In the cut-throat world of mid-size sedans it can be difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd. In the constant fight against the sales-domination of Camry of Accord, Hyundai’s Sonata brings turbocharged horsepower and a dynamic design. But now for 2018 the Sonata arrives with a more grown up look, and a more refined drivetrain. At the same time Toyota added crazy looks to the Camry, and Honda gives Accord a dose of hoonery with a new 2.0L turbo engine. Can this newer, more mature Sonata Turbo still keep buyers attention?
Since the introduction of the “Fluidic Sculpture” design language with the sixth generation Sonata, Hyundai’s mid-size sedan was the most distinct looking machine in the segment. It was a love-or-hate visual language that prioritized a sense of motion and action over subtly. 2015 brought a squarer and more generic look to the Sonata family. Thankfully, the 2018 visual update seems to have found the perfect way to blend the two visual designs. We get the large grille and lengthened headlamp look of the older Fluidic Scuplture days, but with the cleaner and more conservative overall shape.
To my eyes, it is the most handsome Hyundai sedan you can buy, and I even prefer it over the look of the company’s luxury machines in the Genesis family. In fact, the only real problem I have with the visual language of the new Sonata Turbo is the color. With the exception of the available Electric Blue color, the entire family of hues for 2018 feels drab. The Phantom Black paint on our tester feels particularly unmatched to the car when you start driving it.
This car is nowhere near as boring as it’s paint color.
The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood is unchanged from last year, still making 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. But thanks to a new 8-speed transmission, the new Sonata feels more aggressive off the line, and more playful at moderate speeds. The new transmission is not the fastest thing in the world, but it’s smooth and the extra gearing makes the engine feel more powerful than it is.
The new transmission also helps boost fuel economy. EPA ratings sit at 23 city, 32 highway with a combined rating of 26 mpg. Over my week of testing I ended up sitting just a hair over 28. Not astonishing, but better than I ever achieved in older Sonata Turbos.
One area the Sonata has improved for 2018, but still needs work is the ride and handling. I have never been in love with the suspension tuning of the Sonata. It always feels just a bit too easy to unsettle the chassis for my tasting. With the 2018 car we get stiffened torsion bars, revised steering tuning, and a modified rear suspension. It all works together to create a car that feels much more composed on a highway journey, but when the road turns twisty it still feels a touch too loose for my taste. Many owners will never really push the car, and thus will never have a problem, for the sportiest member of the Sonata family, I would love to see things tightened up a bit.
Thankfully, the interior is well suited to the 2018 Sonata’s highway-ready nature. Every Sonata features a large touchscreen infotainment system that features Android Auto and Apple Car play. That means you have quick and easy access to all your favorite entertainment ad navigation apps without playing the dangerous game of using your phone while you are driving. The seats are nice and comfortable as well, and the contrasting color details you get with the turbo add a little sportiness to the cabin.
On the convenience side of the equation we have USB charging ports for both front and rear passengers, a navigation system with traffic data, and Qi wireless charging in a cubby in front of the shifter. When it comes to safety, the 2018 Sonata Turbo is packed to the gills. Seven standard airbags and a massive collection of fancy acronyms are on tap. We have VSM, ESC, TCS, ABS, EBD, BA and TPMS, as well as Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. While all those safety systems drive me up a wall, there are a lot of folks out there who rely and depend on them. And for those of you on the tightest of budgets, the Sonata is the only mid-size you can buy with the rear-traffic alert as standard.
Overall, there is a not a lot wrong with the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Turbo. It looks great, has a punchy engine, the fuel economy is solid, and it’s loaded with technology. But I honestly don’t know if there is a great reason to buy one either. Aside from the need to write this review, I haven’t really given the Sonata another moment of thought since it pulled out of the drive. In a market where the competition is getting better every year, I don’t know if the Sonata is strong enough to pull sales away from Camry and Accord.
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