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Launch in a desert, cool in a city

2010-09-15 10:34

MODERN MUSCAT: Hyundai chose this ancient Omani city for the world launch of the Sonata.

Hyundai moved firmly and further up the luxury cars ladder with the world launch in Oman early in 2010 of ts 2010 Sonata sedan, a 4.82m challenge to the Mazda6 and Honda Accord that has now reached South Africa.

With the car's size, looks, equipment and style you might be tempted to ask: "Why not BMW's Fives or Mercedes C Class?" So let's get that out of the way right now: sorry to disappoint, but even with the car's expected "close to R300 000" sticker price it still falls short of that level… but you'd better believe it's getting there.

It's very attractively styled but Merc, BMW and Audi are still streets ahead on perceived build quality and engine power and performance. But as a normal family car, I doubt any buyer will be disappointed with this Sonata. Only one model will be available in South Africa and I drove one through the stunningly ragged and rugged mountains and along the Arabian Sea coast of Oman's capital, Muscat.

Hyundai says the car took five years to come to production and is now claiming best-in-class status for fuel economy and crash protection. It's also 20cm longer than its predecessor, is good for a sub-10sec sprint to 100km/h and, under ideal conditions, will stop from that speed in less than 43m.

'Strength of design'

SA units will be supplied with the 2.4-litre Theta II 133kW petrol engine connected to Hyundai's own in-house six-speed auto/manual sequential transmission that comes with shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Shift positions are shown on a digital display on the instrument panel.

"The strength of the design," Hyundai says, "is in its unique layout which makes it smaller, more compact and lighter than any other six-speed transmission on the market."

Driving impressions after about 150km of unstressed freeways and free-flowing urban main roads? Hyundai's overseas marketing team's boss Bryan Woo's said at the launch's media conference that this latest Sonata, "with its coupe-like profile", is "no longer quiet and traditional and has moved towards eye-catching style".

Bottom line is that it'll easily cruise at 200km/h and, just as surely, it's a really handsome machine, a comfortable, middle-income ride with mom and three kids.

Big fuel savings

All the expected goodies are in the package: power windows and mirrors, leather, power driving seat with heating for it and its neighbour, excellent sound system, Bluetooth phone connection, full house of crash bags, alloy rims and good fuel economy governed, if you wish, by what Hyundai calls an 'ECO coach' which suggests gear-change time on a manual model or, on an auto, a red/white/green gauge that tells you when to lift foot.

I remember having one of those back in the 1970's – an Econometer, I think it was called…anyway, Hyundai reckons you can save anywhere from seven to 17 percent on your fuel bill – as if that matters in Oman where petrol is about R2/litre.

The car also has an "alternator management system" that disengages a clutch if the battery is fully charged to allow charging power to stay in the engine.

The Sonata rides on Macpherson struts up front, coil springs at the rear, but if the ride does go awry than the driver has the support of electronic stability control, hill-start assistance and reserve braking pressure.

New sales channels

It was asked at the media conference if, given the huge strides Hyundai has taken in recent years, whether a separate luxury division, such as Toyota's Lexus brand and Nissan's Infiniti, would appear? Not according to a Hyundai spokesman at the Omani launch.

"A separate quality brand such as Lexus will not be an option," the spokesman said at a media briefing before half the assembled international journalists headed out on a ride-'n-drive on the country's sweeping roads while the others disappeared into the mountains in a convoy of ix35 SUV's.

"We have already swollen from small to large but will differentiate models such as the Hyundai Genesis through a separate sales channel rather than a separate brand."

That's that, then.

Hyundai South Africa has a DEDICATED WEBSITE for the Sonata on its HOMEPAGE or FIND YOUR NEAREST DEALER to arrange a test drive.


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