Hyundai's Sonata rebuilt as new price-effective family sedan
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
On a flat expanse of blacktop overlooking Six Flags Over Texas near Dallas, I took the Hyundai Challenge.
Strapping myself securely behind the wheel of a new Sonata -- Hyundai's family sedan which has been completely rebuilt in a 1995 edition -- I maneuvered the car through a series of courses defined by orange traffic cones.
Then I did the same with Sonata's projected rivals for size, features and, in some cases, price.
That was the "challenge" to this contest: Judge the Hyundai in specific tests for handling, stopping, turning, accelerating, as well as overall feeling.
Consultants from a race driving school defined the courses and managed these tests sponsored by the automaker to let Hyundai's sales force evaluate the new product they would be selling against those from Japan and this country.
There were no winners or losers on this day, only some perceptions extracted from experience in all contenders.
How did the new Hyundai compare?
In candor, it was not the smallest or the biggest of the bunch, nor the fastest or the most slippery when sent through a slalom set of twisties. Its performance traits and physical dimensions actually meshed somewhere in the high middle ground of this pack: It was comfortable in feel and ride, easy to maneuver and lively to act.
Where the new Hyundai did stand apart from others became evident when you checked price tags.
This Korean car, you see, can be had for a figure that falls below $14,000 in bare-bones base trim.
With mid-level GL trim it offers optional V6 power for a reasonable fee, and even an ultimate GLS with the V6 and all kinds of comfort perks won't bust your budget -- it looks quite frugal when judged against many others.
The kernel of Hyundai's idea is simple: Create a new family sedan that sets a middle-of-the-road course through the mire of Japanese competitors in terms of performance and functionality, then rig the bottom line below them.
Is new Sonata a clone of the archetypal Japanese sedan? Yes, in a way it is -- and that's a positive point.
It looks much like all the others. You know: A nice defined hoodline, rakish windshield, plenty of wrap-around window glass and a relatively high and flat trunk line.
It seats five, with two front buckets and a rear 3-person bench that optionally splits in the folding back.
It has ample leg, head and shoulder room inside, even for full-framed American figures. Also, there are a number of comfort and convenience items, the bells and whistles we've come to expect from the Japanese and, more recently, our own domestic manufacturers.
In base format it contains a perfectly adequate transverse-mounted 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine equipped with dual overhead cam. Output reaches 137-horsepower, and the standard transmission -- smooth to shift and easy to use -- is a 5-speed manual.
What I preferred was the optional V6 with single-cam configuration, multi-valve format and 142-hp rating. Compared to the base plant there's not much difference in power figures, but action feels deep, comforting, enjoyable.
The 3.0-liter V6 unites with Hyundai's optional electronic automatic 4-speed transaxle. It's sophisticated in design, quiet in shifting, an improvement when measured against several of the direct Japanese competitors.
This is the version I played with in the slalom course, which began on a straightaway for accelerating before the first tight right in a S-shaped path leading into the turn-around point. Sonata surged to 30 miles per hour in easy fashion before I tackled the curve set.
Tires squealed slightly, due to the severity of the turning radius, but the car held its stance with few concessions to the opposing force of gravity.
Coming out of the turn-around I gunned it again to reach suitable speed before moving into a long slalom set with decreasing space planned between each turn. This meant the twisties became increasingly difficult to complete, and one competitor in fact could not make the final two turns.
The Hyundai also performed well in tests measuring visibility when traveling in reverse, a maneuver carpooling parents and commuters invariably must perform.
Object of this test was to back up until you could no longer see two orange cones blocking the path. The closer you came, the more these cones disappeared below the back window; when you could no longer see any cone tips, you stopped to gauge how far in reverse you had progressed by sighting a series of numbered markers to the driver's left.
Hyundai scored at the top of this test, indicating excellent visibility, which would be helpful when navigating in a taxing parking lot.
Overt safety features were included with Sonata, like dual airbags, child-proof rear door locks, energy-absorbing steering column, strong side-door guard beams and other braces in front and rear crash zones to absorb energy from impact with another vehicle. Further, anti-lock brakes are an option for V6-equipped Sonatas.
Indirect safety elements are also aboard, such as the new chassis that's stiffer in torsional rigidity to enhance the car's stability when in motion and improve the overall ride quality. This platform, longer and lower than for the previous Sonata, drops the center of gravity and distributes weight more evenly, front to rear, which makes Sonata more predictable when turning.
These improved handling traits became most obvious when carving tight cuts in the cone-lined course of our Texas test track. Suspension components -- including front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bars fore and aft -- enabled Sonata to complete the twisted circuit with little evidence of such unstable traits as excessive body roll or, during hard braking, front-end dive.
The rack and pinion steering setup, with more power applied at lower speed, makes Sonata easy to park but still firm when traveling at speed.
In all, this is a very nice car: It's nifty in looks, best in class for interior space, clearly easy to operate.
However, the ultimate legacy of new Sonata with its pristine shape and peppy action is not measured in the quantity of inches for the interior, horsepower output or elbow space. All are good, yet the bottom line of this Korean entry is what scores highest in Hyundai's challenge.
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 HYUNDAI SONATA Specs
||Compact 4-door sedan
| Model Options:
||Compact 4-door sedan
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||DOHC 2.0-L I-4
SOHC 3.0-L V6
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 13,299 to $ 17,199