2009 Hyundai Sonata: Refreshed from the Inside Out

Among our recent drives was an afternoon in the Chelsea-Ann Arbor, Michigan, area in a newly revised Hyundai Sonata. Reaching dealers as I write this, the 2009 Sonata doesn’t change dramatically on the outside, but offers a more comfortable interior, revised suspension, and both more power and better fuel efficiency. All the right buttons are checked, but were they successful? Our first spin around the neighborhood leads us to say yes, though there are niggles to be found, too.

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The new Sonata gets a deeper grille and taller rectangular headlights, more chrome trim all around, and a very slightly revised lower rear fascia. The changes bring a VW Passat to mind, but these subtle changes make for a more grown up and refined Sonata. The taller, more vertical grille and headlights help the hood creases look less clumsy and make for a more imposing face. Changes to the rear are so subtle as to be irrelevant; there are new taillights, but the shape is the same.
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An Interior You Can Appreciate
With the interior arguably the weakest point of the outgoing car, welcome improvements there put you in an environment that more closely competes with the big mid-size players in contemporary and refined design. The interior is completely revised, for the better; front seats are more comfortable; and infotainment options are improved.

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When you first get in, you’ll see the new center stack and console, new instrument panel and door trim, and new blue lighting. Attention to detail is evident in the new lighting color choice (blue), subtle chrome details to go with the more obvious, and more cubby space with the change. Materials and layout are improved and the interior has more personality. The materials and new design are softer on the eyes and to the touch. The overall interior design is cohesive and no longer clumsy. The new design may not be the best we’ve ever seen, but it does take the Hyundai interior up a notch and make moving the brand upward seem less outlandish. The new blue used for instrument-cluster trip information may be invisible to the color blind, but is more elegant.
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Along with the interior updates comes a new navigation system, with voice and touch controls. Instead of using a hard-drive, Hyundai went with a flash drive system. But the best thing about the new navigation system is the way it operates and looks. Controls were simple, including a full-time icon on the screen for turning the navigator voice on or off. The graphics are terrific, and the new font crisp, clear, easy to read, and my favorite so far of any nav system I’ve used. The voice control system responded quickly and it wasn’t difficult to make yourself understood. We’re told it learns your voice along the way, too, so it should only get better with time.
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Niggles with the system are also there, however. It is a solid system, one which they tell me can be expanded and upgraded with software instead of hardware, but at the moment it doesn’t include Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a port-installed option. It takes the place of the sunglasses holder near the rearview mirror, and cannot be controlled by the new, cool touch screen or the steering wheel controls. Control of iPods, MP3 players, or even music off a USB stick is terrific with the touch screen. It’s easy, well laid out, and looks great. But it isn’t fully integrated, and iPods and MP3 voice commands are limited.
…And Some Chassis Improvements
Oh, yeah, and the driving part. Though top of mind when it comes to most cars, Sonata’s primary role is as an appliance. More power and better fuel economy are there for both I4 and V6 engines. Displacements remain the same (2.4L I4 and 3.3L V6). Under the body, suspension changes include an SE model that actually has different tuning from the GLS or the Limited. Before, the SE model took on sporty looks but no changes to suspension.
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We managed to get in a few miles behind the wheel of I4 and V6 equipped Limited models, and missed the SE and its new suspension. Both had the five-speed automatic, though the I4 can be ordered with a manual transmission. The five-speed automatic used the I4’s 175HP adequately, but noisy and coarse compared with a Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, or Toyota Camry I4. The V6’s 249HP moved the vehicle with appreciably more authority and refinement. The Limited suspension setup gets you a perfectly predictable Sonata, which is no bad thing for the mid-size sedan market. The interior improvements are where it’s at this time, and in that regard, the new 2009 Sonata is a terrific improvement.
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