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2020 Hyundai Sonata: Upping the ante on midsize sedans [First Look]

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited 29.jpg
2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Asian automakers appear to be ignoring the popular sentiment that sedans are a dying breed.

In fact, there’s a serious game of one-upmanship going on right now.

Nissan Altima added all-wheel drive, so now Toyota Camry is getting it for 2020. Camry added a passel load of standard safety equipment, so the Honda Accord did as well.

High-end amenities such as large infotainment screens, Apple CarPlay, head-up displays, passive entry, vented seats, navigation and adaptive cruise control are appearing in lower trims and, in some cases, come standard.

Thus, the stage is set for the entry of the all-new 2020 Hyundai Sonata.

Hyundai ups the ante – again – with this eighth-generation sedan.

The sixth-generation Sonata was a game changer, and people who hadn’t previously considered Hyundai bought into the brand. The next-gen Sonata, however, was rather vanilla.

So, with the 2020 model, Hyundai attempts to get back to a place of razzle dazzle.

The plan, according to Haksoo Ha, vice president, head of Hyundai interior design group, was to make the most beautiful vehicle in the segment.

While I wouldn’t quite describe the new Sonata as beautiful, I would say it’s striking, unusual and a far cry from bland.

The vehicle is lower, longer and wider than the previous generation, and the exterior adds several character lines on the side and hood.

The rear has visual appeal with Volvo-like taillights and an LED-lit line across the bottom of the trunk lid, but it’s the front of the new Sonata that is the most striking – and potentially the most polarizing.

The grille takes up practically the whole front face of the vehicle, and the LED daytime running lights wrap around the headlight with an air of menace, sweeping up the hood and fading to chrome.

One of the vehicles we drove was black, and from the front, a friend said it looked like the Marvel-Comic character Venom. I thought it looked a bit like an angry Toothless from “How to Train Your Dragon.”

My jury is still out on whether I like or dislike the headlight treatment, but one thing is for sure: It is distinct and immediately recognizable in your rear-view mirror.

The interior is more conservative with strong horizontal lines and easy-to-reach controls. The available floating 10.25-inch infotainment screen on the center stack is the focal point.

Unlike implementations in other vehicles, the large screen in the Sonata works because of the curved left edge that blends into the dash. It’s a thoughtful presentation that looks planned rather than tacked-on.

In addition to the radical design, the new Sonata packs a wallop with some interesting new technology.

One of my favorite new tech features is the blind-view monitor (BVM), which was introduced with the Palisade.

When you activate your turn signal, an image of your right/left blind spot pops up on the right or left side of the display depending on which signal is activated. The BVM is only available on the Limited trim.

Another interesting technology addition is the Hyundai Digital Key, which allows you to unlock and start your car by using your phone.

We’ve seen similar technology in luxury-class vehicles, but this is the first iteration in a non-luxury vehicle.

Rather than use straight Bluetooth, the Hyundai Digital Key uses near field communication (NFC), which means you must touch your phone to the door handle for it to unlock and then place your phone in the wireless charging tray to activate the push-button ignition. Digital key is available on SEL trims and standard starting on SEL Plus.

The caveat: This is currently only available with Android phones.

The last new and intriguing bit of available technology on the Sonata is the Remote Smart Parking Assist system, which allows you to stand outside of the vehicle and move the vehicle forward or backward in a straight line so that it can get into or out of tight parking spaces.

This is also only available on the top-tier Limited trim.

For 2020, Sonata will have two powertrains: a base 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder and an up-level 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4.

We were unable to drive the base engine during the preview, but it will deliver 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque.

Curiously, the up-level engine has less horsepower, but the turbo plus higher torque output should make this a peppier engine. It delivers 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.

While I can’t compare the two engines, I can say that the 1.6-liter is a smooth operator. It’s not heart-stopping fast, but it merges well with highway traffic and does well in quick passing accelerations.

We mostly stuck to long straightaways and gentle curves, and Sonata felt planted and held the road well. Previous generations have always felt a little loose and disconnected from the road, but the steering and overall feel of this new Sonata is much improved.

The 2020 Sonata will have four trims. The base SE has no packages or options available, and the top-tier Limited is all-in with every available feature. The SE and SEL will have the 2.5-liter engine, and the SEL Plus and Limited will have the 1.6-liter engine.

  • SE ($24,330): The base model is well equipped with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic high beams and an 8-inch audio display.
  • SEL ($26,430): This trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, passive entry, push-button start, dual automatic climate control, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Features available with packages include the 12.3-inch gauge cluster display, wireless phone charging, Digital Key, navigation, a 10-25 inch audio display, heated steering wheel, leather seats, Highway Drive Assist and a panoramic sun roof.
  • SEL Plus ($28,380): This trim adds paddle shifters, 18-inch alloy wheels, suede seating surfaces, 12.3-inch gauge cluster display, Digital Key, wireless charging and a second-row USB charge port. Features available with packages include the panoramic sunroof, navigation, 10.25-inch audio display and Highway Drive Assist.
  • Limited ($34,230): This all-in trim takes everything that was an option on previous trims and makes it all standard. It also adds trim exclusive content like a head-up display, around-view monitor, remote smart parking assist, ventilated front seats and the blind-view monitor.

While the Sonata is chockfull of content, there are two interesting things to note: Blind spot monitoring is no longer standard, and there are no plans for adding all-wheel drive.

This new Sonata is available in dealers now.

The Bottom Line

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata is an all-around solid vehicle. I like the ride and handling, and the high-level of available technology is mind-blowing.

Hyundai manages to raise the bar on the midsize sedan once again, and with all-in pricing under $35K, Toyota Camry (XSE V-6, $38,745), Honda Accord (Touring 2.0T, $36,100) and Nissan Altima (Platinum VC-Turbo, $36,105) have some catching up to do.

Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Hyundai covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.