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Hyundai Sonata 2012: First Drive


With the new Sonata, Hyundai has made their intentions rather clear. They aren't looking at measuring up against the competition, namely the Honda Accord, Skoda Superb, VW Passat and Toyota Camry, but surging past and setting the standard for the segment a notch higher

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

Hyundai is looking at redefining their fortunes in the entry level premium sedan segment with the advent of the all new Sonata. In its 6th generation avatar, the new luxury sedan isn’t just a superior product as compared to its predecessor, it also stands as testimony to Hyundai’s commitment to becoming a world class automobile manufacturer and puts to rest a number of myths associated with the Sonata brand name.

 

The all new Hyundai Sonata, which incidentally was showcased in India for the first time at the 2012 Auto Expo in Delhi, promises to be a segment definer. Globally, the car has won numerous accolades and has become a vehicle of choice in markets such as North America and Europe. Now, with its advent in the Indian market, Hyundai Motor India is definitely looking at changing their fortunes in the entry level luxury sedan segment. After all, the Sonata’s predecessors have never really tasted success in this particular market segment.

 

While Hyundai has grown to dominate the small and midsize car segments, the company has always been clear that they are not limiting themselves to being a small car manufacturer and that they have their priorities firmly set on having a plethora of products spread across product segments where they enjoy a healthy share of the pie in each individual segment. Having said that, the Sonata has not been able to cut out a niche for itself and has never pulled in the numbers of captured a sizeable portion of the market pie. It has suffered on the account that it didn’t keep pace with what the market demanded at the time. While it had some virtue in terms of being big, offering decent interiors, a choice of petrol and diesel engines, it never really had the oomph factor to take on the competition and this left the last generation Sonata out of the league.

 

 

 

 

 

While all of this was unfolding on Indian soil, the parent company in Korea was already hard at work in redefining the entire product range. The goal was to have products that could survive in a global market. Hyundai’s focus fell on offering products that had a more European feel, design and finish. Over the past years we have been witness to that change in the form of the new Verna and the Eon, which all boast of Hyundai’s new line of thought, but it is the new Sonata that bears the complete efforts of this change and to state it simply, the 6th generation Sonata is a product that has the mettle to dominate.

 

For starters, the new Sonata boasts of Hyundai’s fluidic design theme. The lines flow to sculpt a striking machine that looks cutting edge, no matter which angle you view the car from. The large stretched back headlights housing HID lamps, massive chrome grille which Hyundai claims is inspired by a waterfall, stylish fog lights and of course the chiseled hood with character lines flowing into the grille design give the car a smooth flowing muscular stance. The elements of design carry over to the side with a well pronounced shoulder line that extends all the way to the rear and flows flawlessly into the stylish rear tail light cluster. 

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

 

The rear itself is a work of art and the dual exhaust pipes add to the entire aura of this car. The coupe inspired roofline is a neat touch to the flowing design and brings together this car in a no-nonsense, purposeful manner. Its worthy of mention that the new Sonata is bigger than its predecessor on all accounts and now measures 4,820mm in length, 1,835mm in width,1,490mm in height and has a wheelbase of 2,795mm. Despite the increase in overall size, the car still manages to look very agile and light. Riding on neat 215/55 R 17 tubeless tyres shod on crafted 17 inch alloys that compliment the exterior package, it can safely be said that the new Sonata scores on all accounts of aesthetic appeal, a fact that I am sure even the most die hard design critics will agree upon. 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

Step inside and the new Sonata has a lot to boast of here as well. The flowing touches to the dashboard design are in line with Hyundai’s fluidic design philosophy and this allows for an uncluttered clean look. The materials feel great to touch and the fit and finish is commendable and what you would expect in a car of this class. Neat use of chrome and wood inserts ensure you have an up market ambience and the abundance of leather adds to the element of exclusivity. The cabin itself is nice and spacious for the new Sonata is also longer and wider than its predecessor. This has allowed the interior designers to work a fine layout that ensures you enjoy the freedom of an airy cabin. 

 

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

 

In terms of creature comforts, the Sonata doesn’t disappoint. The car comes fitted with a 10 way electronically adjustable driver seat, 4 way electronically adjustable passenger seat, tilt and telescopic steering, dual zone climate control air conditioning, electronically controlled ORVMs, a 2DIN auto system with MP3, USB, and AUX connectivity. A 6 CD changer, 6 speakers, amplifier and woofer, and stereo controls on the steering wheel as well as in the rear seat armrest. Further to this, the rear seats in the manual version can also be heated or cooled. If you opt for the automatic then the range of features extends to having all the seats fitted with heating or cooling, an engine push button start/stop system, keyless entry, and paddle shifters. Storage is available in abundance and for our growing electronic gadgetry needs; Hyundai has incorporated a power outlet in the front dash as well as in the rear armrest. 

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

Fire up the 2,359cc engine and you are greeted with silence. The state of the art gasoline direct injection (yes, you read that right) is a segment first and boasts of being an extremely refined mill. It’s capable of generating 201 PS @ 6,300 rpm and offers 255 Nm of torque @ 4,250 rpm. The figures are decent, and more importantly, boast of being higher than most of the competition, however the engine story doesn’t just end there. The tech savvy unit also houses a Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (D-VTVT) system that translates all that power into a continuous linear flow, while capitalizing on the benefits of the direct injection unit which allows for optimum performance as well as enhanced fuel efficiency. The power is delivered in a continuous flow, rather than a solid surge. While this doesn’t allow you to take off on a sportscar like driving spree, it gives you the ability to cruise with ease and have ample power at hand for overtaking maneuvers. After all, this is a luxury sedan and it’s designed to behave so. In terms of gearboxes, you can choose between a six speed manual or a six speed automatic. 

 

 

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

The automatic box is smooth and shifts comfortably, however it takes away from the little spirited driving possible. Further to that, it isn’t even a dual clutch system, which in today’s day and age is becoming a must, especially for cars in this category. Having said that, Hyundai has offered the automatic with paddle shifts, but that is a small consolation for missing out on a dual clutch unit. The manual however is a neat unit that slots into gear smoothly and is a boon to drive. If I had to choose between the two, I would go with the manual, however if I was looking for comfort and being chauffeured around town, then my choice would be the automatic.

 

While on the topic of engines, Hyundai has made it clear that the new Sonata will only be launched with a petrol engine. According to the company’s analysis, customers in this segment drive close to 60 kilometers per day and the advantage of diesel engine’s efficiency would be negated by the added overall price tag that a diesel model would have. It makes logical sense on paper and is convincing as well, however there is another element to owning a diesel and that is the sheer driving pleasure that new age diesel mills offer, and I would urge Hyundai to consider a diesel offering for the Indian market. While that is just wishful thinking, Hyundai has obviously considered the logical choice and hopefully they will be able to convince customers of this fact as well.  

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

Coming to the aspect of ride and handling, the new Sonata offers a rather comfortable ride, both in town as well as on the highway. It still has a slightly soft suspension setup, but not as soft as its predecessor. The obvious inspiration has come from European sedans and the Sonata now feels closer to being a European car than a Korean one. The wafty ride that was a standard feature in the Sonata is now gone and the new car is more able around corners and doesn’t lean as much. Secondly, it takes bumps without tossing you around. It’s a definite improvement and can be attributed to the Macpherson struts with coil spring and H sub frame with amplitude selective dampers (ASD) up front and a multilink set up with ASDs incorporated at the rear. 

 

The suspension set up on the new Sonata seems to have struck a balance between going all out on offering handling at a risk of losing out on ride quality, and while there is still scope of improvement, I really cannot find fault with the current set up as I doubt most owners will ever try and drive around sharp corners at three digit speeds, further to this, the car feels well planted on the road, which is a blessing, especially if you have ever driven the previous generation Sonata. Another element that adds to the driving pleasure of the new Sonata is its well weighted steering wheel. Gone is the light unit that actually made you feel nervous at high speeds and thankfully the new unit feels just right in offering steering feedback as well as taking precise driver input. 

 

Aiding the entire drive process is a number of systems that Hyundai has incorporated on to the Sonata to enhance safety. The car comes fitted with dual front airbags, side and curtain airbags, ESP, ABS with EBD and disc brakes on all four wheels. In terms of accidents, the new Sonata boasts of having a decent crumple zone to protect occupants and at the same time the company has also incorporated pedestrian safety elements such as the hood which is designed to cushion the fall of a pedestrian and lower the chances of major injury.

 

 

 

Hyundai Sonata 2012 First Drive

 

 

 

With the new Sonata, Hyundai has made their intentions rather clear. They aren’t looking at measuring up against the competition, namely the Honda Accord, Skoda Superb, VW Passat and Toyota Camry, but surging past and setting the standard for the segment a notch higher. While the predecessor couldn’t really measure up to the competition, the new car comes packed to the hilt with goodies, its large, comfortable, powerful and extremely stylish looking. There is a lot that is going in favour for the new Sonata and while the winds of change might be kind to a new player in the market, it won’t be an easy task, especially since the Sonata name hasn’t faired too well in the past and the change in mindset might take some doing.

 

Adding to this is the fact that the Sonata is only offered with a petrol engine and while it makes sense in a cost per kilometer study, the general perception of the market does sway towards diesels and this might prove to be a setback. Finally there is the challenge of brand perception, which again can be changed by a good product, however the real key to success for Hyundai lies in pricing the product right. Hyundai has been known for their aggressive ways in pursuing their ambitions in the market, and the company should do the same with the new Sonata as well.