Sedan sales have been decreasing over the last few years, but I don’t think Hyundai got the memo when they were making the 2020 Sonata. It may come as a surprise, but the Sonata has been around for 30 years now. Incrementally improving each year, it has evolved into a quirky sedan that holds its own deserving place in the mid-sized segment. My very first car was an inherited 2005 Hyundai Accent. So when Hyundai USA gave me the fob to this technology-packed Sonata for a week, I couldn’t wait to see how the brand had evolved.
What Is It?
The Sonata has always tried to be the smart choice for mid-size family sedan buyers. In the early 2000’s Hyundai started offering a 10 year warranty on all of their cars that provided a value no other manufacturer could compete with. While almost everything on the 2020 Hyundai Sonata feels and is brand new; the 1.6 liter turbo 4-cylinder in my fully loaded “Limited” trim is not. This is the same engine that can be found in previous year Sonatas with a slight increase in power, giving us 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It also gets slightly better fuel economy than last year with 27 MPG city and 36 MPG Highway.
Interestingly, the base engine is a naturally aspirated 2.5 liter 4 cylinder that makes 11 more horsepower, and only 15 lb-ft less torque than our fully loaded “Limited” power plant. It also returns slightly better fuel economy specifically on the highway. However, the turbo on the 1.6 allows it to make peak torque from 1500-4500 RPM. The turbo may look inferior on paper, but in practice it feels like a much stronger power plant. Just like every Sonata of old, the power is still sent through the front wheels.
Unlike my old Hyundai Accent though, both engine options are mated to Hyundai’s 8 speed “Shiftronic” automatic transmission. This automatic has literally double the amount of gears of my old car, and clicks through shifts much more crisply than the old 4-speed did.
Also unlike Sonatas of old, this 2020 comes packed with useful technology that makes the new car easier to live with on a daily basis. Some of the stand-out tech features include wireless charging, lane keep/follow assist, radar guided cruise control with stop & go, lastly and most infamously Smart Park. Smart Park is a remote parking feature that just 5 years ago was seen on 7 series BMWs with six-figure price tags. The new Sonata gives us pieces of that upscale technology for just $33,500.
Driving the 2020 Hyundai Sonata
With the aggressive styling that adorns this Sonata, it’s easy to be be fooled into thinking its a performance oriented sedan. While this car drives sportier than any previous Sonata, its still a family commuter first and foremost.
That’s not to say the driving experience is a disappointing one, though. All of the feedback through the steering wheel and pedals are wonderfully natural. The steering provides a quicker ratio than what we found in the 2020 Mazda 6 recently. Its weight is finger-tip light, but not numb. Aiding in chassis feel is a comfortable suspension, but with compression damping a little on the aggressive side. This gives the impression of a taught responsive chassis, and it works! This is until you start to really push the limits of grip. Then, the slim front tires and lack of camber become apparent. At that point even the superbly sure-footed Mazda6 would have been understeering wide as well.
The 1.6 GDI turbo offers a flat torque curve on paper, and when paired to the 8 speed automatic it’s always sweetly in its peak torque range. Power does fall off the closer you get to redline, but in a much more linear fashion that Mazda Skyactiv turbo.
Around town, eight forward gears proves to be a little confusing for the transmission computer at times. With less powerful engine options than much of the competition, the Sonata asks more of the transmission to make optimal use of the power plant. It works seamlessly in your favor, except for some of the slightest stumbles around town at very low speeds and light throttle. Still, having a real automatic transmission with real gears is always preferred when CVT’s are the common offering in this segment.
On long road trips the Sonata offers a comfortable, spacious, and well lit cabin with a panoramic sunroof as well as accent lighting along the dashboard and door trim. It is a refreshing drive with great visibility all around. Aiding in visibility are cameras built into the side mirrors which activate when your turn signals are being used. They project in either the tachometer or speedometer in the digital dash, depending on the direction you are turning. This is not only a smart use of digital dash technology, but also a well integrated feature that could have very easily been more of an annoyance than an aid if implemented incorrectly.
Friendly Features in the 2020 Hyundai Sonata
I’ll be the first to admit that most modern driver assistance features sit unused when Im driving. Many aren’t intuitive enough to use daily, or not yet integrated seamlessly enough into the driving experience. The new Sonata, however, blurs those lines better than anything else I’ve been in so far.
Lane follow assist is activated with the touch of a physical button on the steering wheel. Once it’s activated clear, simple controls illuminate on the digital display that are intuitive to use. The most notable tech feature is Smart Park Assist, better known as SMAHT PAHK for anybody who watched this year’s Super Bowl.
Smaht Pahk lets you turn your $30,000 sedan into an adult Matchbox toy and remotely control it from the key fob. With the car running and locked, you can stand outside and move it forward and back with the touch of a button on the fob. It’s marketed to squeeze the car into tight spots where you would be unable to get out of the car from the inside. While I didn’t use Smaht Pahk to actually park the car, I did use it to move the car once it was actually parked. I live in a household with 3 people, and we own 7 cars collectively. Parking is at a premium in front of our house, and shuffling cars happens all the time. I was able to move the Sonata out from behind our driveway by barely stepping outside to my porch. Smaht pahk has about a 10 foot range, so you can’t use it like a RC car. However, it proved itself more useful in my day-to-day life than I ever would have expected.
Hyundai has historically presented themselves as the financially smart choice of vehicle for the person who wants a “set it and forget it” ownership experience. In recent years though, they have been creating vehicles that go beyond that. The introduction of their N-Line has brought huge engineering talent from their German competitors. Just a few minutes in the drivers seat of the Sonata gives you a strong idea of just how quickly the company is making use of that talent and developing their offerings. Hyundai is no longer playing catch-up in the automotive world. Instead they’ve gotten comfortable in their own skin and are building a quirky, bold, and well-driving portfolio of vehicles that is all their own.
Thanks to our photographer Christian Celfo for providing photos!