Hyundai Sonata

The Courier-Mail’s MICHAEL WESTLAKE makes friends with the Hyundai Sonata

BEING somewhat primitive, I don’t have a Facebook account. I’m on Twitter, but I read and don’t tweet. I have no interest in Pinterest, have never been a Tumblr, nor have I Instagrammed, Snapchatted or Tindered. Like an unsuccessful one-man religion, I have no followers. I also have no interest in what other people are having for brunch and no desire to see a photo of it, and can happily live without minute-by-minute updates on the lives of other people’s children or whatever it is they may be excreting.

In modern society, this is a novel approach, I know. But I am still a disciple of the mantra that if I like you, I will choose to spend time with or perhaps just talk to you. You may, if you wish, consider the fact we have not conversed in 30 years as a definitive “unlike”. This also spares me the embarrassment of pretending to care about the thoughts or opinions of people that I would ordinarily avoid spending time with. When someone asks if I am “friends” with someone, I can answer honestly knowing that I don’t have to keep up a façade to spare the feelings of dear, old Cheryl from accounts. My wonderfully selfish approach to “not-terribly-social media” does have other benefits as well. Occasionally, I meet people I haven’t seen in decades and often times genuinely enjoy their company.

Because neither of us know anything about what the other has been doing for 20 years, we have a lot of topics with which we can create a conversation. For those not familiar, “conversation” is a social medium devoid of social media. More than once, I have walked away from one of these conversations thinking to myself “that person doesn’t seem as big a jerk as they did many years ago”. Which brings us neatly to the new Hyundai Sonata.

When the good people at Bartons emailed me to tell me my next test drive was a Sonata, I answered in the affirmative and caught myself with the realization I had no emotional response whatsoever. Like with Cheryl from accounts, I could not even recall what the Sonata looked like. I knew the name, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick one out of a crowded carpark if someone asked me. Just a couple of hours later, unwinding in front of a 2008 re-run episode of Top Gear – without a word of a lie – they flashed up that year’s Sonata model. Jeremy Clarkson’s appraisal made me grimace with embarrassment for poor When you hit the unlock button on the key, the Sonata lights up with its big sparkling eyes blinking back at you and a genuinely happy face.

Cheryl. I mean, the poor Sonata. “I would rather host this entire show while gently cupping James May’s (ahem… you can guess what he said here) than drive that car,” Clarkson declared. I began shifting uneasily in my seat, knowing I was about to do the journalistic equivalent of Facebook friending the most unpopular kid from school.

But here’s the thing: When I finally met the Sonata in person the next day, she had changed. A lot. Gone was the dumpy and frumpy 2008 model, and in its place was a sleeker, sexier and more confident version. The Sonata had matured into a stylish and elegant mid-sized sedan, and as we spent more time together over the next couple of weeks, I got to like it very much. I don’t want to sound superficial, but I feel like I need to spend a bit more time talking about how this car looks. It really is stunning, a world away from the car that had Clarkson reaching for the front of James May’s trousers. When you hit the unlock button on the key, the Sonata lights up with its big sparkling eyes blinking back at you and a genuinely happy face. The car has terrific street appeal, with sharp lines, appeal curves and an almost fastback-like back end that works terrifically well. Another true story: I was driving the Sonata and sitting at the traffic lights at the top of Green Camp Rd when I saw a stunning electric blue car on the other side of the road turn left and continue up Manly Rd. I thought to myself “what a great looking car. I wonder what it is?” You know how this ends, don’t you? Yep, exactly the same car as the one I was driving, just a different coat of paint. I feel slightly stupid, but incredibly impressed at the same time.

It really is a great looking car, comparable to anything coming out of the big German marques in recent years. But have no fears about the Sonata being all style and no substance. I’m happy to report that it also has a great personality as well. I was driving the base-model “Active” version of the Sonata and was impressed.

Starting out with the very comfortable driving position, your dashboard and instruments are all easy to reach and easy to navigate. Gripping the steering wheel, my first surprise is to see paddle-shift gear levers tucked in behind the wheel, suggesting the Sonata is ready to play if you want to give it some stick. On the steering wheel itself are your audio and telephone controls, with cruise control on the other side.

Down by the gear lever is a button that allows you to choose your driving mode –either “normal”, sport or eco. Above is the touchscreen display with Bluetooth connectivity that seamlessly allows you to access your phone and music on the go, and the excellent reversing camera. Maybe the best bits of the Sonata though are the parts you can’t see – for starters, the amount of oxygen you can get in the car. The cabin is massively spacious, and can comfortably seat five adults on a long trip to the coast with all of the legroom in the back. And the boot is seriously enormous, to the point where I half expected it to echo when I spoke into it. For a medium-sized car, the Sonata would easily compete with a lot of large sedans for luggage space in the back. Underneath the bonnet beats the Sonata’s heart – in the Active model, a 2.4L naturally-aspirated petrol engine delivering a healthy 138kW of power and 241 Nm of torque. Should you upgrade to the next-level Elite and Premium versions, the engine is replaced by a turbo-charged 2.0L engine, with the go-faster figures jumping to a remarkable 180kW and 350Nm. That is a lot, particularly when the Active variant didn’t feel especially under-powered.

Keeping all this in check is a wonderfully smooth six-speed automatic transmission, and host of electronic wizardry like traction control to keep everything pointing in the right direction. I drove the Sonata late one night through a particularly heavy summer deluge, and was impressed by how assured it felt on the road. Even when I was asking it to be silly by throwing it through roundabouts and tight bends on wet roads, the Sonata always felt in control. Even if things had gone awry, knowing the Sonata comes with a five-star ANCAP safety rating and six airbags to protect you from your own stupidity is very reassuring. In the dry, it is a brisk and comfortable daily driver perfectly happy humming along, but up for a challenge should the “sport mode” button become too alluring. The fuel economy is great too. Hyundai claims the Sonata will do 8.3L/100km in combined highway and city driving.

I did mostly city driving and, in the week when I was driving relatively sensibly, actually hit the magical 8.3 mark. With Bartons offering the Active model for a driveaway price of $27,990, the Sonata really is a very good car for the money. It is fighting in a competitive weight division against the likes of Toyota’s Camry ($26,440 plus on-roads) and the Mazda 6 (prices start at over $40,000). But pound-for-pound, or even dollar-for-dollar, the Sonata is hard to beat. Michael Westlake

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