- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hyundai plans to remake its image in the eyes of the American consumer. Opening a $1.1 billion assembly plant in Alabama and introducing the all-new 2006 Sonata are its first steps.

During a press conference with automotive writers, executives said there are still too many people not comfortable with the Hyundai brand. But they believe the new Sonata, built in Montgomery, Ala., should break down barriers with buyers. Hyundai has built a car that is bigger than the Accord, Altima and Camry and loaded it up with safety features found on luxury cars. Hyundai is giving itself a running head start in the all-important midsize sedan market with a starting price of less than $18,000.

The Sonata is marketed to the midsize sedan shopper, yet the vehicle’s dimensions have pushed it — by EPA standards — to the “large” car category. Hyundai set out to make the Sonata the roomiest of midsizers, so it had engineers stretch its size 2 inches longer, 2 inches taller and 1 inch wider than its predecessor.

I got behind the wheel of the top-of-the-line model, the LX V-6, and felt as if I were in a car that should have been priced closer to $30,000. This 235-horsepower sedan was well equipped at $22,895; I wondered how Hyundai could afford not to charge more. My guess is this is a grace period for buyers who are smart and savvy enough to grab onto the 2006 model. I don’t think the price deal is going to last.

Included in the test car’s base price were high levels of class-leading safety content, comfort and convenience amenities and a great performing engine. The optional equipment included an $850 power sunroof and $550 upgraded sound system, bringing the as-tested price to $24,295. The starting price for the base model four-cylinder Sonata GL begins at $17,895.

Hyundai offers two engine selections. The base engine on the GL and GLS trims is the 2.4-liter, 162-horsepower four-cylinder. A 3.3-liter V-6 is standard on the Sonata GLS V-6 and LX V-6 and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine generates a healthy dose of horsepower and torque. It is rated at 235 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 226 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. EPA ratings are 20 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway.

All Sonata models come standard equipped with electronic stability control and traction control — a first in the midsize sedan segment. Sonata also comes equipped with anti-lock brakes, active front head restraints and six air bags (head curtain air bags, front seat-mounted side impact and dual front).

The Sonata’s warranty includes a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

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