1999 Hyundai Sonata
1999 Hyundai Sonata Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A surprisingly good sedan with an impressive warranty.
Totally redesigned and re-engineered for 1999, the Hyundai Sonata is vastly superior to the previous model. Gone is the tinny echo when you slam the door, replaced with the solid 'Ca-Chunk' reminiscent of vehicles born in Germany's Black Forest.
Hyundai wants buyers to know it is serious about quality, reliability and durability, so the company is standing behind the new Sonata with one of the longest warranties available. And with a retail price of less than $20,000, the Hyundai Sonata makes an extremely good case for itself.
Hyundai's move toward higher quality and better engineering seemed to start in earnest with the launch of the Tiburon sports coupe. Now with the introduction of the all-new 1999 Sonata, the company has extended its display of major improvements.
Everything about the 1999 Sonata is new except the ashtray. A more rigid body structure, a more powerful and smoother running engine, and a suspension that provides an excellent balance between good handling and smooth ride quality elevates the Sonata to a class act.
If there was any question in your mind about the reliability and dependability of their vehicles, Hyundai wants us to know that they are squashing those fears right here and now. Hyundai has introduced an ownership assurance program meant to show owners that this company is so confident in the new Sonata they are willing to back it up. The Hyundai Advantage includes a limited warranty extending for five years or 60,000 miles also included is 24-hour roadside assistance and a limited 10-year 100,000 powertrain warranty. This is one of the longest warranties available today.
With an as tested price tag of $19,077, the Sonata GLS we tested represents a good value. It provides excellent interior comfort along with a very good ride and an exterior that breaks away from the cookie cutter, look-a-likes that have crowded the roads.
The new Sonata comes in two trim levels, a standard and GLS model. Each is surprisingly well equipped.
The base model comes standard with a double overhead-cam 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. Large and powerful for engines in this class, it produces 149 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 156 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm.
A V6 engine comes standard on the GLS and is an option on the base model. This double overhead-cam 2.5-liter V6 produces 170 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 166 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Transmissions choices are a smooth-shifting 5-speed manual and an optional 4-speed electronically controlled automatic. Both transmissions are new designs.
Totally new for 1999, this Sonata has raised the bar in the mid-sized class. Getting comfortable behind the wheel is easily done. The front bucket seats are supportive, but not overly constrictive, making them quite comfortable on long trips.
There is plenty of legroom in the rear seat. Tall passengers had plenty of room when sitting behind tall drivers. Rear access is a little restricted by the Sonata's relatively small rear door opening.
The quality of the leather upholstery, including the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter knob and handbrake handle, was surprisingly good for a vehicle in this price range. The fit and finish of the interior equates the detail with which Hyundai paid to quality control. The dash, instrument panel and door panels are finely trimmed and complement each other.
During the day, the instruments and controls are easily read but as the sun fades away and the lights come on, we had a bit more difficulty reading some of the labels. The center console mounted cup holders are too shallow to hold anything larger than a small cup of coffee.
One of our female testers felt that the emergency brake handle (mounted in the center console on the right side of the driver's seat) was far to close to the side of the seat cushion. With the seat moved forward in her driving position, her fingernails snagged on the seat each time she operated the hand brake.
Several interior schemes are available and each offers a different wood trim. Our test vehicle sported a grayish wood tone that at first sight made us wish for any tone other than what we had. But as the days passed we became fond of the trim and by the end of the session we changed our opinion and are able to say that we actually liked the trim tone.
Trunk space is average and you'll need to lift groceries and baggage up a bit when loading.
The clamor to provide more and more safety equipment is creating quite a stir among auto manufacturers. One, even two air bags, one for driver and front passenger was the cat's meow just last year. Today, manufacturers must offer these supplemental restraints. The Sonata offers dual front air bags along with side impact air bags. The Sonata is also equipped with Hyundai's Passenger Presence Detection, a front passenger seat that automatically disables the air bag if it senses the seat is empty or if a child under 66 pounds occupies that seat.
In real world driving conditions, this new Hyundai does what it is intended to do. It transports driver and passengers safely and comfortably to their destination.
The increased structural rigidity derived from the design of the new Sonata has given Hyundai engineers the latitude to give the vehicle a suspension system that is both compliant and responsive. A double-wishbone suspension up front and a multi-link configuration in the rear, mated with gas shock absorbers at each corner and anti-roll bars fore and aft, provides the Sonata the ability to handle any road condition equally well.
The Sonata soaks up Interstate expansion joints and undulations like larger, more expensive luxury sedans. Its medium stiff suspension is an excellent compromise. It doesn't float over undulations or bob around corners, nor does it ride like a buckboard over bumps. While the Sonata may not offer the handling of a German sports sedan, it does allow spirited drives through mountain passes. Expect some body roll and understeer in tight corners, but it's predictable and overall handling is similar to many mid-size sedans. Steering is light and accurate and the Sonata is easy to maneuver in crowded parking lots.
The V6 easily propels the Sonata up steep grades. Mated to our V6 was the 4-speed automatic equipped with fuzzy logic that detects driving conditions for optimum shifting.
All V6-powered Sonatas come with disc brakes at all four wheels; standard Sonatas come with disc brakes up front and drums in the rear. The rear disc brakes provide another argument for opting for the V6 engine. Four-wheel discs provide better braking performance. They also offer more resistance to brake fad during repeated hard applications when descending steep mountain grades. Anti-lock brakes are optional, part of a $3,225 option package that includes leather upholstery, a power driver's seat and a sunroof.
The Sonata's electronic traction control reduces engine power and applies light braking to one or both of the front wheels when it detects wheel spin.
The new Hyundai Sonata proves that when you are committed to gaining buyers' confidence, the best way to do that is to build a quality vehicle and then back it up with your own confidence. That is what Hyundai appears to have done with the Sonata. It is an enjoyable car to drive and even easier to live with.
Combining the factors that make up the reasons people buy vehicles, the Sonata has what it takes to be on the list of possibilities. This Hyundai has distinctive styling, good assembly quality, a comfortable interior and reasonably good performance.
Considering these qualities and the fact that Hyundai is going to stand behind its word of reliability and dependability, Hyundai appears to have turned the corner in the U.S. market.
Options As Tested
Leather package ($1,000) includes leather seating surfaces, leather wrapped steering wheel, shifter knob and handbrake handle, 6-way power driver's seat; floor mats ($78).
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