2009 Hyundai Sonata Review

Better from the inside out

by Autobytel Staff
May 8, 2008
2 min. Reading Time

The 2009 Sonata gets a host of worthwhile updates. Foremost among them is a new interior with a design that looks a lot like the Veracruz. The Sonata also gets powertrain and other refinement enhancements, as well as a navigation system for the first time.

Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu

We like the new interior, and the refreshed exterior styling. We also think that the Sonata makes a fine car for those A-to-B trips in life. However, driving enthusiasts will want to look elsewhere, as the Sonata is notably short on fun.

There’s a reason mid-size family sedans are often called the “bread and butter” of a car company’s lineup. Think about it: You may go to your different restaurants for your favorite fish or steak or pasta, but the one common denominator for all of them is...bread and butter. If you eat at more than one restaurant, you know that not all bread and butter is created equally, and that there’s a wide variety of different tastes that can come from the same basic ingredients.


The same is true for mid-size sedans, like the 2009 Hyundai Sonata. They’re not very exciting (like bread and butter), they’re a staple in the lineup and conspicuous by their absence (like bread and butter), and even though they have the same basic formulation, they vary widely in how they drive and perform (like, well, sort of like bread and butter, if you overextend this metaphor to the breaking point).

Hyundai has offered up the Sonata in its lineup for close to two decades now, and it has steadily refined the vehicle to the point where it’s a credible alternative to the mainstays of the whole bread-and-butter crowd: The Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. For 2009, the company has remixed it once again, and even though it’s not all-new, it sports a new, much more luxurious interior, a refined exterior, a bit more power and many other enhancements that move the car a notch or two further upward on the desirability scale.

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The Sonata comes in three different trim levels: GLS, SE and Limited. All are available with the 3.3-liter V-6 or the 2.4-liter four cylinder. Prices start at $18,795 for a four-cylinder GLS and climb all the way to $26,345 for the V-6 Limited. Standard safety features on all Sonatas, including base models, include six airbags, stability control, active head restraints and anti-lock brakes. Beyond that, even your $18,795 will get you keyless entry, USB, AUX and iPod inputs for the audio system, tilt steering, and cruise control. Move up to the SE and you get alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, steering-wheel audio controls and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob standard. Limited models get pretty much everything available: standard leather seats with heated fronts, more chrome outside, automatic climate control inside, and a sunroof.


Options are grouped into packages for all three trim levels. Aside from your choice of engine (the V-6 costs between $1,200 and $1,700 depending on model), you can pick from various equipment levels, most of which bundle the usual things like power driver’s seat, trip computers, and lumbar support if it’s not already standard. The biggest option news for 2009 is the new navigation system. Available on Limited models for $1,250, it is your usual touch-screen and voice-activated setup. It offers up a sharp but slightly small screen, and we found it easy enough to use during our short time with the car.

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Regardless of trim level, two engines are available. The four-cylinder displaces 2.4 liters and puts out 175 hp, up 13 hp from the 2008 model thanks to improved variable valve timing; a PZEV version sold in states with stricter California emissions standards puts out 168 horses, only 5 more than the old engine. Torque improves marginally; the old engine had 164 lb.-ft., while the new one gets 168 lb.-ft. PZEV versions actually lose 1 lb.-ft. Fuel consumption is pretty good: 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with the automatic, according to EPA estimates, an improvement of 1 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway.


The V-6 also stays at the same displacement as before, but adds 15 horsepower and 3 lb.-ft. of torque for a total of 249 hp and 229 lb.-ft. Fuel economy improves slightly, with city mileage staying the same at 19 mpg, but highway increasing to 29 mpg.

Regardless of what engine you choose, you’ll be routing power through five gears. The manual option is available on GLS models, and only with the four-cylinder. Only a small segment of Sonatas will be so-equipped; the vast majority will have the five-speed automatic that comes with the four-cylinder or V-6 engines. It also comes with a manual shift mode that’s operated by moving the shift lever back and forth in a special gate. We found it worked well enough, but not so much that we found ourselves relishing the experience.

The Sonata has a fully independent suspension consisting of wishbones in front and a multi-link setup in the rear. The four-wheel brake setup hasn’t changed in the mid-model refresh, with V-6 models getting larger rotors than the four-cylinder ones, and four-channel anti-lock and electronic brake force distribution standard on all models.

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