Hyundai continues to refine popular mid-size Sonata

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature photo: Sonata’s mid-cycle refresh for 2018 includes a larger grille (mesh on the 2.0T Sport – as shown), along with vertical LEDs and narrower-cut headlamps.

It’s a nameplate that has come far in three decades. Sonata has evolved from a facelifted and truly un-stellar “Stellar,” to a middle-of-the-road mid-size, to something that might pass for an entry-luxury sedan.

Especially at upper trim levels.

Hyundai continues the refinement of its popular Sonata into 2018, with some exterior tweaks and interior upgrades. Nothing visibly radical since the current-generation model was released in 2015, but a few changes worth noting.

Starting at the front, the grille is now larger, flanked by vertical LED running lights and narrower headlights. Chrome now adorns the front spoiler, and in back, the trunk lid has been enlarged and tail lights revised. “Sonata” lettering is now centred and widely spaced for a more sophisticated treatment.

One clever trick is incorporating a trunk release into the badge. It’s not obvious, but press the space over the “H” crossbar, and the trunk pops.

Turbocharged models get a sporty mesh grille, along with black headlamp bezels, black side mirror casings, and chrome around the integrated dual exhaust finishers.

For 2018, Hyundai has revised the Sonata’s centre stack with “piano key” buttons managing audio and climate controls.

Inside, the centre stack has been revised, with audio and climate managed by soft-touch ‘piano key’ buttons. A seven-inch touchscreen now comes standard, with an eight-inch (with navigation) available.

The top-trim turbo model gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and more aggressively-bolstered leather front buckets, heated and cooled, and with perforated inserts.

2018 pricing hasn’t yet been released, but keep in mind 2017 trim levels start at $24,799 for the base GL to $34,649 for the Limited. There’s one turbo model: the Ultimate 2.0T at $36,249.

Similarly for 2018, there are four non-turbo models, and one with turbo: the 2.0T Sport – my tester for the week.

Sonata still comes standard with a 2.4L DOHC 16-valve four cylinder with gasoline direct injection. It produces 185 hp and 178 lb/ft of torque, which is more than adequate to move its 1,572 kg (3,466 lb) curb weight, albeit acceleration is modest.

My tester, the 2.0T Sport, is powered by a twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0L DOHC 16-valve four (also with GDI) that delivers a more robust 245 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque, starting at a low 1,350 rpm.

The 2.4-litre engine is paired with a six-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual mode. The 2.0-litre powertrain has been upgraded to an eight-speed with Shiftronic. Just behind the gear knob is a drive mode button that selects Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart modes. The latter switches automatically between the other three, depending on driving style.

Rear seats in the 2.0T Sport are heated, and offer plenty of room for three adults to stretch their legs. The 60/40 bench drops to expand Sonata’s 462-litre trunk.

I’ve tested the full breadth of Sonatas – naturally-aspirated, hybrid and plug-in hybrid – and will note that the turbo, not surprisingly, is the most fun to drive. It’s quick off the mark and accelerates strongly in “comfort” mode. Put it in “sport” and throttle response quickens, steering tightens, and the eight-speed shifts later to fully tap into the broad power band.

Other than possibly a squawk off the line if you punch it, this powertrain is silky smooth, with the subtlest of exhaust notes under full throttle.

Indeed, the cabin is quiet. Thanks to abundant soundproofing materials and structural adhesives, not to mention 51 percent high-strength steel and a 0.27 drag coefficient, there’s little noise intrusion from road, traffic or wind. This Sonata puts me in mind of the previous generation Genesis, as do its doors and trunk lid that close with a solid ‘thunk.’

The back seat is roomy – able to comfortably carry three full-size adults. And these 60/40 seatbacks drop to enlarge the generous 462-litre boot.

Base vehicles roll on 16-inch alloys – not crappy steel wheels with wheel covers – and come with heated front seats with six-way manual adjust, seven-inch infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, manual tilt/telescopic steering with audio and phone controls, and a rearview camera.

Interestingly, all trim levels get blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist. Kudos to Hyundai for making standard one of its most helpful safety nannies.

Top-trim Sonatas – like my 2.0T Sport – get a list of amenities and driver aids too long to list here. A few of the highlights include 18-inch alloys, leather seating (heated in rear, power and ventilated up front), eight-inch infotainment with navigation, Infinity nine-speaker audio, heated steering wheel, and dual-zone climate control.

I like the premium appointments like aluminum pedals and scuff plates, white piping in the seats, and the 3D metallic door inserts.

On a more practical note, the adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go capability), autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian detection) and lane keeping assist round out a full suite of driver aids.

Sonata plays in a segment with no shortage of solid competitors – Camry, Accord, Fusion, Malibu, Altima and more – which means it must continue to raise the bar in terms of styling, content and technology.

As it continues to do for the 2018 model year.

Revised tail lights, larger trunk lid and a more sophisticated treatment of the “Sonata” lettering are some of the changes in rear.

SNAPSHOT: 2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Sport
BODY STYLE: mid-size sedan
ENGINE: (GL, 2.4 Sport, GLS, GLS Tech, Limited) 2.4L DOHC 16-valve four cylinder (185 hp, 178 lb/ft of torque); 2.0T Sport (as tested) 2.0L DOHC 16 valve with twin-scroll turbocharger (245 hp, 260 lb/ft of torque)
TRANSMISSION: (FWD) 2.0T Sport equipped with eight-speed automatic with manual mode; all others get six-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: not available at time of writing
CARGO: 462 litres
PRICING: not available at time of writing