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Why the 2018 Sonata has us saying, “Well Played, Hyundai.”

As it edges nearer to the three-decade mark (in terms of its North American existence) the 2018 Hyundai Sonata carries very few reminders of the incarnation which first hit U.S. roads for the 1989 model year.

But that’s not a bad thing, especially in light of the significant redesigns being enjoyed by both this year’s Toyota Camry, as well as the newest model Honda Accord. That said, it could be argued that both the Camry and Accord have found design inspiration in similar places, sharing an angle-heavy approach taken as best emphasized in their open front fascia. While I personally find such choices very attractive (making it the first time I’ve had such positive things to say about those particular cars) I have to commend Hyundai on their conscious decision to stand apart.

Setting the Sonata apart from the muddied waters being traversed by its in-class competitors, Hyundai opts not to fix anything that isn’t broken. Maximizing the Sonata’s spacious cabin and cargo dimensions, it serves up seven (yes, seven) trim levels and three powertrain configurations, book-ended by well-designed updates to the front and rear fascia. Well played, Hyundai. Well played, indeed.

 

First Impressions

First impressions are important. In fact, it’s easy to overlook just how important it is in terms of vehicle design despite our tendency to decide (within seconds) whether or not we like a particular vehicle’s styling.

The midsize sedan class may not be thought of as the ‘sexiest’, but there are some strong efforts being put in to make sure that offerings are as eye-catching as possible. As a result, stakes are high, so Hyundai’s decision to conceive a mid-cycle facelift (from the 2015 re-styling) is prudent. Equally wise is the subtlety exercised by Hyundai in their execution, seeing as the existing Sonata recently rated as one of Kelley Blue Book’s ’10 Most Awarded’ vehicles.

Most impactful are changes made to the front and rear fascia. Head-on, the Sonata offers the strength of distinctive brand recognition (and we’re not talking about the iconic circle-H). Built around a chrome-trimmed (almost hexagonal) cascading grille is a subtle, distinctive tweak. Gently-curved, it creates a more organic feel than the previous angular design.

Continuation of these design notes is evident in the wraparound LED running lights, beneath and to the sides of the grille. Well-designed, their inclusion invites your eyes to explore the Sonata’s profile (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Moving back along the front-end, the ridged and tapered hood encourages a sport-inspired design, while accentuating the wraparound styling of the lean and angular light-bending LED headlights. Sleek and refined, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata makes an immediate impact.

Its sleek profile extends backward to an equally-subtle refinement of the rear-end. Sporty and complimentary of the refined LED taillights, it makes as much as an impression leaving as it does coming.

 

Trim Levels, Powertrain, and Pricing

Kicking off the diverse selection of Sonata models is the (base) SE trim level, priced to start @ $22,050 MSRP. Equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Sonata SE serves up 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque.

This same powertrain is utilized across three trim levels, including the SEL ($23,700 MSRP) Sport ($25,200 MSRP) and Limited ($27,400) trim.

The aptly-named Sports 2.0T ($27,600 MSRP) and Limited 2.0T ($32,450) are equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Delivering 245 hp and 260 lb-ft the provide a solid jump in output, and are certainly the preferable pick overall.

The final option is the Eco ($22,650). Powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter and seven-speed (dual-clutch) automatic, it is rated for a more modest 178 hp and 195 lb-ft.

As always, there are a number of enhancement packages that you can explore at various trim levels. From driver-assist aids to upgraded electronics, Hyundai serves up plenty of ways to further embellish upon the joy of driving the Sonata.

 

Interior & Technology

The Sonata has long been celebrated for offering an interior that is both spacious, and quiet, and there are no compromises made in the refresh. Still as accessible, with easy entrance and exit, the cabin is spacious with plenty of knees, leg, and headroom for both front and rear passengers. Adjustable driver positioning easily bests that of the Camry, and any potential limitations in visibility are minimal.

Consisting of strong material choices, Hyundai blends soft-touch materials tactfully with the reserved inclusion of harder surfaces. Aesthetically, the cabin is enhanced (in select trim levels) by fiber-line accents across the door panels and throughout; evocative of wood-grain, but much more sleek and modern, for a closer look.  With little requiring ‘fixing’ Hyundai took the smart path of focusing on refinement.

So what was changed? Most notably, a redesigned center stack speaks to functionality. Blending touchscreen controls with both physical buttons and knobs, Hyundai assures drivers that they understand the importance of ‘ease of use’.

While easily overlooked, the revamped three-spoke steering infuses the interior with a similar sportiness as seen around the exterior. It’s a subtle change, but it’s a strong design choice that also minimizes the disruption of display and gauge cluster visibility.

So, what does the 2018 Hyundai Sonata offer in terms of available technology? At the (base) SE trim level, the infotainment system is built around a 7-inch touchscreen (connected to a rear camera) and a six-speaker sound system with both USB and auxiliary inputs. Bluetooth-enabled, the Sonata is also compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Confidently-equipped at the base level, features are only enhanced at higher trims. Explore further and you’ll find 8-inch touchscreens, built-in navigation, HD radio and wireless phone charging. You’ll also receive assurance from the wide-range of safety and driver assist features, which contribute to the Sonata’s standing as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

Final Thoughts

A closer look at the accessibly-priced 2018 Hyundai Sonata proves it a worthwhile contender for anyone looking to buy a midsize sedan. Its confident design capitalizes on the previous model year strengths while refining any shortcomings. Offering assured performance, and a number of powertrains and trim configurations, there is no shortage of features that will please drivers and passengers alike. As previously said: well played, Hyundai. Well played, indeed.

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