"Beauty" is Only Skin Deep
The first thing you notice when you see the Sonata is its dramatic exterior styling. Except for the car's sibling, the Kia Optima, the rest of the mainstream mid-sizers have become a relatively staid lot, which makes sense. These are the cars that are expected to draw the most buyers, and you generally can't do that with a radical design, which might end up scaring people away from an otherwise solid contender.
Thus, the archetype of a successful mid-size sedan has long been the Toyota Camry, noted for its bland appearance and high sales volume. But even beyond the Camry'”which is notably nicer to look at now than in the past'”stylish rivals such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima get their style from a more restrained design language that often gets called "subtle" or "sophisticated." You'll also notice that part of Volkswagen's Americanization of the VW Jetta and VW Passat includes the Americanization of their designs. The curvy Euro look from past generations has given way to blockier shapes and more traditional, upright grilles.
Of course, that brings us back to the Sonata, because one of the more noticeable design cues on this Hyundai is its large chrome grille, flanked by its equally large cat's-eye-style front light treatment. The result overpowers the rest of the car, which actually does show some nice design bits elsewhere, especially at the rear. It's a little thing, but I particularly liked the shape of the trunk lid and the way it flowed into the rear glass. It looked ... subtle and sophisticated. And from the rear three-quarters view'”in which you can't see the front of the car'”that aggressive character line that runs through the door handles gives the Sonata the impression its coiled up and ready to run.
Overall, it's not really my style, but my wife thought it was quite attractive, and Hyundai did sell nearly 16,000 Sonatas in February, based on a 103 percent increase in retail sales for the month; obviously, plenty of people think it looks just fine.
Moving the Metal
Once you get beneath the Sonata's skin, the story is very different. The cabin is fine, but you'll look in vain for any design cue that's as striking as the car's grille. Everything is nicely executed, and with decent materials, but there just wasn't a lot to get excited about.
And the same held true for what was beneath the Sonata's hood. As I mentioned when I first got the car, the idea of a turbocharged engine sounds exciting, but what we're talking about with the Sonata is essentially a replacement for the V-6's found in rival mid-sizers. There's a fair amount of punch in Hyundai's 2.0-liter turbo'”274 horses and 269 lb.-ft. of torque'”but those power numbers are right in line with what you get from the other guys, too.
But now it's time to get back to the EPA numbers, which are definitely not what you expect from the other guys. The Sonata 2.0T is rated at 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway/26 mpg combined, and as I said above, I topped that combined number'”a first in my test-driving experience.
The American six-cylinder competitors'”Ford Fusion, Chrysler 200 and Malibu'”post EPA combined ratings of 21 mpg, 22 mpg and 19 mpg. This may seem like a minor thing, but the difference between 22 mpg and 26 mpg is nearly 20 percent, which counts as significant in my book.
Fuel for Thought
For most of the week, the Sonata 2.0T proved to be a well-put-together but'”except for its exterior'”not that exciting car. Yet that holds true for most of the mainstream midsizers; you could even say that that's the main selling point of these cars. So the Sonata achieves that, then takes things to ye olde next level with its fuel efficiency'”and earns a "recommended" nod in the process.