Hyundai's bringing its best Sonata to the fight, but it's not winning.
As sales dwindle in the midsize car market, big players in the segment have all significantly redone their entries to help stem the flow of sedan buyers pouring towards crossovers. Honda introduced the best version of the Accord ever, Toyota debuted the best version of the Camry ever and Mazda has continuously updated the 6 to make sure it's always the best version of itself.
There have been times where the Sonata was a game changer, besting competitors in value and style without contest. The new model is a perfectly acceptable family sedan, but it doesn't quite excel the same way the Sonata used to. In a market saturated with fantastic choices, the Sonata fails to rise above the pack significantly.
If you were to buy a $22,935 entry-level Sonata, you'd probably be pretty happy with how it looks. The car is handsome and inoffensive looking, falling under the same "melted bar of soap" umbrella that seems to be infecting every car brand.
But if you're dishing out $33,460 to get a Limited 2.0T model like my tester, then that's a different story. Because at $33,460, this car is decidedly not cheap. But it looks like a knockoff.
If you cover the badge in the photos with the tip of your finger, it's not very easy to tell what company makes this car. You could easily badge this a Chevy, Chrysler, or Ford and no one would notice.
At 23 grand, most people aren't concerned with looking distinctive and expensive. At $33,000 though, it's fair to expect some sense of style.
Ho-hum exterior styling could be redeemed if Hyundai had knocked it out of the park on the inside. But Hyundai kept the same general interior styling as the previous-generation Sonata. The steering wheel and center stack have changed design, but overall it looks substantially similar to last year's model.
It's a safe and conventional design but it's nothing remarkable. Hard plastic can be found anywhere you put your hands, and switches aren't of the highest quality. Again, this is all acceptable at $23,000 but disappointing if you're spending $33,460.
There is a bonus to this utilitarian style, though. As per usual, Hyundai's infotainment offerings are on point. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both on board, accessed through the company's well-designed infotainment system. There are also physical buttons for everything essential — think climate control and audio controls — which is refreshing.
Finally, the seats are quite literally a sore spot. Within the first 30 minutes on a three our jaunt to Detroit, both my friend Zach and I were complaining about how uncomfortable the seats were. If you do a lot of long-distance driving, the Sonata might not be for you.
The driving experience is a bright spot. It's not at all a "driver's car," but it's quite composed and pleasant to drive.
The biggest sweet spot is the motor-transmission combo. My tester had the 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a Hyundai-designed 8-speed automatic. 245 horsepower makes its way to the front wheels in a smooth and linear manner, with adequate power always on tap.
The trade-off, though, is that I couldn't get my fuel economy average about 23 miles per gallon. Full disclosure: I drive aggressively when testing a new car, so you might beat that figure.
I also thought the Sonata rode well, soaking up bumps and potholes with little drama. Handling is safe and competent, but you shouldn't expect a Hyundai midsize sedan to be exciting or fun in the corners.
With the Sonata, the fewer extras you tack on, the more you're getting a good value. Even the base models come with stuff you want like CarPlay and blind-spot monitoring. It's a great value.
But start optioning your way up and the value proposition doesn't make a whole lot of sense. This fully-loaded tester I had was packed with equipment, but it wasn't much nicer than the base model that's $10,000 cheaper.
Sure, base models don't get the smooth powerplant and excellent eight speed, but spending $33,460 on this Sonata just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Offerings from Honda and Mazda at this price point may not pack in all of the equipment, but they feel more cohesive and premium.
The most impressive thing about the midsize segment in 2018 is that contenders from major mainstream companies manage to successfully mimic premium sedans.
There are options in this segment that genuinely feel high-quality and look every part of $35,000. While the Sonata is a nice car, it isn't one of them. It never quite feels like a premium experience. More importantly, it doesn't excel enough in any category to make up for that.
Driving experience: 3.5
Price as configured: $33,460