The current-generation Sonata is already one of the highest-rated midsize sedans, so the updates it receives for 2018 will only help fortify its position alongside the all-new Toyota Camry and Honda Accord at the top of the class.
While we believe the new models will pose some stiff competition, it’s understandable why Hyundai hasn’t fully overhauled the Sonata. The cabin is still as comfortable and spacious by today’s measures, and it looks even more upscale with the design changes to the center console and transition to a three-spoke steering wheel. The Sonata’s smooth ride quality and large trunk (16.3 cubic feet) equally make it pleasantly practical for both weekend and daily duty.
The Sonata also has got highly flexible configurations — seven trim levels to be exact — starting from a value-driven SE to a fully loaded Limited 2.0T that comes with just about every convenience you can imagine. We aren’t huge fans of the base four-cylinder engine that comes in the SE, and would recommend any of the turbocharged engine options, but rest assured even the SE trim packs in a generous number of features. You really can’t go wrong.
The 2018 Hyundai Sonata had been redesigned inside and out and receives updates to its suspension and steering aimed at improving ride quality, response and feel. All models now come standard with blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist; upgraded headlights are now LED instead of HID/xenon; and the optional panoramic sunroof has been shrunk to normal size in the interest of weight savings and increased fuel economy. On 2.0T models, a new eight-speed automatic transmission overtakes the previous six-speed.
You could run many routes configuring the Hyundai Sonata depending on your likes. One approach is to splurge on the fully loaded Limited 2.0T model with all the fixings, affording you creature comforts such as heated and ventilated seats, an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system and a comprehensive suite of advanced driver aids. However, we belive the value pick is the Eco model, which comes with plenty of standard equipment and is powered by Hyundai’s torquey and efficient turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
trim levels & features
The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a midsize sedan offered in SE, Eco, SEL, Sport, Limited, Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T trim levels. There are three four-cylinder engines available: a base 2.4-liter (185 hp, 178 lb-ft) paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that powers the SE, SEL, Sport and Limited trims; a turbocharged 2.0-liter (245 hp, 260 lb-ft) that features a new eight-speed automatic powering the two aptly named 2.0T trims; and a turbocharged 1.6-liter (178 hp, 195 lb-ft) with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic that’s specific to the Eco trim.
The SE, which was a ginger up from the base trim last year, is the new entry-level trim, yet it still undercuts the segment with the exception of the Chevy Malibu. Its list of standard equipment has automatic headlights, power-folding front mirrors, power windows and door locks, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a 7-inch touchscreen display, a six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and USB/auxiliary jacks, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a rearview camera, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. The price jump to the Eco model is just $600, which comes identically equipped save for the engine.
The next trim up is the SEL, which comes as a new addition to the Sonata line and an attractive trim if you don’t mind the base engine. It adds larger 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, LED daytime running lights, hands-free smart trunk access, heated side mirrors, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 4.2-inch color trip computer, satellite and HD radio, and a rear USB port. Also included is Hyundai’s subscription-based Blue Link telematics system with three years of complimentary service. You can also add advanced driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist with the optional Tech package.
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Following the SEL is the Sport trim, which isn’t offered with the SEL’s Tech package but does come with unique Sport styling front and rear, including a front grille, rear diffuser, chrome rocker panels and a chrome-tipped dual exhaust. Inside, you have a power sunroof, which is smaller and lighter than last year’s panoramic unit, a flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, a leather-wrapped shift knob, leather sport seats with cloth inserts, and Sport-specific interior trim.
You don’t have any of the Sport-specific items stepping up to the Limited trim, though the sunroof remains and you gain dynamic LED headlights, LED taillights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, full leather seats, a six-way power passenger seat, driver-seat memory settings, front-seat ventilation, dual climate control and woodgrain appearance trim. You equally have the option of upgrading to the Ultimate package, which includes helpful driver aids such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-start capability, automatic high beams, an electronic parking brake with auto hold, and rear parking sensors. It also includes comfort items such as a heated steering wheel, rear side window shades, an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system, wireless smartphone charging, a premium audio system, HD real-time traffic, a trial subscription to SiriusXM Travel link (weather data, fuel prices, sports, etc.), and a three-year subscription to Blue Link multimedia/map updates.
The Sport 2.0T model is configured very similarly to the regular Sport trim, but it has the more powerful engine and the eight-speed transmission, as well as a sport-tuned suspension, sport-tuned steering, larger front brakes and 18-inch wheels.
Topping out the Sonata line is the Limited 2.0T model, which includes everything from the Sport 2.0T model and everything else that is standard and offered on all other models. Yes, you get everything with this model.
Each car typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport (2.4L inline-4 | 6-speed automatic | FWD).
We’ve found the Sonata to have excellent steering, handling and braking for the segment. But the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder doesn’t impress us and remains unreplaced for 2018. The models that stand to improve the most are equipped with the turbocharged engines and the new eight-speed.
The 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder puts out average power for the segment. The engine has loud, though not thrashy, at high rpm. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly but a little too often in our experience when in Normal mode. Sport mode works better.
The Sonata’s brakes are easy to modulate in normal driving, making it easy to stop exactly where you want. They feel powerful and exhibited no odor on the steep downhill section of our test loop. They stopped us in 119 feet during our panic-brake test from 60 mph, which is respectable.
Steering assist can be altered with the drive mode button. Normal feels just right for most driving; Sport feels artificially heavy, though it’s good for back roads. There’s also nice feedback to the driver, plus fairly quick turn-in.
The Sonata exhibits lively handling for a front-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s responsive to inputs and handles corners well at less-than-sport-sedan speed. Body roll isn’t excessive, and midcorner bumps don’t upset the suspension.
The Sonata is a relatively easy vehicle to drive with a linear gas pedal and completely intuitive brakes. However, we do have one gripe with the transmission’s near constant desire to get into top gear, causing many downshifts on the highway when you accelerate slightly.
The previous car we tested had the optional sport seats, which are still for 2018. Not only are they comfortable, but their wide shape should suit most drivers. We also found the Sport model’s ride to be plenty livable. Other than some extra tire noise, the Sonata is a quiet vehicle overall.
The Sport model has comfortable front seats with soft cloth inserts and leather bolsters to hold you in place. Cushions are on the firm side, but their shape fits a variety of people. The armrests could use more padding, but the rear seatbacks have a perfect rake.
Ride quality is decent overall. It’s never harsh and handles big hits particularly well. The Sport model is definitely on the stiff side for the class and can get a bit jiggly on the highway, and small road ripples bring some vibrations into the cabin.
noise & vibration
In general the Sonata is a quiet vehicle. Wind noise is squelched to nearly zero; engine sound is nonexistent when cruising but gets noticeably loud during acceleration. But there’s more tire noise on the highway than in most others in the class.
Generous climate features mean the Sonata can be equipped with everything such as heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel and dual climate control. The system has always had more than sufficient heating and cooling capacity.
The Sonata’s interior gets updated this year and presents well, and the controls remain easy to learn and use. Entry and exit are quite good, and visibility still rates better than most. Rear-seat room is good by most standards, but popular competitors have recently improved their style.
ease of use
Simple, honest and logical. The Sonata has easy-to-read gauges with a good-size 7-inch center touchscreen. The restyled center stack looks even better this year with the usual array of buttons and knobs, which are entirely user-friendly.
getting in/getting out
The long, wide-opening front doors make things easy, and the seats’ large side bolsters don’t hamper entry and exit. The rear doors deliver a large entryway, so passengers only have to duck heads slightly to avoid the roofline. A generous foot area avoids hanging feet up when exiting the vehicle, too.
A tilt-and-telescoping steering column is standard and offers a good range of adjustments, unlike the Toyota Camry. All other seat adjustments are pretty generous, so drivers of all sizes shouldn’t have an issue finding a comfortable position.
There’s lots of front headroom along with good elbow space. And considering how much the roof slopes, there’s sufficient headroom even for tall folks in the back. There’s good knee- and legroom, too, though competitors have expanded these areas in their newest models.
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The windshield is fairly slanted, but the pillars all around the car are relatively slim. The rear window is wide and reasonably tall, so the over-the-shoulder view is pretty good. A rearview camera and blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist are standard equipment.
Just about everything in the Sonata feels and looks of quality for the segment, from the new three-spoke leather steering wheel to the redesigned center console knobs and buttons. There’s a nice use of different textures appears throughout the cabin, and 2018 looks to be the best model to date.
The Sonata retains its 16.3-cubic-foot trunk that’s one of the largest in class. Generous interior storage consists of a deep, two-tiered armrest bin and front media bin that can now be equipped with wireless smartphone charging. An optional hands-free trunk opener is a useful feature.
Hyundai takes a bullish position when it comes to tech and it shows on the Sonata’s features sheet. Hyundai was the first to offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, which comes standard in the Sonata; today there’s everything from adaptive cruise control to smartphone-controlled functions. Handy stuff.