THE mid-size sedan market is melting down at a similar pace to the Arctic ice sheets. Few buyers see the merit in a low-slung sedan when they can buy a high-riding SUV for similar money.
Logic suggests car brands devote their attention elsewhere yet the segment is a battlefield for bragging rights. Much as the prestige marques see their big limousines as flagships for the brand, so do mainstream makers fixate on the mid-size class to highlight their wares.
In the case of the Hyundai Sonata, a midlife update changes every panel but the roof as the model is tricked up to play with newer entrants.
Beyond streamlining the car, the company has also trimmed the range by dropping the mid-spec Elite. That leaves a mammoth $14,500 gulf between the base Active and the Premium.
Hyundai explains by the price jump by noting private buyers gravitate to the top-spec version while the base car is a fleet favourite. The differences are largely in refinement.
The entry 2.4-litre engine and six-speed automatic give way to the Premium's 2.0-litre turbo and - its major claim - eight-speed auto. Likewise the foot-operated park brake is upgraded to an electronic job, the Premium comes standard with a panoramic glass roof and has cooled/heated front seats and active safety gear including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane-departure alerts.
The boot is cavernous at 461L, no mean feat considering there's a full-size spare tucked under the carpet. Both versions are rated to tow up to 1300kg.
ON THE ROAD
A chirp from the front wheels on hard takeoffs is about as anti-social as the Sonata's engineering permits. The steering is feather-light at city speeds, as is the accelerator pedal. Engaging sports mode adds more resistance to the front end without altering the level of feedback through the wheel, which is one of the Sonata's few deficiencies.
The suspension is tailored for family duties and meets that mark with travel to spare. It irons out most bumps without the impact intruding into the cabin and achieves that without wallowing through the turns or when accelerating or braking.
It is effortless rather than engaging and that will suit the majority of owners who rate space, safety and features above on-the-limit dynamics.
The Sonata looks significantly different and that will be enough - for now - to keep it in contention. As newer competitors arrive, it will need to up the ante.
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