Thirty years ago, a few years after the Hyundai Sonata debuted in South Korea, the midsize sedan arrived in the United States. Honda and Toyota were already well established; the newcomer had little chance of success.

The 2018 Sonata, with interior and exterior makeovers, is still trailing Japanese manufacturers’ favorites, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. But the Sonata is far removed from its early tenure reputation as a cheap sedan alternative best avoided.

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a strong alternative in the midsize category instead of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a strong alternative in the midsize sedan category instead of the top-selling Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.

Except for the SUV segment, the midsize, five-seater is deep into the mix of the industry’s fiercest competition. The Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima and Kia Optima also have much to offer, so how does a buyer make a choice?

Honda and Toyota have stellar reputations, reliability and high resale. The Sonata’s strengths are value and versatility.

Available in SE, Eco, SEL, Sport, Limited, Sport 2.0T and top-line Limited 2.0T, my test vehicle, the 2018 Sonata is standard with two engines options. The two 2.0T trims have the most powerful engine, a turbocharged, 4-cylinder, 2.0-liter with 245 horsepower. They’re equipped with a new eight-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters. The seven available trim configurations should be enough even for the most persnickety buyers.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), including $885 for freight and handling and $125 for carpeted floor mats, is $33,460. That’s within a few dollars of the average price of a new car in the United States, and it’s for the fully equipped Sonata.

Don’t expect serious acceleration. The Sonata completes the standard 0-60 miles per hour test in 7.1 seconds. Fuel efficiency is 23 miles per gallon in city driving, 32 miles per gallon on the freeway and a combined 26 miles per gallon.

In addition to the industry’s best warranty, including 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain parameters, Hyundai has improved its status with an extensive list of standard features. The Limited 2.0T includes all of the equipment from lower trims.

Even the SE trim, now the entry-level offering, features an impressive list: automatic headlights, power-folding front mirrors, power windows and door locks, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. Headroom and legroom are impressive as is the large trunk (16.3 cubic feet of cargo space).

A seven-inch touchscreen display, a six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and USB/auxiliary jacks, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a rearview camera, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, are also included.

The Sonata’s new interior has a more modern look, with sharper features. The dashboard is positioned higher, meaning the navigation screen and all controls, knobs and buttons rest higher for easier use. There’s also a new sporty feel and look with a three-spoke and flat bottom steering wheel. The cloth seats have leather bolsters and look upscale with contrast stitching.

Hyundai has also handsomely updated the Sonata’s exterior. Overall lines are sharper, including LED running lights and Hyundai’s signature cascading grille. Steering is precise; maneuverability is tight. The Sonata advances smoothly at all speeds. It responds in inclement weather with confidence.

With its new look inside and outside appearance as well as mechanical upgrades, the new Hyundai further defines the manufacturer.

Now more than ever, the Hyundai Sonata should no longer be frowned upon as a cheap alternative. It’s a respected sedan with additional style and versatility, and it’s priced fairly. It deserves an expanded pause for those considering a change from their loyalty to Honda and Toyota.

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