Surprising Win: 2012 Hyundai Sonata

2012 Hyundai Sonata in red

2012 Hyundai Sonata in red

Arriving at the airport, I had a choice of a Chevy HHR (which I had already driven) or a Chrysler 200 (puke!) in my class. Fortunately for me, this red Sonata was parked near the Chrysler so I decided to upgrade to this for my weekend ride. It already looks like a much higher quality car than the marque suggests and it certainly couldn’t be worse than the Chevys I’ve had. Color me impressed because I’ve never considered owning a Hyundai, but this car just go bumped up my list of new cars I’d buy.

The thing that impressed me the most was that this car is a 4 cylinder, but you’d never know it! For most of the trip the car was loaded with five adults, luggage, with the A/C on. Driving in southern California requires a lot of quick maneuvers and this car took it like a champ! It accelerated like a bat out of hell without any lag or buzzy-ness that you’d normally get with a 4 cylinder. It handled real well during lane changes without much body roll. Cruising at speed was extremely smooth. Sometimes I’d get up to 80 MPH, but it felt like I was going a lot slower. There was virtually no wind or road noise. We were able to maintain a nice conversation without having to shout.

What’s interesting is that it looks like a small car from the outside, drives like a small car from the driver’s seat, and inside it kind of feels like a small car from the waist up, but there was gobs of legroom for all passengers. I was able to stretch out my legs without putting the seat all the way back! The trunk was very spacious as well, but the trunk opening was short resulting in a small opening. The interior trim and materials felt top-notch especially with the subtle details like the brushed texture on the dash and door panels. The dash had a very cool multi-colored LCD info center in the gauge cluster adding to the luxurious aura. The projector headlights had a nice sharp cut-off for the bright-as-sun beams. The headlights turned off with the engine so it was hard to remember to turn off the lights in the day time (because it made the radio and cluster dim). I was also surprised to see a foot-pedal parking brake since import cars typically have handbrakes. It felt like a higher class car than it should be.

One thing I did not like was the stereo. The display was incredibly hard to read at night since it had a dark blue backlight with black LCD text. I did not test the sound, but getting to the sound settings was not as intuitive as it should have been. The bass/treble settings were buried in a menu where other radios allow access from a button. It did have XM radio, which was pretty convenient. I’m also not a fan of how the Asian carmakers put the headlight switch on the turn signal stick, but now I’m just nitpicking.

The positives clearly outweigh the negatives here. It’s an underdog as Hyundai has been winning awards and gaining consumer confidence with their products, but it’s still got the stigma of being crappy from past decades. I can definitely see and feel the Honda-like quality in this Sonata and while I would have never considered looking at it before, I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

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