A guessing game to start this road test. Try this... upper medium size saloon, refined 2 litre 16 valve engine, aircon, power everything, ABS, airbag, smooth automatic gearbox.... £20,000 ?... more ?... how does a pound change from £15,000 sound. It sounds to me like an absolute bargain and that is just what the newly launched Hyundai Sonata is.

All of which perhaps explains why the dealer had emblazoned the test car with 6 inch high graphics proclaiming the price, if you can sell that much car for that little money you sure want to shout about it. Unfortunately it spoilt my wife's usual guessing game of giving a price as soon as she climbs into each test car, a game at which she is so accurate that I suspect she may be descended from car or horse dealers.

The new Sonata range is yet another example of the increasingly good cars appearing from the Pacific nations, bang up to date in design and technology, a bigger version of the equally loaded and hugely successful Lantra, a sales success which seems destined to be repeated by the new Sonata.

Firmly in the upper medium size executive saloon market place, the Sonata CD offers everything that the competition can offer at very much lower cost, a price tag of under £15,000 being quite remarkable for a car of this undoubted quality, the marginally less well equipped GLX being a thousand pounds cheaper.

Hyundai is one of the world's largest ship, locomotive and power station builders as well as a huge producer of cars, trucks and buses and is set to become one of the world's big league car makers over the next ten years, a feat that will be easily achieved if this latest offering is any guide.

The third car to bear the Sonata name since the top range was launched in 1989, the latest version is clothed in a sleek, smart and very roomy new body with a softly rounded look and very well built.

The Sonata could reasonably be described as opulent, with limousine like interior space standards, offering exceptional head and leg room, a cavernous boot, very high quality cloth trim, nice wood cappings and a quite exceptional standard specification list which includes power steering, air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking, tilt and slide electric roof, an excellent, 4 speaker, stereo, chunky alloy wheels, ABS, tilt adjustable column, an airbag and an alarm system.

Big, fully adjustable, seats cosset the owner while he reflects on the amount of money remaining in his bank account after the relatively painless task of buying the car. With 4 ranges of adjustment and a tilt adjustable steering wheel a good driving position is easily set facing a very clear, rounded dash set with large, white on black, instruments.

Power, lots of it and quietly delivered, comes from a new 2.0 litre, 16 valve, double overhead cam, engine which is a 139 bhp derivative of that fitted to the smaller Lantra, a sophisticated and svelte engine that pushes the large car along with ease and makes long distance cruising an effortless task, both a high cruising speed and a fairly rapid 0-60 dash being achievable particularly when the whisper smooth autobox is used in the sport mode.

Equipped with a 5 speed manual gearbox as standard I drove the dual range, 4 speed with overdrive, autobox version and found it well suited to the wide torque spread of the engine.

With an extensively revised suspension set up from earlier cars, the ride is now a little stiffer than before yet the handling / ride compromise continues to be fairly well weighted in favour of ride comfort for long distance travel but not all sportiness has been dialled out. For a fairly large car the Sonata is still reasonably taut and precise, the wide track and the chunky, 195 /70, tyres improving grip considerably. Braking is by a substantial vented disc/disc set up.

The newly launched Sonata offers big car comforts and specification at a small car price, it is extremely well equipped, well built and well engineered with the long warranties indicative of a car maker confidant in the quality of it's product. It's sure to be a big seller just as the Lantra has been.


  • PRICE £14, 999
  • 0-60 13 SECONDS
  • 66 MPG [ CONSTANT 56 MPH ]

First Published 1994 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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