We spent a lot of the long weekend on the deck overlooking the garden. The driveway, where a 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T sat, runs alongside, and every few minutes my eyes would drift over to the car, a metallic bronze puzzlement gleaming in the late-summer sun. It isn’t every day that a factory deliberately tamps down the looks of one of its cars, particularly a car that was a) the prettiest one ever from Korea, Inc., and 2) sold like beer at the beach. What were they thinking? Or, what was I missing?
That’s not all. This car, with the range-topping 2.0-liter turbo engine in its nose, is down 29 horses from before, to 245HP. That’s more than 10 percent of the enthusiasm gone, and this is the Sport model! Again: Was I not getting it? I had to keep looking. And driving.
The drop in power is easy to figure out, what with the federal fuel-efficiency noose tightening further in 2016. Installing a smaller turbocharger, to burn less gas, is easier than putting the Sonata on a crash (sorry) diet. The ratings for this car are 23/32 MPG, city/highway, and we managed 26 overall in town. With less power at the front wheels, torque steer and tire squeal are reduced also, along with, naturally, acceleration.
The new Sonata is less exuberant style-wise, too. My Deep Throat at Hyundai conceded that the new look isn’t as “different” (his word) as before, but rather evolutionary, and he cited lead designer Chris Chapman: “The previous model made a statement, and introduced Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture. The 2015 Sonata is meant to be Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. It’s a more refined look with tighter, simpler lines—an athlete in a tailored suit.”
DeepT also pointed to the new Sonata’s driving dynamics, improved through revised suspension and steering and a unibody that is 41 percent more twist-resistant than before. Handling and ride, he said, are much better, and NVH—noise, vibration & harshness—has been much reduced. Without a ’14 Sonata to drive alongside, it’s still clear that the ’15 is unusually quiet and goes well, especially in Sport and Normal modes. (“Eco” drives as if we’d missed a couple of payments.) The six-speed Shiftronic automatic does its job capably, and the driver can take over gear selection via the stick or a pair of paddles on the steering wheel.
But I still quibble about that Sport label. Instead, Hyundai might call this the Select 2.0T. At $29,385, it is dressed up with bigger wheels, chrome door sills, LED taillights and Xenon headlights, a discreet spoiler atop the trunk, quadruple exhaust vents, and chrome door handles with “welcome” lights. Inside, more of the same: dark leather-trimmed sport seats with orange piping, and a chopped-off, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Cabin heat and A/C are controlled by a two-zone automatic system, and in place of a key there’s an electronic fob that activates the pushbutton ignition, door locks and hands-free trunk lid.
The 2.0T also gets a backup camera, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitors and a Homelink mirror. More tech is available in the $4,950 Ultimate Package, which adds smart cruise control with stop-start capability, an electronic parking brake, rearward parking assistance, lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, a Wi-Fi hotspot, a 400-watt stereo with 10 speakers, a computer touch screen with advanced navigation, Blue Link telematics and the assistance of Siri, Apple’s digital docent. The front seats become vented and the rear seats get heaters, and finally there’s a panoramic sunroof. Hyundai keeps its lead in the price/value race—especially as the new Sonata has grown enough to qualify as a Large car, by EPA standards, while its competitors languish back in Mid-Size.
At first it seemed that Hyundai, somehow unhappy with the previous model’s sales, was trying to woo even more of us by diluting the secret Sonata sauce with please-all Camry/Accord vanilla. But as I stared at the car, a better explanation finally bubbled up: Hyundai’s new and nearly brilliant, if slab-sided, big Genesis sedan is now setting the style for the entire lineup. A distinct family resemblance is evolving, and of course identity is a powerful branding tool. Hyundai continues to mature.
2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.oT
Base Price: $28,575
Price As Tested: $28,575 (not including destination charge)
- Refinement, inside & out
- Spacious cabin, trunk
- Value for dollar
- Where’s the sex appeal?
- Slower than before
- Trading personality for conformity