Today’s car shoppers have many options for functionality and value. These qualities once defined the midsize family sedan class, but many buyers have turned instead to less expensive compact cars or to roomier crossover SUVs.
As many purely practical car shoppers look elsewhere, many midsize sedans have increasingly prioritized style and luxury to succeed in a more premium niche. But if you just want something comfortable and functional and still prefer a spacious four-door sedan, you should check out the newly-updated 2018 Hyundai Sonata.
The Sonata isn’t a dramatically-styled sports sedan like the latest Honda Accord, whose luxury-grade looks and driving experience elevate it above the family car norm. But the Sonata is also less expensive, with the well-equipped base SE model presenting a particularly strong value.
The 2018 Sonata starts at $22,935, and according to pricing site Truecar.com, you should be able to haggle it below $20,000. That’s an advantage of some $2,500 over a base Accord, and Hyundai also throws in an Android Auto/Apple CarPlay-compatible touchscreen, a blind-spot monitoring system and a long warranty.
For 2018, Hyundai has updated the Sonata’s styling to better match the rest of its lineup. Those changes bring an upright hexagonal grille on the front of the car and slim, deep-red taillights in the back. There’s nothing daring in the Sonata’s design, but it’s a little classier and more cohesive than the car’s 2015-2017 appearance.
Inside, the car saw few changes. The cabin remains highly functional but plainly styled. The downscale appearance was particularly out of place on the tested top-trim Limited model, whose sticker price was above $30,000 as tested. That said, the controls are easy to use, the standard seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system is smartly executed, and there’s plenty of room for five adult passengers.
On the road, the Sonata is easy to drive, feeling light and nimble when driven gently. But the steering loses its composure if you try to drive this Hyundai like a sports sedan; enthusiasts will prefer the Accord, Mazda6 or Ford Fusion in this class. The Sonata’s lightness also makes it feel less substantial than the best midsize sedans.
While most competitors have pursued small turbocharged engines, the Sonata’s most common engine is a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder, making 185 horsepower. Though it’s decently peppy, this engine sounds coarse, and it trails the competition’s gas mileage with EPA ratings of 28 miles per gallon in mixed driving on most trims. A pair of more sophisticated turbos are also available, one of which returns a more competitive 31 mpg, but only at a higher cost and not on every Sonata trim level. A thrifty gas-electric hybrid is also offered.
To be clear, the Sonata isn’t purely a budget car. There’s plenty of available luxury content: a panoramic moon-roof; heated and cooled leather upholstery; a wireless smartphone charger; and more. But the overall experience isn’t high-end, at least by today’s standards.
If the Sonata sounds appealing, you’ll also want to consider its mechanical twin, the Kia Optima. It’s similarly inexpensive – sometimes even more so, depending on which features you’d like – and has a richer-feeling interior. You may also find compelling deals on a couple of slow-selling midsize sedans: the sporty Mazda6 and the spacious Volkswagen Passat.
Meanwhile, the bestselling Honda Accord and Toyota Camry continue to make a strong case for costing more than the Sonata. Both come with generous standard safety features, including an emergency automatic braking system that’s a pricy option even on the Sonata Limited. Both have a higher level of refinement than the Sonata, with better-finished cabins and more substantial rides. And when you consider that they’re quite a bit more fuel-efficient than the Sonata, they can even tempt value-minded customers.
Also, consider why you’re still focused on a midsize sedan. If you prioritize a low price, consider trying out the leading compact models – notably the Honda Civic and Hyundai’s own Elantra – to see if they fit your size needs after all.
But if you do stick with the midsize sedan class, and the Sonata’s relative lack of luxurious ambiance isn’t bothering you, you’ll likely find it to be a pleasant, sensible option. Just keep in mind its lower gas mileage while comparing its value against slightly more expensive competitors.