The last generation of Hyundai Sonata, introduced in 2011, was the first Hyundai that didn’t look like something else. It was its own animal, styling-wise, and proved a huge success for Hyundai, despite being a horrible, horrible car. For 2015, however, Hyundai redesigned the Sonata- then foolishly invited me to come test drive a pre-production version of its upcoming 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco.
Did I say “foolishly”? I meant “cunningly”, “cleverly”, and “brilliantly” invited me to drive the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco- because this new Sonata, despite being visually similar to the outgoing model, is really, honestly, shockingly good.
2015 Hyundai Sonata: Inside
Between 2011 and 2014, the Hyundai Sonata’s interior looked more “Power Rangers” than something designed to appeal to the more sophisticated buyer Hyundai hoped it would attract. The interior in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, then, is appropriately more subdued. Our tester, despite being a “base” SE model, featured quality plastics and textures that were great fun to touch. More than once, my drive partner and I caught ourselves idly petting the rough textured plastics and commenting on how nicely laid out everything was.
The Hyundai’s AC blew cold, the cruise control worked well enough, and the basic seats – a cloth/vinyl blend of seating materials – felt comfortable and airy. Indeed, our only complaint about the interior of the new Sonata was that the wheel and shift knob felt too rubbery. Later in the day, however, I got a chance to drive the more “upscale” Sonata Limiteds (which featured a leather-wrapped steering wheel and “wood” panels), and it felt so chintzy and awful and fake-looking and embarrassing that it made me miss the rubbery, plastic feel of the rubberized plastic wheel in the base SE.
There is a purity to the unpretentious plastics in the interior of the SE model Sonatas that has totally eluded the Sport and Limited versions, then. That SE’s the one to get. You’ll love it. Even the basic infotainment system and turn-by-turn Nav worked great.
2015 Hyundai Sonata: Outside
One thing that Hyundai definitely got right in 2011 was the look of the Sonata. That car created a Hyundai style that made the Korean cars visually identifiable, and the 2015 car builds on that while tying itself more closely to the new Hyundai Genesis and Santa Fe models, creating something closer to a family look.
Granted, no one is going to mistake the new Sonata for a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. To my eyes, however, the updated styling of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata works great. It doesn’t shout “Green car! Green! Look at me, I’m green!” the way a Prius still does, despite its 38 MPG rating and full-size EPA rating. The quality of my tester’s metallic blue paint, too, was easily on par with the paint quality you’d find in, say, the W211 Mercedes E-Class cars of not that long ago. So … yeah. If you like it, it’s good – and I liked it.
2015 Hyundai Sonata: the Best Bits
Throughout my day with the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, I enjoyed the roomy cabin and solid build. However, the things that really stood out to me were the crisp, instant shifts from the all-new dual-clutch transmission, the direct feel of the electric steering, and the smooth, quiet ride.
Let’s start with the transmission. Hyundai developed the new, 1.6 liter turbocharged engine and 7 speed DCT especially for this car, and it shows. That turbo engine was a jewel. It never felt taxed, had no trouble accelerating (and out-accelerating!) the 2.4 liter Limiteds that were shuffled into our small convoy of test cars, and the shifts were totally invisible unless you were looking at the tach. It was perfect fit for the Sonata, and puts the DCTs currently in use at VW/Porsche to shame.
The electronic steering, too, was a revelation featuring a strong, on-center feel with a linear effort curve that inspired
confidence stupidity on the few twisty bits of roads we encountered in and around the Indiana Dunes State Park.
That sharpness of steering feel was a bit of a surprise once I got out and started looking at the tires. Low-rolling resistance bits from Hankook, the tires on our Eco had unexpectedly high sidewalls which, you’d think, would take away from steering feel and response even as they worked with the car’s shock absorbers to soak up the road nasties. When I asked about them, the Hyundai engineer on hand just smiled and said “that’s the electric steering”.
2015 Hyundai Sonata: Final Thoughts
Unlike its predecessor, I would strongly recommend that anyone looking at a basic family sedan check out a 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco. As long as they stick to the SE model, that is. Hyundai does entry-level right, and (as an SE) the Sonata is a surprisingly good car at an exceptional price (the 2015 Hyundai Sonata SE starts at just over $21,000). Additionally, the Eco’s drivetrain is just stupid good. Get that one.
If I’m right, you’ll be surprised you like it as much as you do.
Original content from Gas 2, with special thanks to Phil Floraday and Randy Stern.