For the 2018 model year, the Hyundai Sonata received a significant refresh, which adds a new front fascia with the brand’s new cascading grille. At a press event in San Diego, Hyundai executives and designers revealed that the less conservative, more flowing exterior was intentional to give the Sonata a better family identity and move it away from the pre-refresh car’s conservative design.
In addition to exterior styling changes, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata also receives an updated electric power steering system, thicker rear trailing arms, and bushings with aluminum inserts instead of steel ones. The big change under the hood is the eight-speed automatic transmission, which is exclusively available with the 245-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four. Cars equipped with the base 185-hp 2.4-liter I-4 carry over with the six-speed automatic. The Sonata Eco arrives later this summer with the 1.6-liter turbo-four rated at 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic. The Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid will be the last to join the lineup, arriving early next year.
We got behind the wheel of both cars and found the 2.0-liter turbo-four to have plenty of torque on tap, with 260 lb-ft from 1,350 to 4,000 rpm; however, from a stop, it does suffer from a little bit of turbo lag. As for the new eight-speed automatic, it shifts quickly and downshifts willingly, making it easy to pass other cars on the highway. Put the transmission into manual mode, and it remains responsive and quick to respond to your inputs via the paddle shifters. However, in Comfort, Eco, or Smart modes, the gearbox tends to be a gear or two too high, revealing its fuel economy–minded tuning. Put the Sonata into Sport mode, and the shifts get quicker, throttle response gets more aggressive, and it immediately puts the car in the meat of its powerband.
The standard 185-hp 2.4-liter I-4 should be plenty for most because it also has 178 lb-ft of torque on tap. You do need to rev it out more, though, because it makes peak torque higher up in the rev range compared to turbocharged engine choices. Like the newer eight-speed, the carryover six-speed automatic is mostly invisible, performing responsively and shifting smoothly.
Driving the 2018 Sonata on a mix of winding roads, highways, and city streets revealed a much-improved car dynamically. Thanks to the updated suspension, the ride is smooth, and it soaks up bumps and imperfections better than the pre-refresh Sonata. The chassis handled the twisty bits of the route with minimal body roll. No, the Sonata isn’t a sports car, but the way it drives is much improved. The steering system is nicely weighted and doesn’t feel overly heavy, even in Sport mode. However, it doesn’t have much feel, especially compared to more sporting mid-size options such as the Ford Fusion and Mazda6.
Another key area of improvement in the 2018 Sonata is the interior, which has a slightly revised center stack layout with new buttons that feel more tactile. Most of the materials in the cabin are high-quality soft-touch plastics, and there are some harder bits in areas away from touch points. Despite the coupe-like roofline, there’s plenty of space in the cabin for front and rear passengers, making it feel like you’re in a full-size sedan. With its large windows and an expansive windshield, visibility is excellent. The cabin is mostly well isolated from exterior noise, but on cars with the 2.0-liter turbo-four, it can get a little loud, especially on less than perfect pavement.
Hyundai’s latest infotainment system remains one of the most user-friendly interfaces available, and it’s no different in the 2018 Sonata. It’s quick to respond to touch inputs, and voice commands are easily understood. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration come standard across the lineup, allowing your mobile phone to act as your infotainment system. The Infinity by Harman premium audio system on higher trims offers crisp sound and is easily customizable.
Pricing starts at $22,935 for the base Sonata SE, which comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a rearview camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. The most expensive Sonata (until the plug-in hybrid arrives) is the Limited 2.0T, which checks in at $33,335 and has features such as LED headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, an Infinity premium audio system, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, high-beam assist, and a wireless charging pad.
Although the 2018 Sonata is only a refreshed model, it builds on the seventh-generation car by adding a more distinctive exterior and an interior that feels more upscale, especially on higher trim levels. Now offering better driving dynamics, the 2018 Sonata is ready to compete with the redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry and the 2018 Honda Accord. As a whole, the 2018 Sonata is a better midsize sedan that offers user-friendly tech, space, and comfort wrapped in an attractive, high-value package, especially considering that the base car’s sticker price only increased by $100 and that some trims are cheaper than before.
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