- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

When the production version of the 2006 Hyundai Sonata was first shown to the public at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, many auto industry watchers were surprised at what it had to offer. And many were impressed with how far Hyundai has progressed in its 20 or so years here in the U.S. market.

Once considered one of the worst cars sold in the U.S., Hyundai has been working diligently to change its image. A tight focus on quality improvement was the first step, and now all Hyundai products are backed by one of the best warranties in the auto industry.

Better yet, the Hyundai Sonata was recently recognized by J.D. Power and Associates for having the highest initial quality in the Entry Midsize Car category and was rated the “Most Appealing Entry Midsize car” two years in a row.

Sonata is Hyundai’s best-selling car, so with everything cruising along smoothly, why not sit back, relax and enjoy the prosperity? As demonstrated by some large domestic car companies, that’s not a good idea. Things can change quickly in the auto business. Not content with the status quo, Hyundai has embarked on its 24/7 program, with a commitment to introduce seven new models in 24 months. The Hyundai Tucson, introduced late in 2004, was the first, and now Hyundai has taken a bold step forward with its all-new 2006 Sonata.

The new Sonata was designed specifically to meet the needs of the American consumer and is the result of three years of collaborative development at Hyundai’s Research and Development facilities in Michigan, California and Korea. The 2006 Sonata is 2 inches longer, 2 inches taller, slightly wider, and has an inch-longer wheelbase, providing more room inside for passengers and cargo. The increase in interior room is significant — so much so that Sonata moves a step up from the midsize classification to the large-car designation.

One of the complaints about the previous Sonata was insufficient power and poor fuel economy. The new Sonata doesn’t disappoint when it comes to powertrain upgrades, with two new engines and a new transmission.

First is the all-new 2.4-liter “Theta” DOHC inline four-cylinder engine, rated at 162 horsepower and 164 foot-pounds of torque. This all-aluminum engine features a balance shaft to smooth out vibration, continuously variable valve timing for better low-speed performance, and hydraulic motor mounts to absorb the typical vibrations of a four-cylinder engine. It’s standard on Sonata GL and GLS four-cylinder models and delivers fuel economy figures of 24 miles per gallon city and 34 mpg highway.

Standard on Sonata GLS V-6 and LX models is an all-new 3.3-liter V-6 engine producing 235 horsepower and 226 lbs.-ft. of torque. This engine is the first member of Hyundai’s new “Lambda” engine family and has an aluminum cylinder block, aluminum heads, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, continuously variable valve timing, and a variable intake system. It also uses hydraulic motor mounts and delivers impressive fuel economy results of 20 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway.

The five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are carryovers from previous models, but the V-6 Sonata gets Hyundai’s all-new five-speed “Shiftronic” automatic transmission.

Another source of dissatisfaction with previous Sonatas was a ride that was so soft it interfered with good handling characteristics. Now, the front suspension uses double wishbone technology with coil springs, twin tube gas-filled shock absorbers, and an anti-roll bar. The state-of-the-art five-link rear suspension features a trailing link, two longitudinal links and an upper A-arm. This independent coil-spring design suspension design helps to deliver a smooth ride without sacrificing handling. As part of the new design, Hyundai engineers increased the strength and stiffness of the body structure, a development that allows better tuning of suspension components for better overall ride and handling.

A second benefit of a stiffer body structure is the reduction of engine and road noise in the cabin. According to Hyundai, when compared to key competitors Camry and Accord, the 2006 Sonata is quieter at idle, quieter at 60 mph, quieter at wide-open throttle and has significantly less wind noise than both competitors at 68 mph.

Every Sonata is equipped with advanced dual-front air bags, seat-mounted side-impact air bags for driver and front-seat passenger, and side curtain air bags to protect the driver, front seat passenger and the outboard rear seat passengers. The front seats also have active head restraints for extra protection against whiplash in rear-end collisions.

Electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, and electronic brake force distribution are standard features and bring a new level of driving assurance to the affordable sedan buyer.

There’s much more to the new Sonata, and when compared to the competition, it represents unbeatable value. Base prices range from $17,895 to $22,895, and with the five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, it’s hard to find a better buy.

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