Hyundai Sonata continues solid performance with 2018 redesign

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The Hyundai Sonata gets a redesign for the 2018 model year, but it can be hard to tell what’s new.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited: I’m not going to use a music reference here. I’m not going to use a music reference here.

Price: $31,310 as tested. The Sonata starts at $27,400 in Limited trim; the Ultimate Package adds $2,900 for emergency braking, lane keep, smart cruise, and other safety functions, plus an 8-inch touchscreen and other media stuff.

Marketer’s pitch: “Meet our best Sonata ever.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “more expressive styling, roomy back seat and trunk, pleasant ride” but not that it’s “still not quick, longish braking distance.”

Reality: “Best Sonata ever” really isn’t a backhanded compliment. This sedan is not bad.

What’s new: The Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan gets a redesign for 2018. But I look at it and see familiarity in its lines and curves. (In fact, I wasn’t sure the sheet metal was the all-new part until I looked it up.)

Top-of-the-line model buyers will now enjoy an eight-speed automatic transmission and 245 horsepower, but down here in the cheap(ish) seats, little has changed.

Careful what you wish for: When I reviewed the 2016 Turbo and Hybrid models, I lamented I had no basic sedan to compare them with. This time around, that need is fulfilled.

Up to speed: The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine creates 185 horsepower, so no socks were knocked off in the making of this review. Still, the Sonata is no sedate sedan, although I couldn’t find a 0-to-60 time from any of the usual suspects.

Shifty: The six-speed automatic transmission does its job without much notice. The shiftability component — through the shifter itself — remains as difficult as two years ago, an unsatisfying experience. Paddle shifters would complete this experience (or check out the Kia Optima, a sportier cousin to the Sonata, though it carries over from the 2017 model).

Drive modes: Like most cars nowadays, the Sonata comes with various drive settings — Comfort, Eco, and Sport are the choices of the Hyundai and cousin Kia offerings. Again, like in 2016, Sport mode can get drivers in some trouble in stop-and-go situations if they’re not careful, because the tires seem as eager to move as a caffeinated squirrel, while the other modes turn the energy level into a bored French bureaucrat.

On the road: Sport mode is definitely the key to more fun on country roads, but the basic tires don’t allow for a lot of follow through. There, the Sonata feels like a large sedan, with a lot of roll in the corners.

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The Hyundai Sonata interior looks about the same for the 2018 model year as it has for the past few years. That’s not a bad thing.

Driver’s Seat: The leather-covered seats in the test model were firm but comfortable. For a cheap-seats comparison, I found the seats in a recent Mazda I tested to be slippery, but the Hyundai didn’t have this problem.

The 10-way power adjustment (standard on the Limited) also keeps things in the right place.

Friends and stuff: Backseat room in the Sonata remains plentiful. Legs, feet, and heads all fit in nicely.

Cargo space is 16.3 cubic feet in the trunk, a respectable number.

Play some tunes: The Hyundai stereo system remains the same. Lots of buttons across the bottom get users from place to place, despite the large touchscreen.

The sound also matches the usual Hyundai and Kia offerings, nice but not stupendous.

Night shift: The headlights turn — a nice feature at this price point — but there’s a gap in the middle that made me think something was in my field of vision.

Fuel economy: I averaged just under 30 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat testing realm of suburbs and highways. The 2.4-liter is not fussy about its fuel.

This fell at the midpoint of the 2016 fuel-economy ratings I observed, which were 25 for the turbo and 35 for the hybrid. A happy medium, I’d say.

Where it’s built: Montgomery, Ala.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts a reliability rating of 3 out of 5 for the Sonata. 2017 was a 4, ’16 and ’15 a 3, and ’14 a 2, so we’re headed in the right direction.

In the end: I was impressed two years ago by the turbo and hybrid versions of the Sonata. I sing the same praises for the basic 2018 version as well.