First Drive: 2006 Hyundai Sonata
Hyundai's all-new sedan is bound to turn some heads.
August 12, 2005 - "Turn the wheel all the way to the left. Make sure that it's at full-lock, then gun it. Put the pedal to the floor."
Those were the first words I heard from Tony, my driving instructor. Normally, I'd be stoked to hear such words. But not today. Today I'm driving Hyundai's all-new Sonata, a large and comfortable -- but certainly not "sporty" -- sedan.
How did I get into this situation?
Maybe I should backtrack a bit. Even though Hyundai's all-new-for-2006 Sonata has been out for a couple of months now, (and has been the recipient of many rave reviews already,) Hyundai is still looking to get the word out on it's redesigned flagship sedan. The auto community has been buzzing about the car's more upscale look, and this more "elegant" sedan has already been hitting Hyundai's sales expectations.
But there's a lot more to this new sedan than just a new pretty face. The corporate meeting I had to sit though made sure that I knew every aspect of this car. For instance, I can tell you that the suspension has been redesigned to give the car a more "sporty" ride. Hyundai was aiming for the Sonata's to be more sporty than the Camry, but not as harsh as the Altima.
The 2006 Sonata got itself a new engine, too. A Lambda G6DB, a 235 horsepower V6 with 226 lb.-ft. of torque finds its way under the hood of the new car. This ULEV engine comes mated to a 5-speed auto tranny with SHIFTRONIC -- and that's standard. Hyundai says that this is the fastest car they ever built, as this new Sonata has a 136 mph top speed. Not too shabby, if you ask me. Other standard technical goodies on all Sonatas include 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS, traction control and electronic stability control.
That "electronic stability control" ("ESC") is standard on all Sonatas is very important to Hyundai. In order to win new customers, the company knows that it has to offer more than a quality car at a good price, it needs to have a "hook" in order to lure customers into the showrooms. For Hyundai, that "hook" is safety.
In addition to the ESC, traction control ABS and other safety acronyms, the new Sonata is the only car in its class to offer front, front seat side and side curtain airbags as standard equipment.
The 2006 Sonata has another "hook" as well, namely the price. One can pick up a well-equipped V6-powered Sonata for thousands less than the competition. Damn... I'm starting to sound like a commercial. I guess I spent too much time in that meeting. Well, I guess I should talk about my impressions of the car.
For starters, I do like the look of the car. This is the first Korean car that I've seen that actually looks "classy" instead of "cheap". I think the front end looks pretty cool, as does the rear -- even if it looks like an Accord from the back.
The interior is nice -- it still doesn't seem to be nice as the Accord's, but it's good enough. The materials are nice, though they do seem a bit cheap. Maybe it's the "flat" finish on the plastics, but it just doesn't feel that luxurious. In fairness, I've seen plenty of higher-priced cars equipped with this same plastic. The dash is sparse and functional, but it does look a bit dated -- especially in the vents. I'd like to see Hyundai take some interior styling cues from cars made after 1993.
I was driving the "sportier" GLS, so the interior of my car had some nice metal grain-look and carbon fiber-look trim. I felt that these pieces added a nice touch to the somewhat bland interior. Just as an aside: I'd rather have a bland, yet comfortable interior instead of an over-designed one. The Sonata's cockpit may not be much to look at, but damn is it comfortable.
I got to drive the Sonata up the coast for a couple of hours. The engine feels strong and smooth throughout the power band. I also li