When you can't sell practical anymore, it's time to start selling something prettier.
Midsize sedans like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata used to be top sellers — largely due to the strength of their practical, family-car credentials. But crossovers — with their two- or three-times-as-much cargo room, (usually available) all-wheel drive and extra ground clearance — have made huge inroads into the family car market.
What are sedans to do?
Sell looks — and luxury.
What It Is
The Sonata is Hyundai's midsize, midpriced sedan. Like its primary rivals — the Camry and the Accord — it's almost a full-sized sedan in terms of its overall length.
And its passenger spaciousness.
Also like them, it's been restyled to summon passion — and engineered to deliver more performance — in order to try to recover sales that have been lost to crossovers.
Prices start at $23,400 for the SE trim, which comes with a larger (and stronger) 2.5-liter engine versus last year's Sonata. There's also a new eight-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the six-speed used last year.
A top-of-the-line Limited trim stickers for $33,300.
It comes standard with a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that's the same size as the optional engine in last year's Sonata — but bumped up to 180 horsepower from last year's 178.
All trims sit lower — and look much sleeker — than the old Sonata.
Everything. Pretty much the only thing that carries over is the name.
It turns heads.
You can stretch your legs.
It has luxury car features — including an available 12.3-inch flat-screen instrument cluster — at a family car price.
What's Not So Good
It has a bit less backseat legroom than last year.
It has a lot less room for cargo than a same-size crossover.
It doesn't have much ground clearance — and no available all-wheel drive.
Under the Hood
The horsepower numbers of the Sonata's standard 2.5-liter engine (no turbo) and its optional 1.6-liter engine (with a turbo) are so close — 191 and 180 horsepower, respectively — you might wonder why not just offer one ... or the other?
Because of the torque.
The optional 1.6-liter engine makes more (195 foot-pounds versus 181 foot-pounds) and sooner (1,500 rpm versus 4,000 rpm for the 2.5-liter engine). This translates into more forceful acceleration — sooner.
Without burning more gas.
The turbo makes the small engine bigger — more powerful — when more power is wanted. But when more power isn't needed, it reverts to being a smaller, less thirsty engine.
Official figures for the 2020 Sonata aren't yet available but should be in the ballpark of 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
Hyundai says the '20 Sonata with the 2.5-liter engine should pull down 28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.
But it won't get to 60 mph as quickly — or as easily — as the '20 Sonata with the torquier 1.6-liter engine.
On the Road
One of the draws of crossovers is that you sit higher up, which used to be a visibility advantage until crossovers became as common as sedans used to be. It's no longer much of an advantage because you're surrounded by other high-riding crossovers. And you've lost the handling/stability advantage of being closer to the road.
The Sonata has the superior stability that comes with being several inches closer to the pavement as well as the superior visibility of its fastback rear glass and lower trunkline. It's nice to be able to see what's behind you as well as what's ahead of you — and it makes backing up easier, without depending as much on a back-up camera.
Neither version of the Sonata is as quick as the quickest versions of the Camry and Accord — both of which are available with more powerful engines.
But that's a problem already solved, just not yet available.
In a few months, Hyundai will offer a third engine choice: a turbocharged version of the standard 2.5-liter engine, which will make at least 290 horsepower.
At the Curb
The new Sonata is longer, wider and roomier — for the driver and front-seat passenger, at least. It has 46.1 inches of legroom up front (almost 5 inches more than a full-sized and six-figure Mercedes S-Class, which has 41.4 inches).
And it has some other things you wouldn't have found in an other-than-a-Mercedes car just a few years ago, including an available 12.3-inch flat-screen instrument cluster paired with a 10.3-inch touch screen off to its right for the car's secondary systems, a head-up display and a key-fob remote-park feature that maneuvers the car into place without you behind the wheel.
Just a few negatives detract from this otherwise appealing package.
One is that there's less backseat legroom than before (34.8 inches versus 35.6 inches). Another is that Hyundai inexplicably elected not to offer a heated steering wheel — a luxury feature that's becoming an expected feature in new cars, for all the obvious reasons.
But otherwise, it's hats off — and a pat on that pretty hood.
The Bottom Line
If looks could kill, this one ought to sell!
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.