2015 Hyundai Sonata first drive review: It’s not just a car; it’s a community

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It’s hard to believe that the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) plant has been around for nearly a decade. HMMA is Hyundai’s first U.S.  manufacturing facility, and it is a testament to what a company and people can do, not only when it comes to building cars, but also when it comes to building a community. Yes, this is a review for the all-new 2015 Hyundai Sonata, which is built at the HMMA plant in Montgomery, Alabama, but it’s impossible to talk about this sedan without including the facility in which it’s built, the team members that make it happen, and the thriving community that exists because of it.

MY15 Hyundai SonataHMMA employs around 3,000 team members, produces almost 400,000 vehicles a year, and is heavily invested in the community and its people. So much so, that the downtown and surrounding areas of Montgomery have been revitalized because of Hyundai’s presence, although everyone we asked at Hyundai is too humble to take credit for it. Not only has this plant brought jobs and security to the area, it’s also brought 35 tier-one suppliers to 17 counties in Alabama, increased employment opportunities and infused cash into what was once a community in need. And while some may say that the state of Alabama conceded tax breaks and other benefits to Hyundai, from what we’ve seen, any state would be crazy not to do the same.

HMMASo how does this affect the Sonata? For one, HMMA has created an atmosphere where its team members are well trained, respected, and appreciated. Hyundai’s goal for HMMA is to be the world’s best plant. And we know that because it’s painted in giant blue letters on the outside of the administration building for everyone to see. It’s not a magic formula; when you put people first, the rest falls into place. By making the team members happy, you create a positive working environment, which in turn helps to produce the highest-quality product.

The Sonata sedan is a core product in Hyundai’s lineup, which is why making it the best it could be is so important. It’s the brand’s second best-selling vehicle behind Elantra and, combined, they account for almost two-thirds of total sales. This is the seventh generation Sonata, marking a milestone 30 years in production, but is a few ticks shy of that in the U.S., as it didn’t appear on our shores until the 1989 model year.

MY15 Hyundai SonataHyundai is the first to admit that the 2015 Sonata is not a revolutionary sedan, nor was it intended to be. This generation is about refinement and tightening up the overall package. For example, looking at the exterior design, Hyundai’s familiar “fluidic sculpture” is taken a step further. Hyundai designers previously did a great job with Sonata to establish a family look, get noticed, and take it to a global level. For 2015, the Sonata theme is “Inner Force,” where the designers refine the aesthetic, focus on the premium experience, and step up quality.

Outside, the new Sonata has all the familiar cues, such as strong surface areas, its signature “Sabre” or side character line that runs from the headlights to rear shoulder, and narrow taillamps that wrap around from the rear quarter panel. It’s attractive, familiar, and contemporary. It may not necessarily stand out in a crowded parking lot, and that’s okay. Looking at the long list of players in this segment, the Ford Fusion still has the lead when it comes to love at first sight. But we all know that true beauty stands the test of time, and several years from now, the Sonata will still be attractive. Both the Sonata and Fusion have a low 0.27 coefficient of drag, which speaks volumes about their sleek design and attention to how styling affects aerodynamics and fuel economy.

MY15 Hyundai SonataWhile the Sonata’s exterior may seem familiar, the interior — compared to the previous generation — seems light years ahead. The console is wider, the steering wheel more ergonomic, and the instrument design is cleaner and more upscale. It’s obvious Hyundai has been paying attention to the details, and some of the knowledge gained from its Genesis high-end sedan has trickled down to the Sonata. The stitching on the dash is tight and refined, the leather seats are comfortable and supportive, and materials are on par with more expensive rides.