Why We Bought It
We were blown away by the Hyundai Sonata's performance in our comparison test against the best-selling Honda Accord and Toyota Camry midsize sedans. With a self-imposed $22,000 price limit, we were able to ramp up a Sonata with a more powerful engine and a long list of standard features, including a premium stereo package. For the same money, the Accord and Camry could only offer four-cylinder versions with cloth interior.
But it wasn't just the Sonata's value that impressed us. Hyundai had turned out an attractive midsize family sedan with fit and finish that could rival the Japanese benchmarks. To see if it could stand the test of time, we acquired a Hyundai Sonata LX and set out to give it a true beating over the period of one year. Even after adding an optional sunroof and six-disc CD changer, the MSRP of our Sonata was still under $25,000.
How It Drove
With a 3.3-liter 235-horsepower V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission, the Sonata was often the sedan of choice when staffers wanted a no-brainer commute. Its smooth shifting, light steering and comfortable seats made for a nice relaxing ride.
And it has held up over time. We track tested the Sonata at the beginning and end of our year and it offered similar performance numbers even after getting a little long in the tooth. At the beginning of our term, the Sonata ran a 0-to-60-mph time of 7.6 seconds. After more than 18,000 miles of hard-earned service, the Sonata ran 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Different test drivers on different days but consistent performance nonetheless. Likewise for braking performance, the Sonata's four-wheel disc brakes stopped the car from 60-0 mph in 125 feet at both ends of our year.
We were disappointed in the Sonata's overall fuel consumption, however. EPA fuel economy estimates were optimistic at 20 city/30 highway. Even on highway trips, we never neared 30 mpg. Our best ever tank of gas was only 26 mpg and that was rare. At its worst, we got less than 12 mpg. Our average fuel mileage over the entire year was just 19.7 mpg. Our current V6 Camry long-termer is earning mpg numbers in the mid-20s on average.
Inside the Cabin
Redesigned for 2006, the Hyundai Sonata got a first-class interior makeover. Spacious and quiet, the Sonata's cabin received raves from our staff. Logbook entries called out the "improved soft-touch materials" and "overall feeling of refinement" for a car in this price range.
While some drivers complained about the unnaturally high position of the driver seat, it's not something buyers now need to worry about, as Hyundai has lowered the seat on the 2007 model. Legroom was impressive, however, with a class-leading 43.7 inches in front and a competitive 37.4 inches for rear passengers. Long trips were no problem with that much space for family members to wiggle their tootsies. A shout-out also goes to the Sonata's 16.3-cubic-foot trunk. That's almost on par with the Toyota Camry and over two cubes more than the Honda Accord offers. Stuffing it full of beach chairs or groceries was never a problem.
One nitpicky mention: Many of our staffers took issue with the odd placement of the audio and A/C controls on the center stack. They are in opposite positions with the stereo placed too high and the air vents too low. We never got used to this arrangement and we hope Hyundai swaps them in its next redesign.
Despite its so-so fuel economy figures, the Sonata was an enjoyable car to have in our fleet. Here's a typical logbook quote, "Every time I take this car out, I'm reminded of how right Hyundai got it. The Sonata's plush, quiet cabin and effortless performance continue to impress me. It's the perfect commuter and family car, something relaxing to drive home in that makes dealing with oppressive traffic that much easier."
True Market Value at service end: $16,963*
Depreciation: $7,332 or 30% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 18,685
Best Fuel Economy: 26.1 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 11.9 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 19.7 mpg
Total Body Repair Costs: None.
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $92.84
Additional Maintenance Costs: $702.04
Warranty Repairs: None.
Non-Warranty Repairs: 2
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Days Out of Service: 3
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None.
* Based on Private Party TMV Resale Price
Changes to the Sonata Since 2006
2007 — Hyundai has changed some of the Sonata's trim level designations: GL becomes GLS and the top-of-the-line LX becomes Limited. A sporty SE trim has been added for the new year. All Hyundai Sonata engines now meet ULEV (ultra-low-emission vehicle) standards. And the steering-wheel-mounted audio controls now allow for surfing station presets instead of just volume.
Ups and Downs
Ups: Spacious cabin, smooth ride, lot of features at a nice price.
Downs: Below-average fuel-efficiency, some center console design flaws.
The Bottom Line: The 2006 Hyundai Sonata is the car that raised Hyundai's status as a carmaker. The Sonata gives the midsize thoroughbreds, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, a run for their money.
Recalls and Problem History
Recalls: There were four recalls issued during our year with the Sonata but none affected our car. There were also 30 technical service bulletins issued for the Sonata, a high number for one year. You can read the details by plugging into our Maintenance Schedules, Recalls and Technical Service Bulletins tool.
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