- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Hyundai Sonata is attractive and functional in all the right places. It is a midsize sedan that, because of its expansive interior, is classified as a full-size vehicle by the government. The advantage here is a spacious interior wrapped in a manageable exterior.

Hyundai’s incredible resurgence in the U.S. market is due in large part to the popularity garnered by the Sonata. It wasn’t long ago, just a few years, when I would not have recommended a Hyundai, any Hyundai, to my friends and readers. This was mainly because I did not feel confident that those cars would serve their owners as I thought they should.

Today, it is a whole other matter. In fact, there are a number of Hyundai vehicles that are near the top of my recommend list. One of them is the 2006 Sonata. And guess what? The Sonata is assembled in the good, old U.S.A. at Hyundai’s new $1 billion facilities in Alabama.

Most importantly, the Sonata is a well-built and capable sedan that can, and will, fulfill many owners’ needs for many years without breaking the bank.

I can say this with confidence because Hyundai is backing the Sonata and all its vehicles with a limited powertrain warranty good for 10 years or 100,000 miles. In essence the company is putting its money where it counts, building good cars and backing them up.

The 2006 Sonata I tested had excellent fit and finish inside and out. It may not exhibit ground-breaking design, but it is attractive. To achieve its goals, Hyundai benchmarked Audi and Lexus.

These are lofty goals for a company that is known for its economy vehicles. However, Hyundai has done well and is gaining ground on those up-level companies.

One of two engines available is aimed at the economical set, yet offers 162 horsepower. The other is a 235-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 that targets those who lean more toward performance. Still, this engine remains quite economical.

One very cool feature offered here has gotten little fanfare or acknowledgement from even the automotive media. The automatic transmission is no ordinary automatic gear box. This, like many sporty sedans, is equipped with a manual shift mode to allow the driver to select the proper gear.

Hyundai has performed a coup by using a system developed by Porsche.

That’s right, the builder of those wonderfully fast and capable German sports cars has licensed its technology to Hyundai.

Porsche has effectively given Hyundai one of the most capable manual shift systems in the world. and it shows. This car will inject plenty of spirited adventure into your drive.

There are three characteristics Hyundai targeted for the Sonata: safety, power, value. As you can see by the numbers alone, Hyundai has achieved its objectives.

In the safety area, Hyundai has done well. Even the base GL model comes equipped with dual front air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags, and front and rear side air curtains. The real surprise is that Hyundai didn’t stop there. Also on the standard equipment list are stability control and traction control.

The value category can be a bit subjective. Who is to say what qualifies as value for you or me? When I look at this competitive market and the entries that run in the top five, I find the Sonata stacks up very well.

The base GL model starts things off with an MSRP of $17,895 and that is with the standard equipment listed earlier. You will be hard-pressed to find any vehicle with the level of features of the Sonata for this price. The GLS and the top-of-the-line LX are equally impressive with their starting prices of $20,895 and $22,895 respectively.

One of the questions directed to me from Hyundai executives was: “How do we gain more awareness in brand?”

My answer to them was to get more people into their vehicles and that will convince them in a very rapid manner.

I am sure once folks experience the level of comfort, the performance and the long list of standard features the Sonata offers, buyers will understand the great value in Hyundai vehicles.

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