Hall and Oates’s “She’s Gone” was a minor hit when it was first released as a radio single in 1974. However, it wasn’t until the song was rereleased in 1976 that it finally made its way toward the top of the Billboard charts and sealed its place in popular music history. Similarly, one might consider Hyundai’s refreshed 2018 Sonata the brand’s rerelease of its seventh-generation mid-size sedan that was launched for the 2015 model year. That Sonata was a nice enough family four-door that failed to catch on with the buying public in the same way that its slinkier predecessor did; Hyundai is hoping this updated version will climb higher up the sales charts.
In Hyundai’s attempt to bolster the Sonata’s sales, the company reworked almost every exterior element forward of the A-pillars. The front end’s more muscular maw blends Hyundai’s new cascading grille design with an aggressive lower fascia, new headlights, and a reshaped hood. The rear is thoroughly reworked, too, with a new trunklid, taillights, and rear bumper.
Meanwhile, Hyundai lightly retouched the Sonata’s interior. A new center stack retains its intuitive layout but employs knobs and controls of a higher-quality feel, while the driver grips a new three-spoke steering wheel.
Along with last year’s SE, Eco, Sport, Limited, Sport 2.0T, and Limited 2.0T trims, the 2018 Sonata is also available in a new SEL trim. Positioned above the $22,935 SE and the $23,535 Eco, the $24,585 SEL comes standard with a proximity key and push-button start, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a USB port for the rear passenger compartment. A 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, automatic headlights, and a blind-spot monitoring system are standard on all trim levels.
Opting for the SEL also opens up the options sheet to active-safety features such as automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control, all of which can be added as part of the reasonably priced $1000 Tech package. Previously these features were reserved for the pricey Limited and Limited 2.0T. Unfortunately, Hyundai still doesn’t offer these driver aids on the SE, Eco, Sport, or Sport 2.0T. Meanwhile, similar features are standard equipment on all versions of the 2018 Honda Accord and the 2018 Toyota Camry.
Nonhybrid 2018 Sonatas are motivated by the same trio of four-cylinder engines as before: a 178-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter, a 185-hp 2.4-liter, and a 245-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter. The smaller turbo is reserved solely for the Eco trim and is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The 2.4-liter again pairs with a six-speed automatic, but the 2.0T trades its previous six-speed for a new eight-speed unit.
On the curvy mountain roads and flat highways east of La Jolla, California, the 2.0T’s new eight-speed gearbox was a gem and proved to be a willing partner even when left to its own devices. A new Smart mode automatically switches among Comfort, Eco, and Sport programming based on conditions and driving style, allowing the transmission to hold gears when the throttle is pinned but also quickly shifting to higher gears in the interest of fuel economy when just cruising. Since Sport mode tends to hold gears for too long in normal driving situations, we appreciated the Smart mode’s ability to automatically serve up the best gear for the situation. No matter the driving mode, though, the transmission swaps cogs with little to no noticeable drivetrain lash. The 2.0T’s chunky paddle shifters mounted to the flat-bottom steering wheel provide the option of manual control of the ratios; both the steering wheel and paddle shifters also are available on the Sonata Sport with the 2.4-liter.
The new transmission isn’t likely to make the 2.0T significantly quicker, but it does raise the EPA fuel-economy numbers to 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, up from 22/31 mpg. The quickest and most efficient Sonata probably will be the Eco; Hyundai expects that model to match the fuel-economy figures of the 2017 version, which is rated at 28/36 mpg. Meanwhile, the 2.4-liter’s EPA ratings are unchanged at 25/36 (35 mpg for the Sport Limited).
As in years past, the Sonata proved comfortable and quiet but isn’t particularly engaging to drive. Although all 2018 Sonatas have rear trailing arms that are a hair thicker than before, we didn’t notice any significant changes to the car’s ride or handling characteristics, and the softly sprung Hyundai leans heavily in turns. The revised electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering system makes for a less artificial feel at lower speeds. The steering doesn’t offer much feedback, but the 2.0T’s provides more natural weighting at higher speeds.
Although the wrapping has changed, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata is a lot like the 2017 Sonata. Still big and comfortable, this is an adept family hauler thanks to its sizable back seat and large trunk. We’d like to see the model’s advanced safety features expanded to more trim levels, and we’d also vote to make the Sonata Eco available with more standard or optional safety and convenience items. Hyundai may consider the 2018 Sonata its best yet, but the Alabama-built sedan still feels like it needs more of a remix to challenge the genre’s best.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
BASE PRICES: SE, $22,935;
Sport 2.0T, $28,485;
Limited 2.0T, $33,335
ENGINE TYPES: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 1.6-liter inline-4, 178 hp, 195 lb-ft; DOHC 16-valve 2.4-liter inline-4, 185 hp, 178 lb-ft; turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 245 hp, 260 lb-ft
TRANSMISSIONS: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode, 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 110.4 in
Length: 191.1 in
Width: 73.4 in Height: 58.1 in
Passenger volume: 106 cu ft
Trunk volume: 16 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3250–3550 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 6.5–7.1 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 18.0–18.5 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.2–15.5 sec
Top speed: 130–145 mph
EPA combined/city/highway: 26–31/23–28/32–37 mpg