2020 Hyundai Sonata Test Drive

Introduction

2020 Hyundai Sonata front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

All new from road to roof, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata is proof positive that the carmaker aims to keep its midsize sedan fresh and relevant even as SUV, crossover and pickup truck sales garner nearly 75% of the new car market. The completely redesigned 2020 Sonata brings more evocative styling and sharper handling plus updated infotainment systems and a comprehensive array of safety and driver-assistive technology.

Built on an all-new global vehicle platform, the new 8th generation Sonata competes with the top-selling sedans in the midsize segment, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Malibu.

At the start of production, the 2020 Sonata will be available in four trims. Including the mandatory $930 destination charge, the lineup includes the $24,330 base SE, $26,430 SEL, $28,380 SEL Plus and the loaded, check-every-box $34,230 Limited. Later in the 2020 model year, Hyundai will add a gas-electric Sonata hybrid and a first-ever high-performance N-Line Sonata to the lineup.

For this review, I drove a 2020 Sonata Limited over 175 miles on suburban and freeway roads north of Phoenix, Arizona and winding 2-lane rural highways in the desert hills and twisty, alpine-studded mountains south of Payson.

Styling and Design

2020 Hyundai Sonata side profile

Photo: Ron Sessions

The new Sonata is longer and lower than the previous version with a sloping, semi-fastback coupe-like roof line. It gives the sedan a strikingly lower, sleeker profile. Lowering the roof 1.2 inches does impact headroom, but not as much as you’d think in the rear due to Hyundai adding more rear seatback angle and using thinner variable-density seat foam for the backseat lower cushions.

A lower hood line was made possible by engineers using shorter front shock towers, something that’s not easy to do in family sedans that typically have long suspension travel to provide smooth ride frequencies.  The low-set hood not only contributes to the Sonata’s sleek lines but also improves the driver’s front sight lines.

The Sonata’s wide, curvaceous hexagonal grille is flanked by deep-set LED headlamps which are underscored themselves by industry-first translucent running lamps that wrap around the headlamps and trail across the tops of the front fenders where the light strips fade into chrome strips accenting the beltline. It’s a unique look you’ll see nowhere else on the road.

Features and Controls

2020 Hyundai Sonata front seats and dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

The low and sleek theme continues to the 2020 Sonata’s interior. A low, horizontal-themed instrument panel and thin windshield posts enable a good view of the road ahead. The cabin is open, modern-looking and airy, hushed by acoustic laminated glass and extensive soundproofing that’s Genesis-level quiet.

Also Genesis level are thoughtful touches such as extra-long padded door armrests that provide a comfortable resting spot for elbows regardless of seat position or occupant size. Upper trims feature capacitive-touch exterior door handles for locking and unlocking. A wireless phone charger, standard in SEL Plus and Limited and optional in SEL, has a built-in cooling system, to keep your cellphone from getting too toasty to the touch. The Sonata offers a head-up display for the first time, standard on Limited trim.

As with other new Hyundai models such as the Palisade SUV, the new Sonata switches to a console-mounted pushbutton transmission shifter, opening up space for whatever road-trip detritus you normally carry. The buttons replace last year’s traditional fore-aft shifter handle and take some time to get used to but are large enough to operate without an undue amount of eyes-off-the-road time.

Seat coverings start out with cloth in SE and SEL, upgrading to faux leather and suede in SEL Plus and leather in the top-of-the-line Limited. N-Line models get more aggressively bolstered sport front bucket seats.

The base air conditioning system upgrades to dual-zone automatic climate control starting with the SEL model, which also includes a power-operated driver’s seat, heated front buckets, leather-wrapped steering wheel, pushbutton start, a hands-free trunk opener and proximity key entry. Limited models add a power front passenger seat and ventilated front buckets.

With the Sonata’s standard 60/40 split folding rear seat, one or both sections can be lowered to increase the Sonata’s already generous 16.3 cubic-foot trunk capacity or to make room for longer items.

Safety and Technology

2020 Hyundai Sonata blind spot monitor

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with most of the Sonata’s midsize sedan competitors, the 2020 model offers a comprehensive suite of standard safety and driver-assistive features. Among these are auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, a backup camera, a lane-keeping assist system that alerts when the car drifts out of its lane, lane follow assist that helps keep the car lane centered, adaptive smart cruise control with full stop and go, automatic high-beam control, and a driver attention warning system that warns of distracted driving.

SEL and higher trim brings blind-spot collision assist and the range-topping Limited adds rear cross-traffic assist, an enhanced backup camera with a 360-degree overhead view of the car and its surroundings in Limited models, front and rear sonar parking assist sensors as well as a blind-spot view monitor which provides a live image on the instrument panel of what may be hiding in the rear ¾ spot when that side’s turn-signal is activated. Also standard on Limited is a Highway Drive Assist feature that when active, can automatically adjust the Sonata’s road speed to posted road signs.

A new Hyundai Digital Key, standard in Limited models, allows drivers use their Android phone and the Sonata’s Near Field Communication feature to  perform a myriad of functions, including locking/unlocking and starting/stopping the engine. The app is customizable, allowing users to share the Digital Key function can be shared with friends, relatives and neighbors. The Digital Key is not compatible, however, with Apple iPhones.

Another neat new feature on Sonata Limited previously seen only in luxury cars such as the BMW 3 Series is Remote Parking Assist. Using the car’s keyfob, the driver can pull the Sonata forward up to 30 feet out of a tight parking space, say if it’s blocked in by a huge pickup or SUV and you can’t get the driver’s door open wide enough to get in. The system’s sensors will straighten the front wheels, if necessary, and can even drive the car back into a tight space, using the sonar sensors to stop the car and put it in Park when it’s fully parked, semi-autonomously.

Also new for 2020 is a standard rear occupant detection that alerts the driver to check the back seat for children or pets after the engine is turned off if a rear door was opened before the trip.

A horizontal format touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone compatibility is standard in all models. The base unit in SE, SEL and SEL Plus models is 8-inches diagonally with easy-to-use analog knobs for volume and tuning. Limited models get a standard extra wide, 12.3 in. screen with a volume knob and seek and track-tuning touchscreen arrows. An imbedded navigation system is optional in the SEL Plus and standard in Limited trim.

The base audio system is a 6-speaker AM/FM unit. Moving up to SEL adds HD radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. Newly available for upper trims is a full-bodied Bose surround sound system.

Driving Impressions

2020 Hyundai Sonata handling

Photo: Ron Sessions

At the start of production, Hyundai will offer two all-new 4-cylinder engines in the Sonata. A naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with an estimated 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque is standard in SE and SEL models, while a 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder with an estimated 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque powers SEL Plus and Limited trims.

The base 2.5-liter engine features a new dual fuel-injection system, with multi-port injection for good low-speed driveability and cleaner emissions and direct injection for improved torque, high-speed power and fuel economy. Hyundai says a new electric motor-driven variable valve timing system delivers faster response for improved engine responsiveness under a variety of driving conditions. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2.5-liter are 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway/32 mpg combined for the base SE model with 16-inch wheels which features a gas-saving idle stop and go system that shuts off the engine at stoplights. It delivers 10% better fuel economy than the 2019 model’s 2.4-liter base engine.

I spent a day driving a 2020 Sonata Limited with the 1.6-liter GDI turbo. Even though on paper it appears that Hyundai is offering two engines with nearly the same power output, the 1.6 turbo’s drive character is more engaging with good throttle response over a wide engine speed range. Thanks to a quick-spooling turbocharger and a new variable-valve duration feature, it delivers its 195 lb-ft of peak torque from just 1500 rpm, staying strong up to 4500 rpm. At 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway/31 mpg combined, EPA fuel economy estimates for the turbo 1.6 are within a hair of those for the naturally aspirated base engine. In 175 miles of spirited driving that included 3,000-ft mountain grades and twisty back roads, I saw average fuel economy readouts in the car’s trip computer in the mid to high 30s.

Both the 2.5-liter and 1.6-liter turbo engines are paired with seamless-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. SEL Plus and Limited models include steering-wheel paddle shifters for performance or mountain-grade driving.

Also available for a short 5-mile mountain drive loop was the Sonata N-Line which will hit showrooms later in the 2020 model year. The N-line picks up where last year’s optional 245-hp 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder left off, introducing an all-new 2.5-liter turbo with an estimated 195 horsepower. The camouflaged body hid what will surely be a more aggressive exterior appearance, but what the disguise let shine through are wider wheels and tires, more heavily bolstered sport bucket seats, an eager dual-clutch automatic transmission and a sportier, more vocal exhaust note. All Sonatas come with front-wheel drive, but judging by the ease at which the front wheels were spinning on hard acceleration, the N-Line is one Sonata model that might benefit from an all-wheel drive option.

All 2020 Sonatas benefit from a new architecture that brings a stiff, rattle-free structure and solid foundation for the car’s suspension. Hyundai gave the 2020 Sonata quicker steering with reduced friction for a delightfully linear and precise feel. There are no fancy adaptive dampers, just well-chosen hydraulic shocks that deliver good body control over a wide spectrum of roads and driving conditions with no impact-harshness issues despite the shorter front springs.

Conclusion

2020 Hyundai Sonata rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

By any measure, the Sonata presents new-car buyers with a compelling case to push the pause button on SUVs and take a serious look at Hyundai’s midsize sedan handywork. Beyond the sleek and shapely bodywork, the 2020 Sonata brings extraordinary value to the segment, offering Genesis-caliber luxury features, safety and technology at mainstream prices. About the only thing that would make the new Sonata an absolute slam-dunk proposition for midsize sedan shoppers is optional all-wheel drive.