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2020 Hyundai Sonata redesign hits almost all the right notes

The Sonata brings some great features to the sedan — and a beautiful look — but it still lags behind improvements to the Corolla and Camry, among others.

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata goes full-on swoop for its redesign, but without the versatility of a hatchback, sadly.
The 2020 Hyundai Sonata goes full-on swoop for its redesign, but without the versatility of a hatchback, sadly.Read moreHyundai

2020 Hyundai Sonata: Swooping in past some of the competition.

Price: $34,590 as tested. (No options on test vehicle; bless your packaging guru, Hyundai.)

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes that it is “elegant, usable, and attractive inside and out; ample tech; a bold statement” but not that the “taut ride doesn’t translate to engaging handling," nor the "lackadaisical powertrain response.”

Marketer’s pitch: “The sedan is new again.”

Reality: Maybe the 2021 N Line will swoop harder.

What’s new: The Hyundai Sonata has always been a little swoopy, but now it looks like a 1953 Buick Roadmaster from the front and a 1967 Dodge Charger from the back. It’s the sad-eyed sedan of the lowlands.

And it’s sad that it’s a sedan, too; a hatchback would work well with that sloping rear end and make the vehicle more versatile.

But the changes for 2020 — a new look, new refinement, and a new engine — improve the bread-and-butter Hyundai sedan.

Up to speed: All that wind cheating might help in the performance department, though it gets up to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, according to MotorTrend. But I imagine it’s more to do with the 180 horses provided by the 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder engine.

The 1.6-liter’s acceleration features the early lag that disappoints in some turbos, but better performance comes once you’re moving. Passing is easy.

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On the road: The Sonata offers a pleasant enough drive, very smooth and refined. I actually got to drive all the way to King of Prussia once in it, so Mr. Socially Distanced Driver’s Seat really became one with the Hyundai. Road seams are barely noticeable and other bumps are not bad.

Curves can be a bit of a challenge, with a lot of body roll. Smart, Normal, Custom and Sport modes all have their issues.

I’m eager to try the N Line version, new for 2021.

Shifty: I’m always calling transmissions unobtrusive, so here’s a change of pace: This one was obtrusive. The 8-speed gearbox would forever hold itself in third or fourth gear at random points — such as after cresting a hill or after accelerating to pass. Perhaps a bit of computer resetting is in order. Just something to watch for in other literature or on a test drive.

For the Sonata, Hyundai has adopted Honda’s push-button setup on the console. Colored in chrome, though, the flat silver buttons kept glare in my eyes for much of the morning drive eastward. A grrr moment, especially when a shifter is just a much better idea anyway.

Paddles on the steering wheel offered shift capability, but it wanted to return to automatic mode quickly.

Driver’s Seat: Comfort, though, comes standard in the Sonata, at least with Limited trim. The heated and ventilated front seats offered squish and support in just the right amounts, and the seating position was perfect.

Gauges are standard-issue Hyundai, which means clear and easy to follow.

Watch the turns: The blind spot collision avoidance system activates cameras in the instrument panel when the turn signal is on — and on the same side as the turn. A nice feature, well done.

Annoying selfie: The self-driving feature is disappointing. Too wonky and unsure of itself.

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers won’t have too much to complain about. The seats are comfortable and fairly roomy, if you’re the clown or the joker, but not if you’re stuck in the middle. The Sonata rides low, though, so legroom and foot room can be a problem.

Cargo space is 16.3 cubic feet, a healthy allotment.

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Play some tunes: Hyundai’s stereo upgrade just builds upon its successes. The touchscreen has grown to 10.25 inches, but buttons on the outside continue to control the main functions — they just look snazzier doing it. Someone has taken away the tuning dial; someone needs to be fired. The volume knob remains.

The Bose Premium offers great sound, and unlike most systems, it’s better without me adding a lot of midrange or bass. I’d call it an A- or A.

Keeping warm and cool: The heater controls are as nice as the infotainment: nice chrome buttons, easy up-down motions for fans, setting, and even the seat heater-ventilators, with big dials for temperature.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 29 mpg after the trip to KOP; it was running 26 before that, so it probably would go even higher with more use. Certainly, with performance like this, I’d want mileage in the 30s.

Where it’s built: Montgomery, Ala.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports suggests a three out of five for reliability.

In the end: It’s not perfect, but the Sonata does a lot of things quite well. Now let’s see whether the N Line adds some fun, because even the Camry and Corolla can be pretty fun now.

Last week I said that there had been so few changes on the 2020 Genesis G90 that you were directed to the press website for the 2017 model for specifications. Faulty research here; the current model has a whole new look for 2020 — and a new site. Also, the photo that ran with the column was of the 2017 model. Here’s a picture of the current G90.