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It may have made a niche in the small and mid-size car segments, but Hyundai is clear about spreading its wings. It wants to offer a plethora of products across different segments. But its 5th generation Sonata, minus the oomph that's so essential to arrest a consumer's attention, couldn't really make a mark in the Indian market.
So the parent company in Korea got down to work in full earnest - to redefine the entire product range. Hyundai decided to offer products that had a more European feel, design and finish to them. The credit for this could be attributed to the company's German design house that ushered in the fluidic design theme. In the past few years, we've seen that change in the form of the new Verna and the Eon - that sure boast a new line of thought. But it is the new Sonata that reflects the effort behind this change. And now, to put it simply, the 6th generation Sonata is a product that should leave an impact in the market here.
For starters, the new Sonata is a striking machine that looks cutting-edge. The large, stretched-back headlights housing HID lamps, massive chrome grille which the company claims is inspired by a waterfall, stylish fog lights and, of course, the chiselled 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 wellpronounced shoulder line that extends all the way to the rear and flows seamlessly into the stylish rear tail light cluster.
The rear itself is a work of art and the dual exhaust pipes add to the 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. It's worthy to mention that the new Sonata is bigger than its predecessor on all counts and now measures 4, 820 mm in length, 1, 835 mm in width, 1, 490 mm in height and has a wheelbase of 2, 795 mm. 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 aesthetic appeal.
Step inside and the car has much to boast of. The flowing touches to the dashboard are in line with Hyundai's fluidic design philosophy and this makes for an uncluttered clean look. The materials feel great to touch and the fit and finish is commendable. A neat use of chrome and wood inserts ensures you have a fairly upmarket ambience, and the touch of leather adds to the element of exclusivity. The cabin itself is spacious and this has allowed the interior designers to work out a fine layout and give its occupants the feel of an airy cabin.
The car comes fitted with a 10-way electronically adjustable driver seat, four-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. There's also a 6-CD changer, six speakers, amplifier and woofer, and stereo controls on the steering wheel as well as in the rear seat armrest.
What's more, the rear seats in the manual version can also be heated or cooled. If you opt for the automatic, then the range 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 aplenty and for our growing electronic gadgetry needs, Hyundai has incorporated a power outlet in the front dash as well as in the rear armrest.
Fire up the 2, 359 cc engine and you are greeted with silence. The state-of-the-art gasoline direct injection is a segment first in a refined mill. It's capable of generating 201PS @ 6, 300 rpm and offers 255 Nm of torque @ 4, 250 rpm. The tech-savvy unit also houses a dual continuously variable valve timing (DVTVT ) system that translates all that power into a continuous linear flow, while capitalising on the benefits of the direct injection unit which allows 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 manoeuvres.
Incidentally, Hyundai is only offering the GDI engine on the Sonata and has ruled out a diesel option for now.
In terms of gearboxes, you can choose between a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The automatic box is smooth and shifts comfortably, but 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 mandatory, 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 given the option to choose between the two, I'd go with the manual, but if looking for comfort, then my choice would be the automatic version.
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, though 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 new car is able around corners and that's a definite improvement over the earlier version, something that can be attributed to the MacPherson struts with coil spring and H sub frame with amplitude selective dampers (ASD) up front and a multi-link set-up with ASDs incorporated at the rear. Hyundai has worked hard at striking a balance between handling and ride quality and while there is still scope for improvement, one 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, and steering feedback and feel has definitely improved over its predecessor which is a blessing!
Aiding the entire drive process are 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 case of accidents, it has a decent crumple zone to protect occupants. 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 chances of major injury.
With the new Sonata, Hyundai has made its intentions rather clear - it isn't looking at measuring up against the competition, but surging past and setting the standard for the segment a notch higher. There is a lot that is going in favour of 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 fared too well in the past.
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-kilometre study, the general perception of the market does sway towards diesels and this might prove to be a setback. However, the real key to success lies in pricing the product right. Hyundai has been known for its aggressive ways in pursuing its ambitions in the market, and the company should do the same here as well.
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