Between 2009 and 2014, the Hyundai Sonata was one of the most attractive mid-size sedans on the market. Introducing the Hyundai's groundbreaking “fluidic sculpture” design language, the sixth-generation Sonata – along with its Kia-badged sibling, the Optima – proved that the Korean peninsula could do automotive design as well as any other region.

And then Hyundai promptly screwed things up with the seventh-generation Sonata, a bloated, conservative, and boring take that blended in where its predecessor stood out. The facelifted 2018 Sonata attempts to reverse that slide, with a progressive evolution of the design featured over the last several years. This is the Hyundai Sonata that should have rolled out for 2015.

Best Value

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata steps up to the plate with seven trim levels and three powertrain options, not counting the Hybrid and Plug-In models which are listed separately. Two of those powertrains – the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder – add efficiency and performance, respectively. The 1.6 returns 37 miles per gallon on the highway and offers more torque than the base 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder, while the 2.0-liter pumps out a hearty 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.

You should avoid both optional engines, because the standard 2.4-liter powerplant is both suitably quick and efficient. It's also available in the most trims and is priced better than either of its alternatives.

We recommend the Sonata Limited, which sits at the top of the 2.4-liter range and rings up at $28,285 (including $885 in mandatory destination charges). Then, go ahead and add the $2,900 Ultimate Package, because it loads the Sonata down with worthwhile safety equipment and is the only option on the roster. So for $31,185, you can score a mid-size sedan with heated/ventilated leather seats, dual-zone climate controls, bending LED headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD radio, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert (standard on all Sonatas), and Hyundai's BlueLink connectivity suite.

  • Model: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited
  • Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 185 hp / 178 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic (standard)
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 25 City/35 Hwy/26 Combined
  • Options: Ultimate Package ($2,900, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistant, automatic high beams, a heated steering wheel, eight-inch touchscreen navigation/infotainment system, 400-watt Infinity audio system, and wireless smartphone charging.
  • Base Price: $28,285
  • As Tested: $31,185

Performance

Hyundai Sonata

The Sonata’s 2.4-liter base engine and its 2.0-liter, turbocharged premium engine are both fine companions. The 2.4 is smooth and balanced, easy to live with every day, and inoffensive on the ear. The throttle tip-in is sharper than we’d expect from a mainstream engine, but along with a capable six-speed automatic, it gives even the base Sonata a pleasantly responsive character. The 2.0-liter turbo amplifies that character with additional power and more readily available torque.

Fuel economy with the base engine is solid, at 25 city, 35 highway, and 26 combined. We had no trouble exceeding the combined rating over the course of 300 miles behind the wheel, ratcheting up computer-indicated ratings in the high 20s.

Hyundai balances the Sonata’s ride and handling character well. It’s comfortable on most road surfaces, minimizing the biggest impacts and erasing smaller ones. At the same time, the Sonata doesn’t roll much – its body motions are better controlled than a Toyota Corolla or Nissan Altima, although it’s not as poised and tight as a Mazda6 or Honda Accord.

But while the ride and handling are impressive for the class, the Sonata isn’t as communicative as either the Mazda or Honda. It does too good of a job isolating the driver through the chassis, and the light, numb steering tells little about what’s happening with the front tires. Again, this is a mid-size sedan, so a lack of feedback shouldn’t be surprising, but as automakers are starting to instill even family sedans with a joie de vivre, it’s a bummer that the Sonata feels so staid and detached.

Interior and Exterior

Hyundai Sonata

A dowdy redesign for 2015 robbed the Sonata of the trendy, fashion-forward looks that put it at the head of the mid-size sedan class and told the world that Hyundai could build pretty cars. This year’s facelift did its best to return the Sonata to form, with a more aggressive grille that gets a stylish insert (particularly with the 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine). The rear wears new taillights that draw inspiration from the more fashionable Elantra compact, although you’ll need to pony up for the Limited trim to get the more attractive LED units.

Changes aren’t as dramatic in the cabin. While there’s an inverse correlation between the rise of touchscreens and the elimination of physical buttons, the Sonata retains plenty of physical buttons, the most important of which is a physical bank below the touchscreen. It’s a smart layout – drivers don’t need to mess with the touchscreen if they don’t want to, which prevents distractions while driving.

But the buttons themselves don’t feel especially nice. It’s not so much their plastic construction – but the action. It doesn’t feel as solid as we’d like. The window switches, the steering wheel buttons, and the two stalks sprouting from the steering column don’t suffer from this problem, at least. The rest of the materials are good, too, particularly the door panels and dash uppers – both are a step above the facelifted model that debuted in 2015.

The Sonata’s seats are almost all comfortable, aside from the back middle (shocking, we know). The front chairs are wide but supportive, with plenty of cushioning that makes long journeys a cinch. The seating position is good, too. The steering column has a wide range of tilt and telescoping, while the 10-way power driver’s seat of our Limited tester was enough for a wide range of body types.

The back seats are tolerable for two adults, but with just 35.6 inches of rear legroom, the Sonata isn’t the best choice for passenger hauling – the Toyota Camry has 38 inches and the Honda Accord has just over 40 inches. The seats themselves are comfortable, though, with ample padding.

Hyundai’s infotainment system remains one of the segments best. Quick and intuitive, its layout is attractive too. The presence of redundant buttons makes navigation far easier than systems that rely entirely on touchscreens (or minimize the use of physical buttons).

Right For? Wrong For?

Hyundai Sonata

Families on a budget that aren't willing to embrace the SUV lifestyle will flock to the refreshed Sonata for its thrifty performance and lengthy list of standard and available features at an affordable price.

The Sonata is much better looking, but there's simply no hiding its form factor. It's simply not as fashion forward as a Mazda6 or Ford Fusion, and will therefore garner limited appeal among the image conscious.

The Bottom Line

It's still not super exciting, but Hyundai has fixed what ails the Sonata and the result is a solid choice in a still-hotly-contested segment.