ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Crossovers may be the flavour of the moment with Canadians, but a better-driving and more efficient family sedan such as the redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata makes a compelling alternative to the typically more utilitarian picks for family transportation.
While the smaller Accent and Elantra cars and Santa Fe crossover are outselling the Sonata in Hyundai showrooms, the front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, four-door, mid-sized sedan has traditionally been at the tip of the Korean brand's arrow since it arrived in Canada in 1988. As such, the new, seventh-generation 2015 Sonata has been thoroughly upgraded and redesigned with crisper styling, state-of-the-art driver-assistance technologies and improved driving characteristics to take on such rivals as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The fact the new 2015 Sonata also looks similar to the new 2015 Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan is no coincidence. The sedan's coupe-like silhouette has been retained, along with a distinctive chrome strip that connects the headlights all the way through the beltline. The outgoing Sonata's swoopy exterior lines have been sharpened up a bit to make it look more upscale.
An inch wider and longer, with a slight stretch in its wheelbase, the new Sonata is also slightly bigger than the 2014 version. Passengers benefit from more headroom front and back and extra rear-seat leg room, too. The overall gains in interior volume bump the Hyundai sedan from "mid-sized" to "large" car status, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Similar to its exterior, the design of the 2015 Sonata's interior has also been influenced by the more luxurious Genesis. Softer plastics with matte-finish surfaces abound. The older model's controls have been better-organized for ease of use. Either a five- or eight-inch touch screen now dominates the wider centre stack. Fit-and-finish is also better than some so-called luxury sedans.
The previous Sonata was one of the first cars in its class to eschew six-cylinder engines, offering a pair of four-cylinders and a gas four-electric hybrid. These engine choices continue with the 2015 Sonata.
To improve fuel economy and drivability, the 2015 Sonata's standard 2.4-litre four-cylinder's horsepower has been reduced slightly from 190 to 185, with 178 pound-feet of torque. It's rated at 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 6.7 on the highway. The Sonata's optional 2.0L turbocharged gas four gets a smaller turbo for 2015. As a result, horsepower drops from 274 to 245 and torque from 269 to 260 lb-ft, with estimates of 10.4 L/100 km in the city and 7.4 on the highway. Both fours are exclusively mated to an updated version of last year's six-speed automatic transmission.
Interestingly, in the U.S. only, there's also a new 2015 Sonata Eco model. It uses a 177-hp and 195-lb-ft 1.6L turbo-four gas engine, mated to a new, seven-speed dual-clutch autobox. For now, Hyundai Canada says fuel-conscious buyers will continue to be offered the current 5.4 L/100 km city and 4.9 highway rated Sonata Hybrid (which will be redesigned for 2016), but is looking at the potential of the Eco model for Canada.
Hyundai no longer prices its vehicles like bargain-basement specials, but its cars still offer a lot of value. The 2015 Sonata doesn't stray from that value equation. At $23,999, the starting price of the base-model 2015 Sonata GL will remain unchanged from the 2014 model, yet adds quite a bit of standard kit, including a five-inch colour touch-screen display, rear-view camera, heated front seats, hands-free Bluetooth, LED daytime running lamps and more.
Challenging entry-level luxury sedans costing an additional $10,000 or more, the $32,999 Sonata Limited adds leather seats, HID headlamps with high-beam assist, ventilated front seats, an automatic-opening trunk lid, adaptive cruise control system with forward-collision warning and a lane-departure warning system. Finally, the range-topping $34,799 Sonata Sport 2.0T Ultimate combines the trim and performance features in the $30,999 Sport 2.0T with the luxury goodies found in the Limited.
Hyundai is heavily promoting the 2015 Sonata's all-new chassis, which the automaker says offers "significantly improved" ride and handling while reducing noise, vibration and harshness. I got a chance to drive both 2.4 and 2.0T Sonatas, and while not as athletic as the class-leading Mazda6, the new Sonata is right up there with the European-designed Fusion in regards to driving refinement.
Out back, Hyundai engineers added a second lower link to both corners of the Sonata's rear suspension to improve wheel location that also allowed the engineers to tune the family sedan more accurately. While Sonata 2.4 models wear 16- and 17-inch tires, the Sport 2.0T versions get upgraded 18-inch rubber, along with stiffer rear springs and thicker anti-roll bars.
As soon as you turn its helm, the 2015 Sonata Sport 2.0T's steering will impress. For a front-wheel-drive family hauler, the sportiest Sonata's steering is accurate with just enough weight and feel. And the improved chassis keeps the Hyundai sedan relatively flat when cornering hard. Even the 2015 Sonata 2.4 is more refined to drive than the older model. Unlike the outgoing Sonata, the new sedan's body motions are well-controlled, with bad pavement easily absorbed for a smoother ride and a quieter cabin.
Like its previous six generations, the new 2015 Hyundai Sonata continues to make a statement as to where the Korean brand stands in the automotive world. Competitive pricing is now a Hyundai given. But with its more mature styling, advanced driver-assistance technologies and updated engineering for a greatly improved ride and handling package, the new 2015 Sonata not only moves to the family sedan buyer's most wanted list, it may also convince a few crossover shoppers to get a car with a trunk.