2013 Hyundai Sonata road test: Family transportation with a flair

2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited

The importance of strong, memorable design in high-volume, mainstream automobiles is probably nowhere more evident than in the 2013 Hyundai Sonata.

The current generation Sonata first reached showrooms as a 2011 model, replacing a reasonably competent sedan that was so blandly conservative it probably no longer registers in the minds of many family-car buyers.

Hyundai Sonata front seats

Hyundai Sonata front seats

When the 2011 Sonata arrived, however, its dramatically different design caught the attention of the buying public and soon other Hyundai models began to feature what Hyundai calls fluidic sculpture.

By the end of the year, sales of the Sonata put it in third place among mid-size sedans, behind Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Typical of automobiles when they reach their mid-life crisis age, the Sonata slid to fifth place by the end of 2012, behind  the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion.

Still it had captured 9.7 percent of the mid-size market and recorded its best-ever residual value of 60 percent.

Flush with the Sonata’s newfound attention and subsequent sales success, the Korean manufacturer has had little need to make any significant changes through the first three years of its life.

Hyundai Sonata rear seats

Hyundai Sonata rear seats

Not surprisingly, then, there isn’t a whole lot new to report about the 2013 model. On the top-of-the-line Sonata Limited I drove, a traditional sunroof is now standard and a panoramic sunroof is part of the Limited Premium Package.

But what is most important about the 2013 Hyundai Sonata is not the few extras that have been added onto a car already loaded with amenities. It’s the hardware the vehicle began with and still employs today.

Let’s start with the engine.  Departing from the practice of its competitors,  Hyundai  has eliminated an optional V-6 engine from its Sonata and offers a four-cylinder powerplant in all of its trim levels.

The Sonata Limited is powered by a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, direct-injection engine that produces 198 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It is powerful enough that it is unlikely anyone will really miss the V-6.

Teamed with the standard six-speed automatic transmission, it can propel the Limited from a stop to 60 mph in about 8 seconds, and, in normal driving,  return an EPA estimated 24 mpg of regular unleaded gasoline around town and 35 mpg on the open road. In my week with a Sonata Limited, I averaged between 25 and 30 mpg.

Under full acceleration, the engine delivers typically strained four-cylinder-engine noises, but at cruising speeds it is smooth and quiet.