We drive an early prototype of Hyundai’s next midsize sedan
After getting up close and personal with the 2020 Hyundai Sonata at the automaker’s Namyang Research and Development facility just outside of Seoul, Korea, we were allowed to drive a couple early prototypes.
We got behind the wheel of what Hyundai calls P1 prototypes, which represent the earliest stage of the four prototypes (P1, P2, M1, and M2) built ahead of serial production. Although M1 and M2 vehicles are made using parts from final production tooling and are visually indistinguishable from retail units, P1s are largely hand built, and still contain exterior and interior parts that may be mismatched in color and/or texture, or in some case, completely smooth and unpainted. Also still in development at the P1 stage are the tires. At the design studio, the fancier 1.6T-equipped Sonata we were shown was wearing Hankook Ventus V12 Zero2 summer tires (in size 245/40/ZR19), while the gray 2.5-liter Sonata was shod in 235/45/R18 Pirelli PZero all-season rubber. Neither of these were confirmed as production spec rubber, and at the track, we spent our time driving prototypes on Continental tires.
Here are three quick reads from our time with 2020 Sonata prototypes:
No Surprise Handling
Three laps on a short handling track don’t tell you much, but what we can say is that you won’t be surprised by the 2020 Hyundai Sonata. Our P1 was equipped with the updated 1.6-liter turbo four and nothing stood out—good or bad—about the way it accelerated, braked, or turned in. The car understeered as expected, halfway through the track’s sole decreasing-radius left turn. Adding steering input into this increasing tight turn wasn’t enough to keep it on line. Only after lifting the throttle to the speed down a bit, did the ability to guide the nose return. Hyundai’s “Smartstream” 8-speed automatic transmission delivered smooth gear changes up and down, and you can definitely sense programming consistent with the mission of a fuel-sipping, family sedan, no matter how sexy it is styled. Even when using the paddle shifters, the transmission shifted well ahead of the rev limit line on the tach, even in sport mode. There was a bit of road and wind noise, but at this early stage and on test tires, we have to believe those issues will be sorted.
During a brief lunch meeting, Hyundai’s head engineer, Albert Biermann, quickly reviewed the technical features of the all-new base engine, the 2.5 GDI Smartstream. This new Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine comes with direct and multi-port fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing, an integrated exhaust header, as well as thermally optimized exhaust gas recirculation and engine block and cylinder head cooling systems. Clearly Hyundai is prioritizing efficiency and emissions over pure performance. Biermann confirmed as much when said, “Ja, the 2.5 is a cruiser, for sure.”
One lap each as passenger and driver around Namyang R&D’s 2.5-mile (4-km) high speed oval test track provided all the confirmation we needed. With a claimed 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, the 2.5 GDI Sonata can merge onto a busy test track without fear or anxiety. There is no neck-snapping acceleration on tap but the cabin is quite and calm; secure even, when you engage some of the advanced driver-assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control.
Running on the inside perimeter of the high-speed oval is a two-lane ride road, which we lapped in the same GDI 2.5-equipped P1 Sonata.
MotorTrend has spent over 12 years testing at Hyundai’s California proving grounds, which contains a handling track, high-speed oval, and special surfaces area that contains lanes composed of various materials and features, meant to deliver different road sensations. The Namyang ride road was much different—long and only two lanes wide, with long stretches of surfaces and “events,” not the compact and feature-packed surface as found in California.
As with the other tracks, there were no real surprises with the way the 2020 Sonata prototype rides. None of the coarse or unfinished surfaces introduced unacceptable noise or vibration into the cabin and tire roar was admirably low, even as speeds approached 60 mph on rougher terrain. Humps and hillocks were absorbed without the crashing of bump stops or booming from suspension bits. The Sonata appear pretty unflappable; it easily swallowed up a stretch of uneven road that tilted the horizon to the right about 15 degrees.
Way too soon to tell. In total, we spent less than 20 minutes driving two different prototypes on three different test tracks. A Hyundai engineer was always riding shotgun, so our ability to fully explore the Sonata’s limits was not just hampered by limited time. Expect much more detailed driving impressions after the 2020 Sonata debuts and we spend hours behind the wheel.
Read our 2020 Hyundai Sonata First Look here.