True Hyundai purists will argue that the second generation Sonata is the original Sonata. The first Sonata, introduced in 1985, was nothing more than a revised Stellar with an upgraded engine. It was never sold in the US market due to not meeting emission standards. After only two years, Hyundai discontinued the Sonata due to poor sales. However, as Hyundai expanded in the US, it revived the Sonata name for its family sedan. While later generations of the Sonata were competent, they still fell prey to the stereotype of Korean cars: cheap, boring, rubbish. It was not until the fifth generation (2004-2009) that the Sonata became a real contender in the midsize sedan class. Boasting great value for the money, the fifth generation aimed to compete against the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry while offering great value for the money.
Many people consider the styling boring and unexciting. However, I feel it is restrained and appealing. The front is minimal in details with a simple grille and bumper design. The random strip of chrome on top of the grille awkwardly sticks out. In contrast to the latest Sonata’s swoopy roofline, this 2008 Sonata is more upright and conventional. As with the front, it is conservative. The dual exhausts are a nice touch. The utilitarian interior leaves much to be desired. It may not be a stunner, but the Sonata’s styling is tasteful, and it has aged well over the years.
One of the reasons Hyundais always had bad reputations was not just because they were unexciting to look at, but also because they were boring to drive. While it is far better than the older Hyundais, it still lacks agility. Copious body lean and relentless understeer contribute to its lack of agility. The soft suspension means it does not stay planted as you would expect, and it dives a little too much under braking. The steering feels detached with no road feel, and it is overly light. The tradeoff for the handling is a decent ride quality. Occupants are well isolated from most bumps. Only on poor surfaces, it becomes unsettled.
With less than 3,500 lbs to haul, the 235 horsepower 3.3 liter V6 engine has no problem getting to speed. Acceleration is quick with 0-60 mph in around seven seconds. Abundant torque (for a family sedan) means merging or overtaking is effortless. The five speed automatic transmission is responsive although it can be abrupt in downshifting. Lesser versions of the Sonata are available with a 162 horsepower 2.4 liter engine.
As for refinement, there was one noticeable flaw, and I’ve noticed this in its twin, the Kia Optima. The suspension clangs and rattles on anything but smooth roads. Other than that, it is quiet inside. The V6 becomes raspy when pressed.
The interior is where the Sonata really shines. Even though it may not feel luxurious, the interior displays excellent fit and finish. All the controls are logically laid out. It is easy to get comfortable. Slim pillars make for excellent visibility. The cloth seats feel slightly too firm for my comfort. I suspect the leather seats would be more comfortable. There is enough headroom and legroom to satisfy most people. The rear seat is roomy as is the trunk. The only real problem I have with the interior are the air vents and I have read this in car magazines as well. The air conditioning vents are mounted way too low. On a hot and sunny afternoon, this proved problematic because no matter how high they were raised, they kept directing air to my hands and not to my face. Cabin storage is plentiful.
This Sonata reminds me of a Toyota Camry. Its mission is to provide a point A to point B in a relaxing and unobtrusive manner. The thing is, I like this so much more than the Camry. I actually like this better than the 2011 Sonata that I reviewed. Whereas the Camry feels completely devoid of any enjoyment in terms of styling or driving dynamics, the Sonata fares better in this aspect. While unexciting, the styling is classy and appealing. It is not sporty in any way but then again, in the family sedan market, all buyers are looking for are a comfortable ride and a roomy cabin. The Sonata delivers on this note. It has more than enough space for a family of five, and the ride is serene. The value you get for your money is fantastic. With a sunroof and the V6, the Sonata would have cost less than $25,000 brand new while still offering the same equipment as its rivals costing at least five thousand more. Now, that is a bargain.