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Think Honda. Think Accord. And think more than just a couple of bright ideas.
From the first look to the feel of the wheel and seats, the Sonata is more like a clone of the Accord than anything fresh that has emerged from Hyundai in the past.
The Korean carmaker has even used double-wishbone front suspension, always a Honda trademark, in place of traditional MacPherson struts.
But it does not matter. The new Sonata is big and roomy, gets along well, has a quality cabin and is fantastic value.
It is already selling smartly and most of the people walking into Hyundai dealerships have no idea that the company's product development team has been peeking over the fence at Honda. And, to be honest, it's a good place to look.
We saw Hyundai engineers measuring and comparing on the Honda stand at the Frankfurt Motor Show two years ago and the results of the benchmark work, as well as unique development in South Korea, is definitely showing in the company's new cars.
The Elantra was one of the surprises of 2004, the Sonata is a hit in 2005 and we are confident that the all-new Excel early next year will be another winner.
But back to the new NF-model Sonata. The new car is much better than anything in the past with the same name. It's bigger, better looking, there are six airbags and customers can choose a four-cylinder engine or a V6.
It is still front-wheel drive, but with improved fully independent suspension, anti-skid four-wheel disc brakes and electronic stability control on the V6.
Prices open at $25,490, the flagship Elite V6 still coming in at only $34,490, and the value alone points to big sales. It will make life difficult for all sorts of rivals, from the Toyota Camry and coming Mitsubishi 380 to a range of mid-level Japanese cars.
Hyundai now says it is looking to Europe for its inspiration — well, Honda has the Accord Euro — and that's obvious in the sports suspension fitted for Australia.
"For those still holding outmoded perceptions of Hyundai, the new Sonata will change their mind," Hyundai Motor Australia chief executive B.G. Lee says.
"I think they will see its absolute excellence and competitiveness, even aside from its exceptional value for money."
Even so, the Sonata is up against a tougher bunch than others in the Hyundai range.
The Camry is a very good car, the old Magna is no dog, the Mazda6 is just plain impressive.
ON THE ROAD
THE new Sonata is impressive. No question. It looks good, it drives well and the quality is another step up on the Hyundai front.
It is impossible to overlook the value story, but the new Sonata won't just sell for its sweet price. It has everything you expect from a serious contender in its class, from the engine choices and airbags to a better basic chassis.
We spent our test time in the flagship Elite V6, which is not always the best way to assess a car, but all the basics are right. A shorter drive in the four-cylinder Sonata showed it is not short-changed in any way.
From $25,490 — though few people will bother with a five-speed manual — it is a delightful dollar deal.
The Elite 3.3 comes with plenty of fruit, from leather trim and an electric seat for the driver to the predictable electric assists, punchy CD sound and impressive airconditioning. But we also like the airbag protection and the traction control and stability program.
The cabin is really roomy, too — more than enough space for five adults, with cushy front buckets, and still with a big boot in the back.
It is easy to park and there is good visibility.
The Sonata V6 has more than enough go for any job, yet still returned an impressive 10.3 litres per 100km during our trial.
The five-speed auto shifts smoothly, kicks down promptly, and there is a touch-change manual mode when you're in the mood. But . . . and here it comes: Hyundai says the Sonata has European sports suspension but to us, it feels all wrong.
The car flops around yet also feels like the tyres are pumped rock-hard, a strange combination that makes it no fun to drive.
It rocks and rolls, diving under brakes, and at the same time the nose pushes wide in even medium-pace corners.
It could be a lot better, because the basics look right on the specification sheet, but it is not an elegant car. It rides smoothly enough when you're driving quietly, but likes to be driven at only moderate pace.
Also, the switchgear still feels clunky, the plastics are a bit brittle, the paintwork wasn't as deep as we would like, and the boot hinges in the test car did not operate properly.
But those are relatively minor things, at least for the people who will be drawn by the Sonata's nice new looks and the price.
It is a car we can definitely recommend, even to our best friends, and more proof that Hyundai is serious about becoming one of the world's top-five carmakers by the end of the decade.