Hyundai has been building towards it in the Australian market for years. The
original Grandeur was flawed but showed promise with a sweet engine and 5-speed
auto. The new diesel turbo engine
in the Terracan is a smooth, powerful and fuel-efficient design – although the
rest of the car now feels quite old. And at the budget end of new car buying,
there’s little wrong with the Getz.
But with the new Sonata, Hyundai has the killer punch – an extraordinarily
good engine and transmission absolutely at home in a modern, roomy and highly
competent body. Why buy a $37,000 V6 Honda Accord when you can have very similar
power and economy, better handling, more features, a longer warranty – and
pocket a heap of cash?
Even when viewed only on paper, the Sonata is stunning value: a 3.3-litre V6
engine with 173kW yet still giving ADR 81-01 combined city/highway fuel economy
of 10.1 litres/100km. Factory listed performance that includes a 15.6 standing
400 metres (yep, mid-fifteens from a naturally aspirated family Hyundai!) and a
0-100 km/h time of 7.7 seconds. Significantly, in our testing we bettered both
the fuel economy and 0-100 km/h performance figures.
Completely standard – even in this base V6 model – are ABS, traction control,
Bosch 8.0 stability control, a sequential 5-speed auto, 16-inch rims (although
they’re steel) wearing 215/60 tyres, six airbags (including standard side
curtain ‘bags), and Sachs-equipped double wishbone front suspension and
multi-link rear suspension.
And if anything, that spec list understates the sophistication with which the
Sonata drives. Make a few minor dress-up changes to the interior, perhaps soften the
suspension a tad, and you could very easily be in a car with a mid-$60,000 price
tag. But the unbelievable thing is that the list price for the Sonata is just
$29,990! Even as I type that figure I need to open another screen to again check
it against Hyundai’s press material... surely there’s never been a bargain like
Of course, the Sonata isn’t perfect. We found some interior plastic fittings
that looked a little tacky (the fuse cover at the end of the dash is one) and
the front suspension of the test car had a clunk on sharp low-speed turns. There
was also an odd resonant buzz from under the bonnet when engines revs rose at a
slow rate. However, the biggest negative is the suspension, which we think is
simply too firm for a family car. If this were the sports version (and no such
model exists, the only other V6 is the better equipped Elite), the suspension
would be fine as it is. But all Australia Sonatas get the European suspension
pack, and while it’s much preferable to the ultra-soft suspensions Hyundai has
previously given us (the Grandeur comes to mind), on some of the goat tracks
that pass for roads in this country it can be a bit uncomfortable.
But first and foremost this is a family car. Inside it’s huge – sure, not as
big in every dimension as the local Falcons and Commodores but still plenty
spacious 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
The seats are comfortable and well shaped, with both front seats providing
adjustable lumbar support and both able to be adjusted for height.
Unfortunately, the seats pivot around a forward point, so in effect only the
rear of the seat is able to be lifted. 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 includes an LCD average fuel consumption display (it’s
integrated into the trip meter), straightforward rotary control heating and
air-conditioning controls, and an MP3-compatible AM/FM CD sound system that uses
steering wheel mounted controls and sounds a long way better than class
And on the road? Well, the good news story continues. The engine is a creamy
delight, smooth, powerful, unfussed, torquey, responsive, tractable.... you get
the picture. It makes the performance of Holden’s recently introduced Alloytec
V6 engine look like a joke; shows the age of the Camry’s (still very good) V6;
together with its 5-speed auto is clearly superior to the Falcon in-line six and
4-speed auto combination; and is simply in a different technological millennium
to the Magna V6 (and, apparently, the soon to be released 380’s engine). In
fact, we’d be happy pitching it against the Maxima’s 3.5-litre V6 and the Honda
Accord’s 3-litre V6 as one of the best passenger car six cylinder engines in
Australia – and the cheapest Maxima is $38,990 and the Honda starts at
The 5-speed auto – like the engine, another all-new design – is well up to
task. It picks up lower gears with ease, integrates superbly with the engine on
full-throttle changes, and allows easy driver selection of gear. But the reality
is that perhaps with the exception of engine braking on long descents, or if
powering the car along a twisting mountain road (Huh? We’re talking a Hyundai
Sonata here? Just go try it!), you’re very unlikely to ever manually change
gears. Perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled at the
engine/transmission combination is a slight jerk that can occur when getting
back on the power.
And the handling? It’s certainly no let-down – and it’s heaps better than the
grossly understeering V6 Accord – but by the same token it’s not nearly as good
as a Commodore, Falcon or all-wheel drive Magna. The standard stability control
stops it getting ugly but the Sonata will certainly understeer until the Bosch
system grabs it by the neck and reins in the front slide. That’s written from
the sporting perspective of a mid-fifteen second quarter mile car being driven
hard; for family and the vast majority of normal driving, the Sonata is stable,
forgiving and telegraphs its behaviour well.
In summary, we think the Sonata V6 is a stunning bargain. No-one can predict
its in-service reliability (though there is the reassurance of the 5 year,
130,000km warranty) but in the way it drives, the features it has, and its
accommodation it can only be described as being at least $7000 underpriced. And
consider the engine, the stability control and the interior space, and the
saving can be valued at far more than that...
The NF Sonata is a watershed car for Hyundai – and perhaps the rest of the
market as well.
The Sonata was provided for this test by Hyundai Australia.
Footnote: Journalists who attended the press launch of the Sonata were
offered cars at half price. After the resulting outcry over the inappropriate
influencing of journalists with what amounted to a bribe, the company later
withdrew this offer. Julian Edgar did not attend the press launch and no offer was made to him.