Hyundai steels its position in a strong, shrinking segment
Back home in Korea, the Hyundai family of brands includes Hyundai Motor Company and a sister brand called Hyundai Steel. This partly explains why few Hyundais include any aluminum body parts, and now we’re told that steel manufacturing is the inspiration behind the new face of Hyundai. The broad cascade grille is designed to resemble molten steel being poured from a giant foundry ladle. If you’ve always wondered what that looks like, check out the grilles on the all-new Ioniq hatchback and this mid-cycle refresh of the seventh-generation Sonata.
This redesign was entirely penned in Hyundai’s California design studio (perhaps following a field trip to the Korean foundry), and as mid-cycle touch-ups go, it’s extensive. All new sheet metal includes the hood, deck lid, and fenders, and the lighting and fascias front and rear are also retooled. Flanking the aforementioned lower, broader grille—which gets a mesh insert on top Sport and 2.0T models—are a pair of squintier headlamps that get adaptive LED illumination on top trim levels. The air inlets at the lower outboard edges of the fascia are now taller and feature standard vertical LED daytime running lights. And a new pair of character lines is added to the hood (making it a tad busier looking than necessary to some eyes).
Coming around to the side of the car, you’ll notice a new roster of 16-, 17-, and 18-inch wheel designs and gloss black window trim on Sport and 2.0T models. In the rear, the license plate migrates from the decklid down to the bumper fascia where the sporty versions also get a unique diffuser look. The license relocation leaves room for wider, sleeker taillamps and a bigger Hyundai “H” logo in the center of the trunk. The body color void in the top of this “H” serves as the trunk release, which will almost surely confound hotel valets the way fuel fillers secreted beneath taillamp lenses stymied full-service gas jockeys in the 1950s.
Inside the biggest change is to the center stack, which gets its infotainment and climate controls redesigned, replacing rows of black push buttons with new top-hinged silver piano key buttons that look more upscale. The instrument dial graphics are revised, and the steering wheel features a new three-spoke aesthetic. There’s a wireless pad for charging Qi-standard devices and a new USB charging port in the rear seat. The optional nav system now offers a bird’s-eye view and free traffic information. And Internet-of-things aficionados will appreciate that Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics system can now communicate with Amazon Echo and Google Assistant (“Alexa, start my Sonata;” Okay Google, ask BlueLink to unlock my Sonata”). This service is prepaid for three years.
Functional upgrades include an eight-speed automatic replacing the six-speed on 2.0-liter turbo models. Revised chassis tuning includes a new torsion bar in the steering system that is 12 percent stiffer, which alters the power assist characteristics to improve feel and responsiveness. Rear suspension trailing links are 21 percent stiffer, and all the bushings are revised to provide better ride compliance and handling control. The roster of standard safety equipment now includes blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert.
So far this year, the Sonata is running fifth in the sales race. Might pouring molten steel be enough to stave off a resurgent, all-new Chevy Malibu and possibly contest the Ford Fusion for a top-four finish next year? By itself, surely not. But we look forward to assessing whether the meaningful changes are worthy of a podium finish.