2018 Hyundai Sonata Buying Advice
This is the best car for you if you want a roomy midsize sedan that’s a Jack of all trades and a master of value. Refreshed styling, upgraded suspension, and a more efficient transmission for the top-line turbocharged models advance the 2018 edition of Hyundai’s five-passenger four-door.
Dimensions are unchanged, and all models continue with four-cylinder power and front-wheel drive. But the bodywork and interior are subtly updated, and ride and handling improve. Better yet, Sonata remains competitive on pricing, undercutting by hundreds of dollars such key rivals as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
On the downside, America’s crossover fever continues to batter demand for midsize cars. The class suffered a 15.6 percent decline in 2017 sales. Every entry dropped, with Sonata among the hardest hit, sales falling 34 percent for the year. Hyundai’s hoping the 2018 Sonata’s numerous updates stem the bleeding.
Should you buy a 2018 model or wait for the ’19?
Consider the 2018. It gets a substantial midcycle update, its biggest changes since this generation design was introduced for model-year 2015. The basic platform is retained and continues to be shared with the Optima sedan from Hyundai’s corporate partner, Kia. Sonata’s engines carry over, too. But the exterior styling is freshened, and Hyundai makes important revisions to the suspension. The new transmission improves fuel economy.
Given all these changes, it’s improbable Hyundai will alter the 2019 Sonata enough to warrant waiting for. It is apt to increase prices, though, meaning you’ll pay more for essential the same car. And the ’19 will likely be a lame duck: an all-new Sonata is expected for model-year 2020.
Hyundai revamps the 2018 lineup a bit, juggles some standard and optional equipment, and lowers prices on some key features. The entry-level grade is now the SE, replacing the “Base” trim, and the newly introduced SEL takes the SE’s place as the second wrung on the model ladder. Better-equipped Sport and Limited trims return sharing the SE and SEL engine, and also are back with the more powerful turbocharged engine as the Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T. The high-mileage Eco version is back, slotting in price above the SE. And the South Korean automaker plans to reprise the Sonata hybrid and plug-in hybrid models later in calendar 2018; information about these models was not release in time for this review.
Styling: The hood, front fenders and trunk are all new, but the front and rear see the most dramatic changes. The grille adopts a more dramatic version of the hexagonal design found on Hyundai’s Kona, Tucson, and Santa Fe crossovers. The headlights stretch further back over the front fenders. LED daytime running lights are newly standard on SEL and higher models. Limited and Limited 2.0T get full LED headlights that are linked to the steering wheel. Around back, the taillights have a new design and a relocated, larger Hyundai badge cleverly houses the trunk-release button.
Some elements echo those on other cars in this class; the angular cutouts on the lower corners of the front and rear fasciae have become clichéd. And Sonata’s available LED fog lights resemble fangs when they’re switched on; they look better next the blackout mesh grille on 2.0T models, rather than the chrome-style bars on other trims.
Sonata’s interior gets high marks for design and spaciousness. Front-seat room and comfort are outstanding. Occupants get a whopping 45.5 inches of legroom, about 3 inches more than in the Accord, Camry, or Volkswagen Passat. Sonata’s rear bench is supportive as well, although, at 35.6 inches, maximum legroom of is a little below class average. The 16.3 cubic-foot trunk bests most rivals, and there are plenty of places in the interior to stash small items. It’s a family-car fundamental the ’18 Sonata gets right.
Cabin-materials quality is on-par with the best segment rivals. The 2.0T model’s metal-look dashboard and door trim is particularly appealing. The simulated wood on the non-turbo Limited is not.
Credit Hyundai with refreshing restraint in crafting Sonata’s straightforward dashboard. The revised instrument cluster benefits from a crisper font for 2018. Audio- and climate-system controls thankfully use physical knobs supplemented this year by rows of what Hyundai calls “piano key” buttons. Unfortunately, the buttons’ silver faces don’t provide enough contrast to their identifying labels. And some testers liken their tactile response to that of a child’s toy keyboard.
All grades except the Limited 2.0T come standard with a 7-inch dashboard touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Standard on the Limited 2.0T and optional on the 2.4-liter Limited is an 8-inch screen with imbedded GPS navigation. Hyundai’s infotainment system is easy to negotiate, if occasionally slow to respond to user inputs.
Mechanical: Engine options carry over from the 2015-2017 Sonata. The 2018 SE, SEL, Sport, and Limited have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Their sole transmission is a 6-speed automatic. Peak torque isn’t on tap until a relative high 4,000 rpm, so it can take a car length or so for these Sonatas to move off the line with sufficient dispatch. Once underway, credit the smartly programmed transmission for quick reaction to throttle input, which results in worry-free highway passing and merging.
The 2018 Sonata Eco continues with the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that’s shared with some versions of Hyundai’s Tucson crossover. It produces 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This model feels appreciably faster than a 2.4-liter Sonata, although you should test drive it thoroughly to determine whether you’re happy with the transmission. It’s a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic and suffers some low-speed bogging and shuddering that interrupts the smooth delivery of power.
The ’18 Sonata Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T return with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. New for 2018 is an 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the 2015-2017 models’ 6-speed automatic. The updated gearbox is an improvement, allowing the engine to stay in its power band longer. It includes steering-wheel paddle shifters for manual-type gear control. We hope engineers adapt this transmission to the Eco and Tucson.
Hyundai continues to improve steering feel across its lineup, and the latest Sonata provides good feedback while remaining just a touch light and artificial on center. The retuned suspension gives every ’18 Sonata more composure on bumpy and uneven surfaces. Gone are the annoying rebounding and unwanted secondary motions of previous models.
The only version with handling that’ll interest an enthusiast, however, is the 2.0T Sport. It shares 18-inch wheels and tires with the 2.0T Limited, but has a firmer suspension and upgraded brakes. The SEL, with its 17-inch wheels, and the SE and Eco, with their 16s, have less grip and more body lean in fast turns. Still, Hyundai’s work on the ’18 Sonata’s underpinnings is obvious, and any model is a pleasant and predictable midsize sedan. And in another family-car surprise and delight, a turning radius of just 35.8 feet makes this one of the easiest midsize cars to negotiate in tight spaces. Some highway-speed wind and road noise filters into the cabin, but it’s not overly intrusive.
As for the coming hybrid models, expect Hyundai to reprise the technology employed by the 2017 Sonata alternative-fuel vehicles. Both would likely again combine a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with battery-electric power. Expect net output of around 190 horsepower for the conventional hybrid and around 200 for the plug-in. While both would probably again get far better mileage than the non-hybrid Sonatas, the plug-in’s advantage would again be the ability to obtain an initial charge from a residential or commercial outlet. That should enable it to travel some 30 miles, emissions free on electricity alone, before automatically switching to conventional-hybrid mode.
Features: Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection are newly standard for SE and Eco models, but the ’18 Sonata still trails Accord, Camry, and other top rivals for wide availability of other driver aids, autonomous emergency braking in particular. Only vehicles with that feature, which can automatically slow and stop a vehicle to mitigate a frontal collision, are eligible for the industry’s most coveted safety award, Top Safety Pick+, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Among 2018 Sonatas, autonomous emergency braking is available only on SEL and Limited-trim models. It’s standard on the flagship Limited 2.0T. It’s optional for the 2.4-liter Limited in the $2,900 Ultimate Package and on the SEL in the $1,000 Tech Package. Those option packages also bring to the 2.4 Limited and the SEL other important driver assists that are standard on the Limited 2.0T: lane-maintaining automatic steering and adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set distance from traffic ahead on the highway and in stop-and-go traffic. All ’18 Sonatas include a rearview camera, and LED headlamps are standard on the Limited versions (they’re steering linked on the Limited 2.0T). The Limiteds are also the only models with an electronic parking brake.
Hyundai missed an opportunity to bring the ’18 Sonata abreast of the class safety-feature leaders: every version of the 2018 Camry and Accord, for example, comes standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane-maintaining automatic steering, and adaptive cruise control (although neither makes blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection standard across the line). Still, Hyundai continues to equip the Sonata with features that make it a compelling family-car value.
In addition to blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, Sonata SE and Eco now come with a 7-inch infotainment screen with CarPlay and Android Auto. The SEL adds LED daytime running lights, heated exterior mirrors, a power trunk release that pops the lid if you stand behind the with the keyfob in your purse or pocket for three seconds, three years of Hyundai’s Blue Link Connected Care and Remote telematics services, satellite radio, power driver’s seat, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, heated front seats, and a rear USB charging port.
Sport 2.4 models have all this plus a power sunroof, a lower body kit, dual exhaust outlets, sport seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals, and LED interior lighting. The Sport 2.0T adds and a sport suspension.
The Limited 2.4 builds on the Sport 2.4 with steering-linked LED headlights, LED taillights, leather upholstery with heated and ventilated front seats, power passenger seat, driver-seat memory, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The top-line Limited 2.0T adds the aforementioned safety features, plus automatic high-beam headlights, 8-inch infotainment display with imbedded navigation, rear-obstacle detection, electronic parking brake, heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging, rear side window sunshades, and three years of Hyundai’s Blue Link Guidance package.
Hyundai raised starting prices slightly on the 2018 Sonata, commensurate with newly standard equipment such as blind-spot alert and CarPlay/Android Auto. However, some more well-equipped models, such as the Limited 2.4, cost less than they did in 2017, comparably equipped. Note that all base prices listed here include the automaker’s $885 destination fee.
Among the 2.4-liter models, the 2018 Sonata SE starts at $22,935, the SEL at $24,585, the Sport at $26,085, and the Limited at $28,285. Base price is $23,535 for the Eco. In the 2.0T branch, the Sport is priced from $28,485 and the Limited from $33,335.
Only two factory option packages are available. One is the SEL Tech Package ($1,000), which adds all the safety features, plus the electronic parking brake that’s standard on the 2.0T Limited. The other option package is the Limited 2.4 Ultimate Package ($2,900), which includes essentially all the Limited 2.0T’s standard amenities. A 2018 Limited 2.4 with Ultimate Package lists for nearly $2,500 less than a comparably equipped 2017 model.
Hyundai’s approach to safety equipment aside, the ’18 is a strong value, bolstered by the South Koran automaker’s 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty coverage.
At $25,585, the best buy among 2018 Sonatas might well be an SEL with the Tech Package. The 2.0T variants are also worth a look because they undercut by thousands of dollars comparably equipped rivals with four- and six-cylinder engines of similar power. The Sonata proposition strengthens further when you consider that during early 2018, Hyundai was offering ’18 models with $1,500 cash back or 0% financing for five years, plus a $500 rebate. Current Hyundai owners or lessees should also ask their dealers about loyalty incentives, which the brand frequently offers.
Sonata’s EPA ratings run with the midsize-car pack. The SE, which has the 16-inch wheels, rates 25/36/29 mpg city/highway/combined. The other 2.4-liter models, with their 17- or 18-inch wheels, rate 25/35/28 mpg. A Limited 2.4 returned 32.2 mpg in a test that consisted mostly of highway driving.
The Eco’s smaller engine and aerodynamic tweaks improve its ratings to 28/37/31 mpg, though this tradeoff might not be worth having to deal with the dual-clutch transmission’s idiosyncrasies. The 2.0T models rate 23/32/26 mpg.
All Sonatas use regular-grade 87-octane fuel and have a large 18.5-gallon tank, which means any model has a potential cruising range of more than 500 miles.
Probably not much for the foreseeable future. We’d like to see Hyundai make driver-assistance features standard on all models, as well as change the transmission in the Eco grade to a conventional automatic. Hyundai is working on a new generation of engines, and we could see the first examples show up in a next-generation Sonata, which probably won’t be appearing any time before model-year 2021.