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First drive: All-new Hyundai Sonata

2005-09-29 14:21

John Oxley

Whether that ever happens remains to be seen, but I must say I was mightily impressed by the new car in the short drive we got yesterday.

The latest Sonata is new from the ground up, with European styling that is perfect for the market segment, without some of the more radical departures we have seen lately, while driving characteristics will certainly impress the target market.

Certainly it's a far cry from its predecessor - Miss Ugly!

My bet is that the new Sonata is more likely to attract Toyota Camry and Mazda6 buyers, especially since it's offered with a luxury interior package and high tech. features at extremely competitive prices.

Styling as mentioned is ultra-modern, with a sleek front end with a neat grille and polycarbonate-covered projector headlights.

Power bulge

A big feature is the sculpted bonnet which incorporates a "power bulge".

There's a neat side view, and a tail that is quite, quite similar to that of the latest BMW 3 Series - but maybe better...

Inside the feeling is of unreserved luxury.

The dash panel comes in two pieces, the top a one-piece dashboard that is made of a soft-touch matt rubber-like material - not unlike that found on several European cars - while the bottom is hard plastic in a contrasting colour.

The two are split by a thin strip of carbon fibre-look plastic which is also used to trim the steering wheel, along with leather.

The instruments are contained in a heavily-hooded panel, with a large speedo flanked by a revcounter on the left and a dial on the right with smaller fuel and water temperature gauges inset.

Leather upholstery is standard, in the case of our car in beige to match the lower dash.

The car comes extensively equipped with a 6-CD in-dash unit which also plays MP3s and has a radio, coupled to six speakers, and the driver's seat is 8-way adjustable (with electric fore-aft and rake), including lumbar support.

Rear seats

The rear seat folds forward in a 60/40 split, with electric locks to prevent access to the boot when the car is locked.

The steering wheel, which has satellite controls for the radio and speed control, has adjustment for both height and reach, and has a nice thick rim, with the top and bottom sections in carbon fibre-look plastic, and the "grip" areas trimmed with leather.

The very latest electronic stability control is fitted, along with ABS brakes, and there are double side impact bars in each door.

Dual front airbags are standard.

Other standard equipment includes electric windows, electrically-adjusted (and heated) rearview mirrors, power steering, climate control aircon, and parking sensors.

The boot is deep and quite high with easy access and a capacity of 523 litres, and there's a full-size spare matching the standard 17 inch alloy wheels, shod with 255/50 R17 rubber.

In fact the only options available on the car are a tow hitch, a small rear spoiler (which really enhances the look of the car) and a locally-fitted sunroof.

On the road

Hyundai has done a lot of work on noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and the result is a car that is remarkably quiet, with virtually no road or wind noise at well above legal cruising speeds, with only the engine impinging under hard acceleration.

The car is quite quick off the mark, the all-aluminium long stroke 2.4-litre four-cylinder VVCC unit producing a healthy 118.5 kW at 5 800 r/min, and 219 Nm of torque at 4 240 r/min.

And it's VERY comfortable, the all-independent suspension really soaking up bumps well.

The suspension was tuned by Hyundai's European R&D department in Germany to give the sort of ride and handling European (and South African) customers demand, and buyers won't feel short-shifted by the result.

For the technically-minded the suspension features double wishbones at the front with gas shocks, with a multi-link rear. Brakes are ventilated discs front, solid discs rear.


The short (60 odd km) drive didn't leave much chance to throw the car around, but I managed to get briefly excited on the Helshoogte mountain pass outside Stellenbosch, where I found the car kept its composure well even with a serious mid-corner bump, and even managed to get a touch of tail-out oversteer as I exited the final bend.

Hyundai claims a 0-100 km/h time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 213 km/h for the manual. The automatic tops out at 203 km/h, after completing the 0-100 dash in 10.1 seconds.

Claimed fuel consumption sees 11.8 litres/100 km in the urban cycle and 6.5 on the open road to give an average of 8.5 litres/ 100 km on the manual, with an overall figure 8.9 litres/100 km.

Steering is very positive, and the 5-speed manual gearbox gave smooth shifts. There's also a 4-speed automatic with sequential manual option.

Testimony to the fact that the latest generation electronic stability programme is used was that the system didn't feel the need to interfere despite my spirited driving.

The car is comfortable in other respects, too - it's 55 mm longer, 12 mm wider, 15 mm higher and with 30 mm more in the wheelbase than its decidedly unattractive predecessor - Miss Ugly - and this translates to much more room front and rear.

The cherry on top is a 3 year/60 000 km maintenance plan as well as a 3 year/100 000 km warranty. Service intervals are 15 000 km.


Hyundai moves into a new phase of its development with the Sonata, eschewing the "cheap and cheerful" image of models such as the Atoz and Getz in favour of a more upmarket icon.

The car has everything you could wish for in this class of vehicle, and marketing boss Stanley Anderson is hoping to sell around 100 a month.

Whether he manages that or not only time will tell, but pricing is very keen, and Hyundai has built up a strong reputation for excellent service and reliability.

The car will hit showrooms around the middle of October.


Hyundai Sonata 2.4 GLS manual R199 900; automatic R209 900.


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