter the 2.4-litre
Hyundai Sonata Elite.
The four cylinder has the same body as the previously tested V6 Sonata (see
Hyundai Sonata V6),
but exchanges the 3.3-litre 173kW engine for a 2.4-litre 118.5kW engine. You
might guess the four cylinder would be much cheaper than the six, but in
fact the difference isn’t great. Sticking to the models with auto transmissions,
the base 2.4 Sonata is $26,990 and the base 3.3-litre model $29,990. The 2.4
Elite – the model tested here – increases the ask to $31,490, with the V6 Elite
Taking into account the fact that when you pick the four cylinder over the V6 you also downgrade the auto trans from a 5-speed to a 4-speed, lose the Electronic
Stability Program and Traction Control systems and get smaller front and rear
brakes, and the price difference looks even less significant. In fact, the only reason that
we can see that you’d pick the 2.4 over the 3.3 is fuel economy. So, how much
more parsimonious is the smaller engine?
In as-tested auto-trans form, the four cylinder Sonata has an ADR 81/01 test
cycle figure of 8.8 litres/100km, which is excellent in class. We recorded a
test fuel economy of 9.2 litres/100 – quite close to the official test figure.
But the V6 Sonata has a government test fuel economy of 10.1 litres/100km – and
we actually did better than this in our test!
So the fuel economy of the smaller engine is only a little improved – but
there’s a drop in power of nearly 32 per cent. Does that make the 2.4 Sonata a
slug? Not at all. Despite having only the four-speed auto, the car gets up and
goes well, helped by a strong bottom-end torque. If we didn’t have the memory of
the V6 still fresh in our minds, we might have even thought the four had good
performance. But while it’s quite adequate, it misses the unexpected silken
punch of the fabulous six. The new ‘Theta’ engine (apparently to be licensed to
DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi for some of their future models) also has a
slightly throbby idle and lacks refinement at high revs.
So for price, performance and equipment reasons, we think the V6 Sonata is
definitely the pick over the four cylinder – whichever trim model you’re looking
at. But what about the four cylinder car as a whole? How does that stack up? In
short: very well.
Inside, the Sonata is capacious – sure, not as big in every dimension as the
local Falcons and Commodores but still with lots of room for four adults. Set
the driver’s seat for a comfortable, tall person driving position and directly
behind there’s still plenty of room in every direction, save perhaps for
headroom if you’re very tall. And inside the cabin it’s not just a big volume.
Intelligent design abounds, with plenty of storage spaces, a roof-mounted
sunglasses holder, cup-holders in the fold-down rear armrest and in the centre
console, a slide-forward central front armrest, and extendable sunvisors.
The seats are comfortable and well shaped and the rear seat split-folds,
allowing long objects to be carried. The boot volume itself is huge at 462
litres, although the opening is limited if box-shaped objects need to be placed
inside. A 12V power socket is provided in the boot and the lid is hinged with
gas-strut equipped external hinges that don’t intrude into the boot space when
the lid is shut. The front seat head restraints are equipped with an active
anti-whiplash mechanism which in a rear-end collision pivot the head restraint
forward and slightly upward. In addition to height adjustment, the front head
restraints can also be adjusted for fore-aft position.
In-cabin equipment of the Elite includes an easy to operate climate control
system, leather (which we found a bit sweaty), electric driver’s seat and an
in-dash six-stacker CD complete with 8-inch sub and external amplifier. Standard
on all Sonatas are a rake and reach-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel,
six airbags, cruise control, ABS and a dashboard fuel economy display.
Externally, the Elite adds reversing sensors, some chrome bits and pieces and
17-inch alloy wheels wearing larger 225/50 Dunlop Sport tyres.
The ride is firm – although paradoxically we thought it was perhaps better with the larger wheels and tyres fitted to the four cylinder Elite than to the V6 base model –
and the handling benign and competent. However, without stability control, once
the four cylinder Sonata starts to understeer it will keep on doing just that –
this isn’t a particularly balanced sporting car. More seriously, we also noticed
quite severe steering kickback when the car was cornered hard on bumpy
So where does all that leave us?
In this story we’ve talked about the V6 model almost as much as the tested
four cylinder car. But look at the figures: you pay about 10 per cent more for a
car with 13 per cent poorer fuel economy – but which has 46 per cent more power,
a 5-speed auto, Electronic Stability Control, bigger brakes and a much more
refined engine. Even with fuel increasing in cost, to us there seems only one
possible buyer decision.
The V6 Sonata – especially in base model form – is a stunning bargain. The
2.4-litre Elite is still a very good car – but in terms of value for money, it’s
in about the middle of the field....
The Sonata 2.4 Elite was provided for this test by Hyundai Australia