Sunday, July 14, 2013

Long Term Test: 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited post #1

When this latest generation of the Hyundai Sonata was first introduced, I was impressed by its fantastic design and the great specs on paper. Imagine my joy when my father-in-law returned from overseas and informed me that he was also very smitten with the mid-size Hyundai sedan and was interested in purchasing a top-spec Limited model with the powerful, yet frugal, 2.0-liter turbo-charged engine. In addition to the sweeping fluidic design, what caught his attention was the exceptional value for money, the high level of standard equipment, and the fuel economy numbers that would be a leaps and bounds improvement over the gas-guzzling SUV that serves as their other car.

After a brief test drive and a fair amount of research online about the price, we reached out to the local Hyundai dealer to start negotiations on an available car. The color scheme that had our attention was the rich navy blue with the gray interior and we absolutely had to have the fully loaded Limited package with the navigation system. The local dealer had one in stock, but was not willing to be agreeable on the price, so we put out feelers to all the dealers in the area to see who would be willing to go the extra mile since it was the end of the year. Finally a dealer a little ways away called while we were having lunch and said they were happy to not only meet, but even beat our asking price on exactly the car we were looking for. With a little back and forth drama, that at one point had us worried we were going to have to get a red car, the dealer ultimately delivered by doing a swap with a dealer over 100 miles away. They even went the extra mile to deliver the car to our door at almost nine o'clock in the evening. Props to the team at WIN Hyundai of El Monte for going the extra mile to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Some of the roads I get to use for testing in SoCal
With the car safely home, I promptly helped my father-in-law complete the break-in process with several longish drives. The immediate impressions were the the car was a comfortable cruiser with slightly artificial steering feel. The tactile surfaces felt decent, but were not necessarily the most premium in all areas, which was expected for the price. Interior space, however, is not at a premium at all. The rear seats offer copious amounts of leg room and decent headroom, in spite of the coupe-like profile. Outboard seats even include seat heaters that are a joy to have on a cold night and are a rarity to see on cars in this class. Trunk space is also quite plentiful, easily shuttling several large pieces of luggage to the airport. Leather seating surfaces and the panoramic sunroof add to the feeling that the car is a tremendous value for the money.

Of course, the gorgeous complexion of the Sonata is marred by a few warts. There are several key areas where the Sonata falls short of expectations. To start, the steering wheel has a few areas that are not covered in leather; unfortunately, those happen to be the areas where most drivers are most likely to hold the wheel. Additionally, the interior fit and finish leaves something to be desired in a few key places with misaligned panel and certain exposed mechanicals, minor things such as the seat rails for the front seats and the lower seatbelt attachment points on the B-pillar, that with some additional finishing touches can go a long way towards giving the car an even more premium feel. Additionally, more sound deadening to lower the cabin noise level would be appreciated as currently, conversation between the front seat passengers and rear seat passengers at freeway speed requires a rather raising one's voice to just short of yelling.

Driving the car over the course of the last year or so in a variety of conditions, it is certainly a very capable cruiser that consumes freeway miles with ease. However, the steering feels a bit lifeless on center and can make staying on path at speed a bit taxing at times. Still, while this is not as fun to drive as the new Ford Fusion, it is also not nearly as dull as the Toyota Camry. The steering does weight up nicely as you turn the wheel and offers some feedback, though there is no doubt this is an electric power steering setup. The engine, despite its small size, delivers excellent power and the transmission, though a tad slow to shift in manual mode, never feels intrusive. Where the powertrain excels is in delivery of mid-range power an moderate speeds. Rolling at 45 MPH and need to catch that yellow light? Just drop the hammer and ride the wave of torque that quickly builds the speed to extra-legal levels. Passing on the freeway is a breeze, as a result, and while the car can be a bit sluggish on take-off from a standstill, it certainly never leaves one wanting in the vast majority of day to day driving situations.

The car has already seen plenty of miles as a road trip car, people carrier, airport shuttle, and daily driver. As it spends a rather sizable amount of time traversing some rather steep slopes, fuel economy suffers a bit, though the fact that its motor only requires regular fuel is certainly a bonus, especially given the rather high gas prices in Southern California. Overall, the first year of ownership has been a pleasant one and many of the characteristics that made the car attractive in the first place continue to impress, while the shine has worn off of others.

Over the course of our updates, we will have the opportunity to go into greater detail about upkeep and maintenance, fuel economy, and the overall experience with the car.