Friday, June 24, 2016

Long Term Test: 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited Wrap-up

Update #6 (wrap-up)
Mileage: 44,650

A little earlier than expected, the Hyundai Sonata makes a departure from our long-term fleet. The one feature, or lack thereof, that did it in was memory seats. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in cars with electrically adjustable seats and with as many as four different drivers who driver the car with some semblance of regularity, it is important to make it easy for drivers to quickly find and adjust the seats and mirrors to their liking. Of course, aside from this one shortcoming, the car has actually proven to be quite the solid mid-size all-purpose car for the suburban needs of the modern family. However, it was also not totally a problem-free stay in our garage.

Over the course of the nearly 45k miles that this car spent with us, it spent the majority
of those miles puttering around the hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where the car was garaged. There, it stood out among the many Camrys, Accords, and Altimas that seemed to be favored by the families in the area. It's sleek styling, shiny blue paint, and big wheels were all not the norm among the sea of muted tones adorning the mid-size sedans of the neighborhood. Even most of the fancier cars were of a much less garish palette. It is hard to not admire the pretty paint, which looks gloriously regal under the bright California sun and having large wheels with barely there tires helped cement the sense of being different.

If only the driving experience had lived up to the looks.

Despite being packed with what should have been a very potent 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the Sonata often felt a bit gutless due to the lag in both the turbo and the transmission. Probably out of an abundance of caution, especially since Hyundai had promised hugely long warranties on these cars, the engines were tuned to delay the onset of the turbo and the transmission seemed to intentionally hold a beat before serving up the lower gear needed to make real power. The result was a big rush of power when the turbo hit, but a wait that felt like forever before the stars finally aligned. This was with the "ECO" button in the off position. Tap that to on and you would swear that time was moving backwards with how unresponsive the throttle and transmission became.

The unfortunate side effect of this experience is that the fuel economy, one of the biggest reasons for buying this particular motor in the first place, suffered dramatically. In fact, during our entire time with the Sonata, it failed to average even 20 mpg. Some of that is certainly chalked up to the fact that it was running up and down hills all the time, but another major part is because it simply was unable to offer any semblance of a comfortable acceleration experience without dipping into the turbo. This is one time where a larger displacement naturally aspirated motor or even a small V6 would likely have excelled and been able to deliver better results. Luckily, the Sonata drinks the much less costly regular grade fuel and had a largish 17+ gallon fuel tank so it was generally possible to go at least 250 miles between fuel stops. Still, for a car rated by the EPA to deliver 26 mpg combined, it did not come anywhere close.

All of that could be forgiven if the car actually handled itself well and this is where the Sonata managed to claw back a little bit of its credibility. While the steering was not particularly communicative, the car did manage to handle itself decently, for a longer-wheelbase mid-size family sedan that tended to understeer severely. The suspension was taut without being crashy, although it sometimes struggled to absorb rapid continuous bumps with the same kind of aplomb as its competition. This is where those big wheels end up being a curse. Overall, however, the ride was comfortable over smooth pavement and mildly bumpy roads, but on a seriously rutty path, the Sonata's occupants would likely complain more than if they were riding in an Accord or Camry.

Luckily, the accouterments that Hyundai packed into the Sonata could help make up for some of its failings in other areas. When competitors were still charging extra to add seat heaters to front seats, Hyundai had included them on the back seats as part of the Limited trim level. Along with that came the navigation system and the panoramic sunroof, both things that either cost extra or were not even available on the Sonata's biggest competitors. Now, the touchscreen infotainment system that housed the navigation was intuitive to use, if a bit menu heavy, and added an upscale feel to the cabin. The large panoramic roof was a delight to have, especially since it allowed rear seat passengers a bit of the airflow when the roof was opened. Of course, these nice extras also meant more things that could be the source of minor annoyances.

Take that panoramic roof, for example. As nice as it was in a car of this class to have, it also created a lot of squeaking, creaking, and groaning when the chassis was torqued in any way. Backing out of the driveway with the shade to the roof open would often be accompanied by a cacophony of noises as the rather noodly body contorted and caused the seals to rub. When the roof itself is open, the airflow management was not always that great, resulting in the cabin becoming rather filled with noise, making it somewhat difficult to enjoy both the radio or conversation as well as the fresh air.

Speaking of noise, this was one of the areas that the Sonata simply was unable to make improvements on compared to the competition. Inside the cabin, road noise often permeated just enough that it made conversation difficult between front seat and rear seat passengers. Wind noise was not really an issue, but the road noise definitely got to be intrusive. Once again, I cannot help but partly attribute that to the large wheels and tiny rubber bands used as tires.

But overall, the Hyundai was a rather inexpensive car to own. It started out at a purchase price of just over $30k and was financed at virtually zero interest. Throughout its stay with us, only had basic maintenance done, which usually came to just under $100 a visit. It did manage to eat one set of brake pads and rotors at all four wheels, which cost around $250 for each pair. When we traded it in on our replacement, we were able to net $12.5k, which for almost 4.5 years of depreciation, is not a bad price. While it was not entirely free of minor issues, it was an overall reliable car and never left us stranded. It was dependable enough to be counted on every single day as a daily driver but was comfortable enough to be used for long road trips, especially with the large and comfy rear seat.

In the end, the Hyundai will likely stand out as a brilliant looking car that could not quite live up to its sporty appearance. Nonetheless, what it managed to do for Hyundai as a brand was nothing short of remarkable as it proved that Hyundai could put together a product that could compete with more established players. While it was not a perfect product, it offered a dose of style that the others could not match in a package that offered more value per dollar than its competition.

It is proof that Hyundai really had broken out of the funk of being a bit player and was a serious mainstream force to be reckoned with.