2004 Hyundai Sonata Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Compelling value in a highly competent sedan.
The Hyundai Sonata is a roomy and comfortable midsize sedan with a level of quality and refinement that may surprise you the first time you get in and take a good look. It costs less than the name brands, but measures up well against them.
The Sonata is packed with features, considering it starts below $17,000. Front and rear accommodations are roomy and comfortable for four or five. The interior is nicely finished and has a general feeling of quality. Driving the Sonata is convenient and hassle-free with well-designed controls located exactly where expected. The styling is distinctive, sleek and rounded with rich-looking details.
Sonata cruises comfortably down the highway, even at elevated speeds. Its steering is sharp and responsive. The V6-powered Sonata GLS and LX deliver satisfying performance.
Three models are available: Sonata ($15,999); Sonata GLS ($18,779); and Sonata LX ($19,799).
The base Hyundai Sonata is well equipped for its price. It comes standard with air conditioning, side-impact airbags, AM/FM/CD audio system, rear defroster, power mirrors, power locks with keyless remote, power windows, cruise control, remote fuel door and trunk releases, 60/40 split folding rear seat, variable intermittent wipers, four-wheel-disc brakes, gas-charged shock absorbers, and 15-inch all-season tires. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission is standard. A four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is optional.
Sonata GLS is a V6 model with a higher level of interior trim. The 2.7-liter V6 comes with an automatic transmission, and the car is fitted with high-performance tires on 16-inch alloy wheels for improved handling. The GLS is upgraded with deluxe cloth upholstery, woodgrain accents, better carpet, an upgraded stereo, an improved center console, dual map lights, and rear cup holders. It also comes with heated mirrors and a power antenna.
Sonata LX is the luxury model, and comes with all of the above plus leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, and an eight-way power driver's seat.
The V6 engine and automatic transmission are available on the base model as an option package ($1650). GLS and LX can be ordered with anti-lock brakes ($550). Base models with automatic transmission can be ordered with a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($700), or with a package ($1250) that includes the sunroof and anti-lock brakes. Traction control is available, but only as a package with the sunroof and anti-lock brakes on the GLS ($1400); or with the sunroof, anti-lock brakes, electrochromic rear-view mirror, and HomeLink transmitter on the LX ($1695).
The Hyundai Sonata is handsome. It's expressive without being oppressive with graceful lines and rich details that one would expect on a more expensive automobile. The Sonata's overall shape suggests the feline form of a Jaguar; while its sophisticated headlight treatment could have been borrowed from a Mercedes-Benz. It's better looking than the Kia Optima, which shares the Hyundai's architecture.
The waterfall grille is formal but not pretentious. Like jewelry tastefully worn, chrome enhances rather than distracts from the Sonata's appearance. Chrome is well placed around the grille, over the doors and on the trunk. The bold headlight design is more than stylish. The small low-beams are halogen projector lamps that produce a uniformly bright pattern, and the complementary high beams are bright. Good headlamps are extremely important, especially on dark and stormy nights. The Sonata's are excellent.
The Sonata's pull-type door handles feel solid. The doors close with a solid thunk. Sonata comes standard with a keyless remote fob.
Climb into a Hyundai Sonata and you feel like you're sitting in a first-rate car. It's quite nice, and conservative in appearance. The materials are of good quality, and vastly superior to what's found in the Saturn L-Series. Fit and finish are better than in the Saturn, also.
Hyundai has wrapped the Sonata's steering wheel in a leather-like urethane that's buttery soft and wonderful to the touch. It's characteristic of the attention given to detail throughout the Sonata's interior. The ignition switch is on the dash, more convenient than having it on the steering column.
The Sonata's front seats are broad for maximum comfort, and lightly bolstered, making it easy to slide in and out. The driver's seat bottom adjusts from cushy to firm via a pair of knobs on the side, so you can select between softness and support for your legs and posterior. And whether you opt for cloth or leather, the upholstery is comfortable and of decent quality.
The plush fabric on the seats is repeated in the door panels. The GLS and LX also have a two-compartment center armrest. The glovebox opens with a firm feel. Only the ashtray feels flimsy. There's a nice rubber-lined spot ahead of the shifter for your wallet.
The upper and lower portions of the instrument panel are dressed in contrasting shades of vinyl. Gauges are clearly marked. A splash of artificial wood around the center stack of the GLS and LX won't fool anyone, but looks somehow appropriate. A frame of burnished aluminum surrounds the automatic shifter quadrant, with the Shiftronic manual-override slot alongside. Illuminated manual-shift indicators were added for 2003.
It's easy to operate the Sonata's accessories without taking your eyes off the road. Radio controls are big, clearly marked and easy to manipulate. HVAC is straightforward, with two rows of big buttons and knobs that are easy to discern and operate. Window switches are conveniently mounted on the doors, but, alas, are not illuminated. Electric switches for the trunk and fuel door releases are placed on the driver's door, where they are easy to reach and operate. LX models now offer a HomeLink remote system and electrochromic inside rear view mirror as part of an option package.
The back seat area offers good room for two adults, with sufficient legroom and comfort for a long trip. The seat itself is contoured for two passengers, with a folding center armrest between them, but Hyundai has provided three-point seat belts for three people. Map pockets on the backs of the front seats add useful storage space.
Sonata's trunk volume is a decent 14.1 cubic feet. The rear seat splits and folds 60/40, allowing long items to pass through from the trunk. Articulated trunk lid supports stay out of the trunk itself, so you don't have to worry about groceries or luggage being crushed when you close the lid.
The Hyundai Sonata cruises nicely, with a smooth ride and good stability at high speeds. The available 2.7-liter V6 provides quick acceleration from a standstill.
When equipped with the V6, the Sonata accelerates smoothly and without great drama. It idles quietly, but not silently. Hyundai doesn't have the most powerful V6 among mid-size sedans, so the Sonata would probably lose a drag race to a Toyota Camry V6 or Honda Accord V6. But the Sonata costs $4,500-$5,500 less than the Camry or Accord.
The Sonata's automatic transmission is responsive and sophisticated. Shifts are smooth, almost unnoticeable. Stepping on the gas brings a prompt downshift for quick acceleration when passing. Using fuzzy logic, the transmission's electronic controller adapts to the driver's style and minimizes hunting when climbing hills. The transmission has a manual mode called Shiftronic that can give the driver more precise shifting control. Slap the Shiftronic lever to the right and, once there, row it fore and aft to shift up and down manually. The transmission will hold the selected gear rather than shifting automatically. The Shiftronic override is useful for engine braking on long, steep downgrades.
The four-cylinder engine that comes with the base model works well when paired with the five-speed manual gearbox. It does not, however, offer strong power, especially at higher elevations. It lacks the response of the V6, particularly at lower revs. It does deliver 22/30 mpg with the manual or automatic transmission, compared to 19/27 for the V6 automatic.
The Sonata rides smoothly, soaking up tar strips and potholes. Some popping over seams can be heard, and at speed, the Sonata has a tendency to drift within its lane. However, our test car glided effortlessly at 75 mph, with only a ruffle of wind noise and the slightest amount of tire noise interfering with our utter tranquility. We enjoyed even the pianissimo passages of classical music on the Sonata's standard CD player. The nose dives a bit under hard braking and the rear suspension squats under hard acceleration, but otherwise the Sonata's four-wheel independent underpinnings work well in the daily grind.
Steering is responsive. It's a bit slower than the new Honda Accord's steering, so you have to turn the wheel more. The Sonata's tires don't feel as connected as we'd like on a wet road. Drive the Sonata very hard on a bumpy, winding road and you can feel some chassis flex. The current Hyundai Sonata dates from the 1999 model year, and its structure just isn't as stiff as that of some bigger-name sedans that have been re-engineered since then. (Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima all have been completely re-engineered within the last two years.) For the most part, however, the Sonata is just fine and dandy, a good, competent mid-size sedan.
Braking is solid with the four-wheel-disc brakes that come standard on all models. ABS is optional and we recommend it as it allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an emergency stopping situation.
The Hyundai Sonata is a handsome family sedan that sells for thousands of dollars less than comparably equipped, name-brand mid-size cars. Drivers will immediately feel comfortable and in control. The interior is finished nicely and all controls are easy to operate. The ride is nice and smoth. The four-cylinder is adequate when cruising down the highway, but the V6 models are better for responsive performance.
Overall, the Hyundai Sonata offers a strong value among mid-size sedans. That's particularly true when you factor in Sonata's impressive warranty, with bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years/60,000 miles and 24-hour roadside assistance for a five full years. Hyundai's warranty includes limited powertrain coverage for 10 years/100,000 miles and corrosion coverage for five years/100,000 miles. Even if the car is pre-owned, Hyundai still backs the Sonata's powertrain for five years or 60,000 miles.
Hyundai Sonata ($15,999); GLS ($18,779), LX ($19,799).
Asan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Package 7 ($1695) includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, power tilt-and-slide moonroof with sunshade, electrochromic rear-view mirror, HomeLink transmitter.
Hyundai Sonata LX ($19,799).
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