Quality is improving at Hyundai. The evidence comes as soon as you slam the door on the Sonata, which was completely redesigned last year. Gone is the tinny echo we'd grown accustomed to with some vehicles built in Korea, replaced by a solid CACHUNK reminiscent of more expensive European sedans. This Hyundai has a more rigid body structure, a more powerful, smoother engine and suspension that deftly combines decent handling with a smooth ride. Well-equipped with a suggested retail price under $18,000, the Sonata GLS makes a good case for itself.
If there remains a question about the reliability and dependability of its vehicles, Hyundai is trying its best to eliminate it. The company has introduced an ownership program called the Hyundai Advantage that extends the basic warranty to five years or 60,000 miles and includes 24-hour roadside assistance. Sonata's 10-year 100,000 powertrain warranty is among the best available.
Seat time in the Sonata proves what the walkaround suggests: This Hyundai is far better equipped than its predecessors to compete with more established brands from Japan, the United States and Europe.
Increased structural rigidity has given Hyundai engineers a solid platform for developing the suspension. The suspension itself is reasonably sophisticated, with double wishbones in front and a multilink arrangement in the rear, gas-filled shock absorbers and stabilizer bars. The result is a chassis that is both compliant and responsive.
Our test ranged from wet conditions to dry, on 70-plus mph interstates to two lane country roads. The Sonata soaked up the expansion joints and undulations as well as some larger, more expensive luxury sedans. Its ride is supple yet controlled, and it turns into corners with confidence. We wouldn't compare its road-holding capabilities to a sport coupe, but the Sonata is up to whatever a family sedan owner is likely to dish out, and it's never boring to drive.
The drivetrain is as pleasantly surprising as the suspension. Considering the engine's displacement and the car's price, the V6 is both smooth and powerful. The manual transmission delivers the best acceleration, but the automatic doesn't give up much. It shifts up smoothly and down reasonably quickly when the driver jabs the gas pedal. Steep grades and passes on two-lane roads are no sweat.
The Sonata's brakes are adequate, not remarkable. We'd prefer to see ABS as on the standard feature list, but given Sonata's value pricing, it's not too egregious an oversight. Hyundai expects that most of the Sonatas that roll from its dealerships will have most of the options. And for 2000, ABS is available on a Sonata that retails for $700 less than it did in 1999.
If a manufacturer is committed to building confidence in its products, its starts by improving quality and backing it up with a good warranty. That's what Hyundai has done with the Sonata.
Yet quality and confidence don't mean much if the product falls short in other respects. The Sonata brings stand-apart styling, a comfortable cabin and decent performance. It's enjoyable to drive and even easier to live with, at a price that sets it apart from other mid-size sedans.
If value is a priority, the Hyundai Sonata is absolutely worth a look.