With competition in the D-segment heating up, Hyundai saw it fit to endow their Sonata with a new V6 powerplant. About time too...
In isolation, the ‘old’ Sonata was not such a bad car. People either love or hate its extroverted styling, but few would ignore it. The older car’s four-pot engine too, produced just about as much power as its Japanese and American competitors, and more than a certain German contender. But merely equalling others efforts would not take the Sonata to the top spot in the game, and hence this, the ‘new’ Sonata. Size does matter after all, and with its new 2654 CC six-cylinder engine, the car can safely thumb its nose at competitors with a gloating “mine is bigger than yours!” war cry. Where all others make do with in-line fours, this is the only D-segment car in India that’s equipped with a V6, and at 166 horsepower, the machine is as potent as the vastly more expensive Mercedes Benz E240.
Traditionally, the one area where Hyundai cars have taken a beating is in the ‘image’ stakes. Japanese cars are seen as supremely reliable, and German cars as epitomes of engineering brilliance, but Korean vehicles are perceived as rather downmarket alternatives for those on tight budgets. Some of that perception might well be true, but with every year that passes, the Koreans have been shoring up on quality and reliability and what with their aggressive pricing, they certainly have the potential to steal the thunder from more expensive brands.
In this case, the Sonata V6 (being imported into the country as a CBU) is priced at par with the Accord and the Mondeo, and is substantially cheaper than the Camry and the Mercedes Benz C180. When you take into account the fact that the car is considerably more powerful than any of its competitors, and is as well- or better-equipped, things certainly begin to look good for Hyundai. But the bottomline is, how good is it to drive?
Proof of the pudding...
...is in the eating.
And from the looks of it, this is one “pudding” I wouldn’t mind pigging out on. Except for the new front grille (horizontal slats this time...) and the prominent 2.7 V6 badge on the boot, the exteriors remain the same, and are likely to continue being the cause of many heated debates in homes, offices and pubs. Even within the reaches of BSM, opinions on the Sonata’s styling are divided, with some deriding its lines as being derivative and too ostentatious, while others claim to be in love with the shape. For me, I’d say that a car which costs as much as these D-segmenters do, should look special, and that the Sonata certainly does! Waiting for early morning fog to clear before starting our slalom runs, and watching the car sitting on its handsome 16-inch alloys (shod in meaty 205/60 tubeless Kumho) with sunshine glinting off its glossy paintwork, I thought the Sonata V6 looks purposeful if nothing else.
Finally, the fog lifted, and we were ready to run. Getting inside and starting the engine, things felt very quiet. At standstill, the 24-valve DOHC V6 is barely audible, though some Japanese mills (the Camry’s, for example) are quieter still. As the needle on the rev-counter climbs though, the Sonata’s V6 changes character, and gains some aural brilliance. At higher revs, the V6 rasps and snarls in a very befitting manner, which will make for some very happy driving enthusiasts! I was not so sure about the four-speed automatic which is standard on all Sonata V6s. This auto box does have the “H-matic” manual shift option where the lever can be nudged up and down for quick and easy shifts (“tiptronic” style), but frankly, the auto was competent enough on its own, and the feature is rather unnecessary in most real world situations. In any case, even in H-matic mode you cannot keep the car locked in one gear beyond a certain rev limit, and the box shifts up automatically as soon as you reach that limit. For me, it would’ve still been nice to have a proper six-speed manual on the options list, but then given that most cars in this category are chauffeur-driven, an automatic suits the character of the car nicely.
After a few warm up runs we gave it the boot, and the Sonata went from 0 to 60 kph in a creditable 4.71 seconds, and from 0 to 100 in 9.49. These figures compare favourably with other D-segmenters, and are especially significant when you factor in the Sonata’s 1,453 kg kerb weight. The speedo is marked all the way to 240 kph, and though we only did 180 before running out of road, I’m quite confident that the car will do a maximum of about 210 in the right conditions. Of course, more than acceleration and speed runs, most potential Sonata V6 owners might be interested in how comfortable the car is, and here, the car doesn’t fare badly at all. The four-wheel independent set-up – double wishbones at the front, and multi-link at the rear – is configured for ride comfort, and is on the softer side. Occupants are isolated from bumps and thumps over bad terrain, but despite the soft settings, the car tracks straight and true on bad roads, even at relatively higher speeds. For enthusiastic driving, the car would have benefited from tauter settings, but then the ride would be too firm for most, so we’ll say that Hyundai found a good compromise between ride comfort and handling prowess!
Speed in safety
Speaking of high speeds and handling prowess etc, we must mention the fact that the Sonata has a full complement of safety gizmos on board, which allow you to travel at those speeds in relative safety. The car has discs on all wheels, is fitted with ABS, and the brakes are well up to the task of hauling the car down from triple-digit speeds with alacrity! We did a 0-100-0 kph run in 12.59 seconds, which is quite commendable really. The editor, who did quite a few high-speed runs in the V6, reported that he could sense the pedal pulsing under his foot during heavy braking, and that makes the ABS feel a bit ‘last-generation’. That said, the brakes never faltered when called upon to perform.
For those who are given to speeding regardless of weather and/or road conditions, there’s also traction control to keep things from going awry. While doing slalom runs on loose gravely surfaces, I could feel the TC doing its job – cutting in at opportune moments – and stopping the car from going off-trajectory. On the flip side, it was never obtrusive, and we had no complaints about the TC being over-enthusiastic. And even with the TC switched off, the car exhibits only understeer characteristics unless you are going completely mad. Violent changes in direction with the TC switched off (on a loose surface covered with mud and gravel) resulted in the car getting unsettled, but any slides are easily caught with a little twirling of the wheel, so no worries there. The overall feel is more substantial and settled than, say, an Accord or a Camry, but the Merc C-class cars still lead the way when it comes to chassis dynamics.
Let’s come off the subject of speed and handling, and chassis dynamics, and move on to interiors and objects of creature comfort, which is where the V6 scores big. The interiors are lavish – you get beige leather upholstery, chrome touches here and there, and wood-effect plastic inserts over the dash, centre console and steering wheel. The seats – front and rear – are very comfortable, with loads of lateral support at front. The driver’s seat gets electric adjustments, and the steering wheel positioning is also adjustable for height. Overall, interiors are more spacious than a Mercedes C-class car, though the Camry would be even more roomy. And oh, there is loads of space in the boot, so those extended getaways should never be a problem...
A sonorous concerto
At Rs. 16.5 lakh (Ex-Mumbai), the Sonata V6 is a VFM luxury cruiser that’s equally happy pottering around in town or whisking its occupants from one state to another swiftly and safely. There’s a price to pay – don’t expect more than 8-9 kpl from that V6. On the highway, with very careful driving, and if you resist the urge to fiddle around in H-matic mode, that figure may possibly go up to 10, but that’s about it.
The Sonata doesn’t have the badge-appeal and chassis dynamics of a Merc C-Class, or the handsome good looks of a Mondeo, but running the Korean V6 should be as hassle-free as running any in-line four from Japan. Also, since this is a CBU, there should be no quality constraints whatsoever. If a power statement is what you want to make, and if you can afford the fuel bills for it, the Sonata 2.7 V6 could be the right car for you.