It may have entered as a dark horse in the mid-size sedan segment two years ago, but now the Hyundai Sonata has earned a reputation for its swoopy, attractive styling. Its current mission is to become one the best family sedans on the market today, and while it hasn’t quite hit the mark on handling or refinement, it’s a solid choice if you’re looking for features and fuel economy, even in its base model.
The Sonata had been a wallflower, but the rakish design makeover it received for 2011 still turns heads. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the 2013 Sonata has a lot going for it, as we see elements of its trend-setting ‘fluidic design’ emerging in rival models. The dramatic shapes continue into the cabin, almost to finer effect–the Sonata’s functionality doesn’t get tripped up by the swoopy lines formed into its center stack or door panels.
That design transformation was marked by some equally extreme engineering rehabilitation that simply kicked the Sonata up into another league. With a new lineup of only direct-injection four-cylinder engines—combined with a lighter body structure—the Sonata performs as well as the V-6 versions of some mid-size sedans, all while getting up to 35 mpg in base form or up to 33 mpg highway with the upscale Turbo model. Most Sonatas come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, making up to 200 horsepower, with a six-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is perfectly appropriate for the class, and is a responsive, seamless gearchanger. Step up to the 2.0T model and you get a somewhat smaller 2.0-liter engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger, providing 274 horsepower. Its 269 lb-ft arrives low in the power band, which thankfully helps this engine work very well with the automatic transmission (the only way to get it). And it mostly skips the turbo lag completely, and succeeds as the more economical parallel to upscale V-6 models.
The third powertrain option comes in the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. With it you get a 2.4-liter four with electric motors and a lithium-polymer battery pack, plus a high threshold that lets the Sonata Hybrid run on battery power alone at highway speeds. Hyundai says this version will hit 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, well within the acceptable range for a family sedan, while delivering gas mileage of 36/40 mpg. It’s only recently been announced, and we’ll reserve driving impressions until we’ve had more time in the newly updated gas-electric model.
Overall, ride and handling in the 2013 Sonata are adequate for most family needs. Driving enthusiasts are bound to be a little let down by the steering response, which could use some more feedback and tends to wander and need frequent adjustments on some highway surfaces. The ride can feel very stiff when compared with an Accord or Camry, but Passat and Fusion drivers will find it roughly equal to their cars.
The 2013 Hyundai Sonata is a roomy car, almost “large” by EPA standards; there’s soaring headroom and leg room in front, and an unusually long front-seat track so driver and passenger can have as much space as they need. The back seat sits at a good angle of recline, and only the tallest passengers will touch heads against the fabric headliner and the hard-plastic front seatbacks. Security-minded family shoppers will likely find what they want in the Sonata, as in addition to all the usual safety equipment, a rearview camera system is offered in top trims, and the Sonata has been named a repeat Top Safety Pick according to the IIHS and achieved a five-star rating from the federal government.
For 2013, there are only a few feature changes, all adding to the Sonata’s already strong value versus comparable rival models. Bluetooth, a USB port, power accessories, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and cruise control all remain included at the base level, for $21,670. Heated seats have been added this year as a standard feature to the sportier SE model, while SE and Limited editions add parking sensors and pushbutton start. The Sonata Limited also gets standard heated front and rear seats; a sunroof; a backup camera; automatic climate control; and an automatic dimming rearview mirror. And a BlueLink suite of operator-assisted concierge and data services, at different pricing tiers, remains available.