Whether it's the Elantra scrapping with the economy compacts or the Equus trading barbs with encrusted luxo-yachts, Hyundai seemingly has a fighter in every weight class. Among midsize sedans, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata is the Korean automaker's contender. In prior years, the Sonata was nothing more than a midpack player, but that all changed with last year's full redesign, in which the Sonata gained dramatic new styling, new engines and a revamped interior.
Under the hood is a choice of a powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder or, in lieu of a V6, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. With 198 horsepower (200 in SE trim), the base engine will satisfy just about everybody, especially when it returns a very impressive 28 mpg combined when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission. Equally impressive is the turbo engine, which cranks out 274 hp yet still gets nearly identical fuel economy.
Inside, the Sonata is big enough that the EPA deems it a "large" car. Its total passenger volume puts it ahead of every class competitor except the Honda Accord, and its 16.4 cubic feet of trunk space is equally roomy. As is the case with all Hyundais, standard feature content is generous, and it comes at a price that's significantly less than most competitors. The Sonata also stands out in terms of design, as its cabin is attractive and fitted with upscale and easy-to-use controls. This year's model is also notable for the introduction of BlueLink, Hyundai's telematics system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar.
From just about every vantage point, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata presents a clear alternative to the traditional midsize safe bets. It's more dynamic on its feet and in appearance than the Accord or Toyota Camry, and holds the price advantage over solid picks like the Ford Fusion, Mazda 6 and Nissan Altima. Ironically, its toughest competition actually comes from the related Kia Optima, as it matches the Sonata in nearly every way but with a more athletic and striking package. Yet one thing's for sure -- the Sonata is now a true contender for the title belt.
Hyundai significantly updated the Sonata's interior for the 2009 model year with better materials. Although the cabin was redesigned last year, materials quality was unchanged; it's still competitive but doesn't notably raise the bar for the class, which is already fairly high. Interior features include:
- Standard satellite radio
- Standard Blue Link telematics system
- Standard Bluetooth connectivity
- Standard auxiliary and iPod inputs
- Available touch-screen navigation system
The Sonata's sloping roof shows glimpses of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and Volkswagen CC, yet it's distinctive enough to stand out among direct competitors like the Camry and Accord. Exterior features include:
- Standard 16-inch steel wheels
- Available 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels
- Wide chrome grille
- Extensive chrome trim
The standard Sonata engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 198 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. The dual-exhaust SE makes slightly more power at 200 hp and 186 lb-ft. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the GLS, while a six-speed automatic is optional on that trim and standard on the SE and Limited. Sonatas sold in California-emission states can have PZEV emissions certification, though output drops slightly to 190 hp.
A powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque is available on SE and Limited models. The six-speed automatic is standard.
In Edmunds performance testing, a 2.4-liter GLS Sonata with automatic transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. The 2.0-liter turbo with automatic transmission is significantly quicker, making the same dash in 6.7 seconds. Both times are quick for the midsize sedan segment.
The Sonata's EPA fuel economy estimates are equally impressive. The 2.4-liter engine is rated at 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 28 combined, regardless of transmission. The 2.0-liter turbo, despite its significant boost in power, returns a very impressive 22/34/26 mpg.