- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

By definition, a sonata is an instrumental composition. The Hyundai Sonata, however, is more like an inspirational composition, for it is truly a thing of beauty.

This four-door midsize sedan has a distinctive new look, producing the illusion of a very expensive automobile. There is something about the sparkle of high-tech headlamps and fog lamps, the wide waterfall grille and the strong crease in the hood design that envisions luxury. Even the 16-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels add to that illusion.

Hyundai is not expensive, however. The top-of-the-line GLS model sells for about $18,000 and features a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, plus a five-year/50,000 new-car warranty that includes five-year roadside assistance. Hyundai's warranty is one of the best available.

Although the structure isn't as solid as the appearance indicates, considering the price, I wasn't disappointed. The Hyundai people say this year's car has gas-charged struts and a revised multilink rear suspension for improved handling.

I put the Sonata through some hard driving and found the ride quality a little light and slightly bouncy compared to cars with higher price tags.

Another comparison: The interior noise level isn't as quiet as in the upscale sedans. The doors, for example, close with a tinny "clank" rather than a solid "clunk."

My tester, the GLS, had the V-6 engine (a four-cylinder engine is available only on the base model).

This engine produces 181 horsepower. It was a bit noisy when stomping on the gas pedal, but it did move out, although the acceleration is not exhilarating.

The mileage rating is 20 city and 27 highway another point in the Sonata's favor.

The cloth-covered seats felt velvety smooth, and the overall interior is both simple and attractive. Another nice touch is the leather-wrapped, four-spoke steering wheel. The center armrest also serves as a storage compartment.

Although the vehicle has power mirrors, windows and door locks, the front seats require manual adjustment. Standard equipment includes non-chlorofluorocarbon air conditioning with climate control, cruise control, digital clock, rear-window defroster with a timer, heated mirrors, assist grips, 5-mph bumpers, remote keyless entry, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, remote fuel and trunk release, illuminated vanity mirrors, and two cup holders in the front and rear.

The sound system was standard equipment, too. It featured an AM/FM stereo, plus a CD unit. If more power is desired, a 120-watt unit is an option. However, I played my favorite CDs, and they sounded just as good as when played in high-priced units. Only at high volume could I detect a slight lack of quality.

Hyundai has included many of the latest safety devices on this car. In addition to front and side air bags for front-seat passengers, the car has a passenger-presence detection system. If an accident occurs and the front seat is empty, the air bag won't deploy.

Advanced technology is also used on the seat belts. As brakes are jammed on in the event of a crash, the seat belt pretensioners automatically remove any slack from the belts so the occupant will be held firmly in place.

Although my tester did not have anti-lock brakes or traction control, they, too, are available as an option. The 2002 Sonata is also equipped with child safety restraints and childproof rear door locks.

Those desiring a terrific-looking car backed by the best warranty might want to check out the Sonata. It's a winner.


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