HYUNDAI hopes it’s got it right. Last month it launched its second model into the stagnating medium-size car market.

Hyundai sends the returning Sonata into one of the most crowded car-market segments but the irony is the mid-size sector is struggling to find buyers. Since 2007 it has seen sales plunge 40 per cent.

Don’t despair. Mid-size car sales have stabilised and new models are refocusing buyers who, in light of Australian factory closures, prepare to divorce themselves from Commodores and Falcons.

The first surprise is the Sonata competes with its sibling, the i40, in the same market segment. It shares little with the i40 and the separation is made more conclusive by the latter’s diesel and wagon options.

The second is despite the conservative styling and restrained cabin treatment, it is a great driver’s car. You heard right — a Hyundai that hugs the road, turns in with European precision and yet has a supple ride that will keep the peace with the family.

Two engines are offered but they are specific to the three trim levels. A 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine powers the $29,990 entry- level Active while the two others get the company’s more recent 2.0-litre turbocharged unit.

The sedan is as big as its rivals and in length, gets close to the large-car class players such as the Commodore and Falcon.

Hyundai claims a cavernous 510 litres for the boot, only five litres smaller than the Camry.

The word conservative reappears to describe the dashboard, a rather unremarkable though well-organised fascia with good storage space, a big colour monitor and simple ventilation controls.

Standard equipment offerings are attractive, meeting the demands of the sector’s targeted family buyer with high-quality audio and communications gear, a comprehensive safety list and a very high build quality.


The dashboard of the Sonata. Picture


Even the entry-level Active has 17-inch alloy wheels, rear park sensors, a reverse camera, automatic headlights and LED daytime running lights.

The mid-spec Elite adds the turbocharged engine, sat nav with three years of free map upgrades, hands-free boot opening and leather seats.

Then the Premium ups the wheel size to 18-inch and adds front park sensors, panoramic sunroof, heated and vented front seats and bi-xenon headlights with corner lights and washers.


The panoramic sunroof on the Premium Sonata. Picture

Safety includes a five-star crash rating, six airbags, a comprehensive electronic braking package and a full-size spare wheel. The seats are comfortable, almost soft in comparison with some European cars, and the view across the broad steering wheel is to a simple set of instruments.

Then there’s the new 2-litre turbocharged engine. It’s smooth and quiet and only when it’s routed through a series of undulations and corners do you hear the subtle whistle of the turbocharger. Power is strong, more so as the revs rise, but it always feels eager. The 2.4-litre engine, meanwhile, is a carryover from previous models, is back in service with a lift in refinement that quietens any harshness.

It’s no slug, revving quickly and matching the demands of the six-speed automatic to easily tackle the tight, repetitive corners in Tasmania that are used as stress tests for the annual Targa Tasmania rally competitors.

Here’s the point — this thing handles. It’s unexpectedly precise and flat through the corners, showing little of a front-drive car’s tendency to understeer.

The electric-assist steering, once a vague and overly light disappointment loved only by parking attendants and valets, is now sharp, quick to respond and shows some natural feel.

But we don’t all fang through the Tasmanian wilderness. The suburban jungle will show its driver about how it’s possible to blend steering precision and lightness, how a car can be both well poised through corners and yet the ride is ever-so comfortable and quiet.

Some may say its styling is a bit bland. It’s more straightlaced than the i40. But it grows on you and time will be the judge. As for the engines, the turbo is the star but many don’t need it. The entry- level Active is a good family car and at less than $30,000 and with Hyundai’s extensive warranty and service program, is hard to beat.


Model Active

Price $29,990

Engine 2.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol

Outputs 138kW/241Nm

Thirst 8.3L/100km

Model Elite; Premium

Price $36,990; $41,990

Engine 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol

Outputs 180kW/350Nm

Thirst 9.2L/100km

— All variants paired with a six-speed automatic transmission

Despite the conservative styling and restrained cabin treatment, it is a great driver’s car.


© The West Australian

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