Hyundai redesigned the Sonata for 1999, giving it more room, more noticeable styling and a pair of new engines. The results have been gratifying for South Korea's largest auto company: Sonata sales nearly doubled in 1999.
Part of the appeal may be Hyundai's industry-leading warranties, launched last year. Hyundai covers the whole car for five years/60,000 miles, major powertrain components for 10 years/100,000 miles and corrosion for five years/100,000 miles. The company also provides free roadside assistance the first five years.
The front-drive Sonata is the largest model in Hyundai's U.S. lineup, though there is speculation a larger sedan is planned for 2001.
Hyundai gave the Sonata a lower, sleeker look last year, accenting the front end with prominent oval headlamps and the rear with an arched trunk lid and large taillights. At 185 inches, the Sonata is a few inches shorter than the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.
Though the Sonata is shorter than either the Camry or Accord, it is wider than both at 71.6 inches. That gives rear seat passengers more room to spread out, and three can fit with some squeezing. Headroom and legroom are at least adequate for six footers. Trunk space looks larger than the 13.2 cubic feet quoted by Hyundai, and the split rear seatback folds for extra room.
Hyundai tries to compete with Toyota and Honda by offering more features at a lower price. Standard equipment on the base model includes air conditioning, a cassette player, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Under the Hood
Base models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 149 horsepower, but the majority of sales are GLS versions with a 170 horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6. Manual and automatic transmissions are available with both. Anti-lock brakes are optional on the GLS.
Sonata was one of the first cars under $20,000 to offer side-impact airbags, and this year they are standard on both the base and GLS. The front airbag for the passenger seat does not deploy if a weight sensor detects less than 66 pounds. If there is less than 33 pounds in the front passenger seat, the side airbag does not deploy either.
Poor quality on earlier models deterred many buyers from even considering a Hyundai. The quality is getting better, and the Sonata's performance is competent enough to compare to the class-leading Camry and Accord. Resale value still doesn't match Toyota's or Honda's, but Hyundai's lower prices and longer warranties make the Sonata worth considering.