Overview: The 2017 Hyundai Sonata sings a familiar family-sedan tune. Spacious, relatively fuel-efficient, and not especially fun to drive, the Sonata aims at the masses of mid-size-sedan consumers who care more about comfort and convenience than driving engagement. In short, the Sonata is the South Korean brand’s take on the Toyota Camry.
It is differentiated just enough so as not to be a carbon copy. Notably, the Sonata is one of just four mid-size sedans currently sold without an optional six-cylinder engine, the others being the Chevrolet Malibu, the Mazda 6, and the Kia Optima. (The Kia isn’t surprising, as the Sonata and the Optima are based on the same architecture.) Additionally, the Sonata joins the Ford Fusion and the Optima as the only family sedans currently offered with both a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain and a plug-in-hybrid powertrain.
Nonhybrid Sonatas are available in five trim levels: base, SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited. For the purpose of this review we drove a $22,435 base Sonata, which comes standard with a 185-hp 2.4-liter inline-four engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, as well as a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. But there’s little reason to settle for the base Sonata, as a mere $350 upgrades to the SE spec that adds a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a backup camera, and automatic headlights. The Eco trim is another worthwhile choice, due to its 178-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Despite being the least powerful engine in the Sonata range, the Eco’s turbo four makes it both the best straight-line performer and the most fuel-efficient (nonhybrid) Sonata.
Those in search of extra visual panache will want to check out the Sport and Limited models. Both come standard with the 2.4-liter engine, although a 245-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is optional. Checking the option box for the 2.0T moves the electrically assisted power-steering system’s motor from the steering column to the steering rack for claimed sharper response, but in reality the difference isn’t particularly profound. The Limited also opens up the options sheet to a host of advanced safety features that are not offered on other 2017 Sonatas.
Finally, the Sonata hybrid and the Sonata plug-in-hybrid models pair a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder with an electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid makes a combined 193 horsepower, while the plug-in hybrid produces 202 horses, thanks to its more powerful electric motor. The plug-in’s 9.8-kWh battery pack allows that model to travel up to 27 miles on electricity alone, according to the EPA. Both gas-electric Sonata models wear specific exterior design tweaks that add additional personality to the Sonata’s otherwise bland design. Pricing ranges from $26,835 for the base Sonata SE hybrid to $39,435 for a top-of-the-line Sonata Limited plug-in hybrid.
What’s New: The top-of-the-line, nonhybrid Sonata Limited now can be optioned with headlights that aim into turns, which are part of the $3400 Tech package. Spending an additional $7200 over the standard Limited on the fully-loaded Limited 2.0T also nets this feature. Additionally, the Sport 2.0T sees its starting price fall by $2325 for 2017 due to the exclusion of previously standard items such as HID headlights, blind-spot monitoring, proximity entry, and more. Finally, the base Sonata SE hybrid now comes standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
What We Like: Comfort is the name of the game in the mid-size-sedan class, and the 2017 Sonata has it in spades. Both the front seats and the rear bench are well cushioned and offer solid support. Headroom is generous throughout. And while rear-seat legroom may not be class leading, space remains plentiful. Additionally, the Sonata’s suspension soaks up road imperfections with aplomb, and the cabin is whisper-quiet both around town and on the highway. We’re especially fans of the Sonata Eco’s turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the combination providing the Eco with impressive fuel economy and brisk acceleration.
What We Don’t Like: We wish Hyundai would expand the Eco’s powertrain to other Sonata trim levels. As it is, Eco buyers are stuck with cheap-feeling cloth seat upholstery, and can’t get active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning system, and adaptive cruise control; those safety items are limited to the top-of-the-line Limited trim. Additionally, the Sonata’s available 245-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a disappointment compared to competitors’ six-cylinder offerings, which provide significantly better acceleration, similar fuel economy, and more linear responses. Finally, the Sonata plug-in-hybrid’s battery pack seriously eats into the car’s trunk space, taking it down from 16 cubic feet to just 10.
Verdict: A good family sedan that fall short of greatness.