DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Looking back at our first drive of the Sonata Eco, one sentence stands out: “Hyundai readily admits they don’t expect to sell a lot of Eco variants.”
Really? As we discovered in that first drive, the Sonata Eco is an extraordinarily nice midsize sedan, well-equipped and capable of delivering outstanding fuel economy with very few sacrifices, all for a sticker price well under $30K. If Hyundai doesn't sell a lot of Sonata Ecos, the engineers who worked so hard to make this car as good as it is should institute a hostile takeover of the marketing department.
If you’ve read up on the new Sonata at all, you know the cabin gets a vaguely Teutonic restyle with high-quality materials throughout. Assembly quality is outstanding, too -- panel gaps are tight and fit/finish is impeccable, and the cockpit is luxury-car quiet. There’s also copious rear-seat room and a huge trunk. My only wish is that the steering column had more telescoping range -- I had to adopt a more outstretched arm position than I prefer
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: What’s this, a key?! And one you actually have to put into the ignition! And turn it! And gears you have to engage yourself! How charmingly old school.Seriously, the Honda ...
The styling is still somewhat unique, save for the rear which was clearly borrowed from Toyota (or did Toyota borrow from Hyundai? Either is possible these days); it’s a refinement of the previous-generation Sonata’s coupe/sedan profile, and where it’s less dramatic it’s also more coherent. One styling note that may or may not sit well with some customers is the required 16-inch wheel, shod in the case of our tester with 65 series rubber. The tall sidewall gives the Sonata Eco a very ’80s vibe in the wheel wells, but we suspect they also contribute to the excellent ride and low levels of road and tire noise inside.
I’m still not a fan of dual-clutch transmissions in “normal” cars -- they’re just not as smooth as a good torque-converter box in stop-and-go traffic and city driving. The Sonata Eco has excellent transmission tuning but still suffers from some of the DCT weirdnesses -- lack of creep/roll when starting out, difficulty inching into parking spaces and the occasional judder when you manage to fool the programming. Still, once underway this is a great gearbox, and if it contributes as much as Hyundai claims to the fuel economy it's worth getting accustomed to. It also really helps eke the most out of the little turbo four -- never did I feel like the Eco was underpowered or struggling.
Midsize sedan shoppers willing to consider a Hyundai really need to drive the Sonata Eco, and not because it’s a high-mileage aero special. It’s just a really good sedan, priced well and nicely equipped -- the fact that it’s capable of 38 mpg highway is gravy.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco's sub-200 hp output is more than ample.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I only had one night to experience the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco, but I did manage to fit in a fairly wide range of driving modes, from stop-and-go commuting to open expressway cruising. On the open road, the Sonata’s sub-200 hp output is more than ample. Stop-and-go, you’re going to experience the initial split second of lag that seems to be symptomatic of a turbocharged engine/dual-clutch powertrain.
We looked past that lag in our long-term Audi S7; I’m more than willing to give Hyundai a break here, especially if any of us are able to achieve near-stated fuel economy.
Besides, there are a lot of things to like on this car, and a lot of ways in which the 2015 redesign really improves on the already-competent previous model. Steering feel and feedback, for one. You do still feel like you’re leading the car at times, and Hyundai’s engineers haven’t completely exorcised that synthetic-ness. Yet the horrific dead spots are gone, and so too is the need for constant input to keep the car pointed in a straight line or holding a corner.
I didn’t really care for the styling of the previous Sonata with its busy swoops and scallops, but this take seems a semi-retreat that brings car’s lines dangerously close to the safety of blandness. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I guess -- and I would call the ’15 Sonata a handsome car in any case. That goes for the interior, too.
Even with its shortcomings, I still found last year’s Sonata to be a good value for the vast majority of people who purchase and drive cars. The 2015 Sonata Eco doesn’t have the most character of any vehicle on the road, and it’s not exactly a blast to throw around or anything, but it does seemed to have learned from -- and improved upon -- its predecessor in nearly every way I could have asked it to.
Would a Volkswagen Jetta GLI be more fun to drive? Yeah, but good luck getting one with this suite of features for under $30,000.
Our test 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco was loaded with the tech package adding an 8-inch touchscreen and much more.
2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco
Options: Tech package including blind spot detection system with rear cross-traffic alert, hands-free smart trunk opener, proximity key entry with push button start, chrome exterior door handles with welcome light, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leatherette interior door panel inserts, heated front seats, dual automatic temperature control, auto up and down front passenger window, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and HomeLink, electroluminescent gauges with 4.2-inch color LCD display, navigation with 8-inch touchscreen display, SiriusXM travel link with 90-day trial, Dimension premium speakers with subwoofer and amplifier ($4,100); carpeted floor mats ($125); cargo tray ($115); wheel locks ($55); cargo net ($50); first aid kit ($30)
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