After its redesign for 2015, Hyundai’s midsize family sedan faced some criticism for lack of passion and distinction in its design. For the 2018 model year, the Sonata gets a fresh look, atop a refined chassis, along with a few minor interior revisions.
In addition to applying a welcome helping of style to the Sonata body, Hyundai has introduced an SEL trim level. An 8-speed automatic transmission is available on 2018 Sonata Sport and Limited trim levels with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine.
All 2018 Sonata models now come with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, in addition to a rearview camera. Automatic emergency braking is available, grouped with adaptive cruise control and active lane control in an option package. It’s standard on the 2.0T Limited. Newly available lane-departure warning is enhanced with lane keep assist.
Hyundai offers five trim levels, with a choice of three four-cylinder engines. SE, SEL, Limited, and Sport trim levels come with a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, developing 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. The direct-injected engine mates with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Sport and Limited models also are available with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. The new 8-speed automatic is tuned to provide crisper shifts than the 6-speed used with the larger engine. Turbo models have 18-inch wheels.
Limited and Sport trim levels have specific suspensions and steering systems, and roll on Michelin tires. Sport models get special styling touches, inside and out.
To achieve the best fuel economy, the Eco has its own 178-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo four, developing 195 pound-feet. Ecos use a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All Sonatas have front-wheel drive and are assembled in Alabama.
Crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Sonata a five-star overall rating, with five stars for both frontal and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated Sonata Good in each crash-test element, and Superior for frontal crash protection (when equipped with automatic braking).
Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid versions of the reworked 2018 Sonata will debut during the 2018 model year. Hybrids have been part of the Sonata lineup since 2011.
Sonata SE ($22,050) has the 2.4-liter engine and is fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, power windows/locks, air conditioning, Bluetooth, and a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $885 destination charge.)
Sonata SEL ($23,700) adds 17-inch wheels, heated mirrors with turn-signal indicators, keyless ignition/pushbutton start, a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. A Tech Package for SEL includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and electronic parking brake.
Sonata 2.4L Sport ($25,200) includes a moonroof, black headliner, and leather/cloth sport seats.
Sonata 2.0T Sport ($27,600) substitutes the 2.0-liter turbo engine and dual-clutch automatic.
Sonata 2.4L Limited ($27,400) gets the 2.4-liter engine, plus leather seating surfaces, ventilated front seats, LED headlights, and a memory driver’s seat.
Sonata 2.0T Limited ($32,450) substitutes the 2.0-liter turbo engine. An Ultimate Package for Limited adds all safety features in the SEL’s Tech Package, plus navigation with an 8.0-inch screen, heated steering wheel, rear side window sunshades, and 400-watt Infinity audio.
Sonata 1.6T Eco ($22,650) features a 1.6-liter turbo-four engine, tuned for fuel economy, but is otherwise equipped similar to SE trim.
Freshening for the 2018 model year has raised the Sonata’s styling appeal, transformed from somewhat dowdy to clearly handsome. Only the details have changed, but the latest Sonata is better able to catch the eye of onlookers.
Up front is what Hyundai calls a new cascading hexagonal grille. Fresh sheetmetal is used for the sculpted hood and front fenders, as well as the trunk.
Alloy wheels have been revised. Vertical LED daytime running lights provide distinctive illumination. So do LED headlights and taillights.
Like the exterior, the Sonata’s cabin is attractive and roomy. Materials quality, while in accord with price, doesn’t reach far past acceptable. Even the top trim levels don’t qualify as luxurious.
Seats are comfortable in both front and rear, with plenty of space. However, the relatively low roofline restricts entry/exit and could affect visibility.
Lower-trim models have cloth upholstery. Sport versions get leather bolstering, alongside fabric seat centers. Only the Limited is upholstered with leather. Sonatas with the 2.0-liter turbo engine get heavier bolstering.
While head-ducking may be needed to get into the back seat, passengers can expect good stretch-out space. Headroom may be restricted for taller occupants. Heated rear seats are no longer available.
Control buttons are arranged in groups. The center stack and instrument panel have been revised. Piano-key buttons are used for audio and climate controls. Most Sonatas have a 7.0-inch infotainment screen.
Trunk volume is slightly above average, at 16.3 cubic feet. A large console and sizable door pockets provide good small-items storage.
Sonata occupants can anticipate a soft, compliant ride. Relaxing and comfortable, the ride almost approaches sublime in quality. Ride quality is a tad softer on SE and Eco models. Harsh pavements could produce slight jarring at times.
Except for 2.0-liter turbo models, all sedans have the same suspension and steering setups. Sportiness is absent even on Sport models, but Sonatas feel well-balanced. Admirably responsive electric power steering conveys a natural feel, while striving to suppress most surface flaws.
With its 17-inch tires, a Limited copes better with country curves. Sport and Limited models with the 2.0-liter turbo have a sport-tuned suspension that’s noticeably firmer, but not troublesome. Their steering setups are a bit heavier, too, delivering greater road feel.
Though it’s smooth and quiet, the 2.4-liter ranks no higher than acceptable in performance. The automatic transmission shifts promptly, without gear-hunting. The dual-clutch transmission in the Eco edition isn’t as friendly.
Even in Sport trim, Sonatas are quietly composed and sedate, with road and engine sounds pleasantly suppressed.
Fuel economy is good for a midsize. The SE with 16-inch wheels and 2.4-liter engine is EPA-rated at 25/36 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. Other versions, with 17-inch wheels, dip slightly to 25/35/28 mpg. Eco is the most frugal Fusion, EPA-rated at 28/37 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined. Thirstiest are Sport and Limited turbos, at 23/32/26 mpg.
Hyundai Sonata promises good value. We like the SEL edition the Tech Package. All trim levels are well-equipped, with an impressive warranty. Shoppers get a wide variety of trim levels, though not so much potential for customization with options. Each is a pleasure to drive, with a spacious cabin.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.