"Hyundai skips a generation," was fellow Otago Daily Times motoring writer David Bruce's verdict after testing the latest Hyundai Sonata a couple of months ago.
It is a statement worth repeating, not just in respect of the 2.4-litre four-cylinder model he had been driving, but also with regard to the flagship 3.3-litre six-cylinder model that is the subject of this assessment.
Sharing the same smooth, balanced look as the 2.4-litre, the V6 makes a solid start by shedding the somewhat awkward styling of its predecessor.
The latest Sonata is also large enough to step up, when fitted with the larger motor, to play the role of rival to the six-cylinder Japanese saloons such as the new Mitsubishi 380 and Nissan Maxima, along with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord V6.
With its motor producing 171kW of power and 304Nm of torque, the Sonata is competitive in its outputs. It also meets class benchmarks by coming with a five-speed automatic transmission.
A $39,990 price tag is also very sharp, especially for a vehicle that comes with leather trim, a premium MP3-compatible sound system, power-adjusting front seats, climate air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, automatic headlights, reverse parking sensors and a security alarm. The standard list of safety features extends to anti-lock brakes and Bosch electronic stability programming, six air bags and active front head restraints.
The cabin lacks a little panache, but is clearly laid out, and is spacious both front and rear. So is the 523-litre boot. The standard of materials, fit and finish is very good, and there is attention to detail in features such as the pop-out hook in the front passenger's footwell which can be used to secure supermarket bags, and the rubber liners in the vehicle's storage compartments. As one would hope, the engine delivers its power smoothly, and its solid torque and the smooth transmission make for effortless cruising and snappy overtaking. Noise levels are very well contained, which adds further lustre to the Sonata V6's credentials for long-distance travel.
Driving both the four-cylinder and V6 versions at the vehicle's North Island launch some months ago, I came away with the impression that the former was the more balanced and incisive handler. This feeling was reinforced driving the V6 on local roads.
While handling is still progressive and secure, the V6's steering has less bite than that of the 2.4l, leaving the keen driver one step removed from the outside world. While this is a fine quality for highway tripping, the disadvantage is a lack of involvement when pressing on over tighter, winding roads.
Not that this should necessarily be counted as a negative: which version will appeal most depends entirely on your preference as a motorist. Make no mistake, though; in either guise the new Sonata is a convincing performer
which must have the mainstream Japanese manufacturers eyeing their increasingly confident Korean rival with new respect.
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