2020 Hyundai Sonata Quick Drive Review: Goodbye Vanilla

First Drive / Comments

Hyundai trades classical piano for a rock n' roll synthesizer.

Defined as a musical composition, typically for a solo instrument, Sonata is the name used by Hyundai's mid-size sedan, which competes against the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Sonata began life as a dull affair, mainly acting as a cheaper option for those who couldn't afford the established sedans from Japan. But that all changed in 2011 when the sixth-generation Sonata arrived with stylish looks and a powerful turbocharged engine.

Then, when the seventh-generation model arrived in 2014, it threw those handsome looks like out the window in favor of a more vanilla design and dropped some horsepower. Hyundai is keen not to make the same mistake twice, so this new eighth-generation Sonata is less of a classical piano and more of a rock n' roll synthesizer. This is the most radical Sonata ever and during our recent visit to the 2019 Miami Auto Show, we had an early opportunity to drive it.

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Exterior Styling: That's Not A Genesis?

The eighth-generation Sonata is Hyundai's most radical design to date. It looks unlike any other vehicle in its segment and its styling likely won't be challenged until Kia's version arrives next year. This new design should be polarizing, with some commenting that the Sonata could easily wear a Genesis badge and others questioning the crazy headlight design. Speaking of those headlights, Hyundai has engineered them to be hidden as a strip of chrome until they are turned on, revealing the unique design.

We sit on the 'love' side of the love-hate debate surrounding the Sonata's design. The coupe-like roofline harkens back to the sixth-gen model and the overall styling oozes elegance. Hyundai will even offer an eye-catching pallet of colors including Calypso Red (pictured above) and a bold shade of yellow, but we know most customers will opt for silver or white.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Solid Overall

Hyundai will offer two powertrain options including a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. This engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic and is estimated at 33 mpg combined. We only had a chance to sample the optional 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which develops 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, also going out through an eight-speed automatic. The turbo may be down on power, but Hyundai says its additional torque makes it the quicker of the two for everyday driving. As a trade-off for the smoother performance, the 1.6T only achieves a 31 mpg average.

Our time with the car was brief, but the 1.6T seems like a solid option in the mid-size segment. The 2.5T that will be available in the upcoming Sonata N-Line would be our preference. The 1.6T delivers power effortlessly and without a fuss, while the eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly except for the occasional rough shift. Hyundai has included a number of drive modes that change the characteristics of the throttle, transmission shift logic, and the steering (but more on that later).

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Interior Design: Features Aplenty

We didn't have much time to play with the 2020 Sonata's overabundance of features but it is clear Hyundai wants this to be the most high-tech vehicle in its class. Standout features on the high-trim model we drove include a 360-degree camera system, a blind-spot camera system integrated into the digital gauge cluster, a wireless phone charger, and a Bose stereo system. All of the materials felt premium, giving the Sonata a luxurious vibe inside the cabin.

In our quick drive, the Sonata's excellent center console layout quickly became apparent. A large cubby underneath the climate controls houses plenty of space to wirelessly charge your phone and hold other items while a second phone slot has been integrated between the two cupholders. Hyundai has used the cabin space wisely and it clearly shows. The seats felt comfortable and feature both heating and ventilation which can be controlled via an app on your phone.

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Cargo & Trunk Space

The Sonata opens up to reveal 16 cubic feet of storage, with 60-40 split-folding seats to provide even more room. If you buy a 2020 Sonata, you will be able to challenge your friends to open the trunk without the keyfob because Hyundai has hidden the release button within the 'H' logo on the rear decklid.

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Driving Impressions: More Taught Than We Thought

During our brief drive of the Sonata, we enjoyed the light yet accurate steering, which weights up when you put the car into sport mode. The suspension is more taught than we had anticipated, though it never felt uncomfortable over downtown Miami's potholes. We could feel the sporty influence of former BMW M boss Albert Biermann, who likely approved the Sonata's firmer suspension. The 1.6T didn't provide overwhelming acceleration but the Sonata never felt underpowered until we put the car into its Eco drive mode.

We expect the upcoming N-Line model to deliver much sportier performance and we will have to drive the 1.6T back-to-back with the base 2.5 engine to truly feel the differences between the two. As our drive of the 2020 Sonata was limited, we will have to wait until we have driven it longer to draw our final conclusions. We did have enough time for Hyundai to demonstrate Sonata's cool new Remote Smart Parking Assist feature, which, in Tesla fashion, can drive the car forward or backward into a parking spot using dedicated buttons on the key fob.

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Verdict: The Competition Should Be Nervous

Since pricing and trim options have yet to be revealed, we will have to base our initial conclusions solely on our early opinions of the 2020 Sonata. We assume the car will be priced similarly to the outgoing car, meaning the competition should be worried. The Sonata has undercut its competitors on price for many years and with its bold styling and luxurious interior, it should be a standout in the mid-size sedan segment. We look forward to driving the new Sonata again but at least for now, the future is looking bright for Hyundai.

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