For the 2012 Sonata, Hyundai adds a new telematics service (Blue Link), a higher-resolution touchscreen display to the optional navigation system and a panoramic sunroof to the Limited trim level. It has also recalibrated the engines for slightly better fuel economy this year, while this is the first full model year for changes to the steering system that were enacted halfway through last year.
Whether it's the Elantra scrapping with the economy compacts or the Equus trading barbs with encrusted luxo-yachts, Hyundai seemingly has a fighter in every weight class. Among midsize sedans, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata is the Korean automaker's contender. In prior years, the Sonata was nothing more than a midpack player, but that all changed with last year's full redesign, in which the Sonata gained dramatic new styling, new engines and a revamped interior.
Under the hood is a choice of a powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder or, in lieu of a V6, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. With 198 horsepower (200 in SE trim), the base engine will satisfy just about everybody, especially when it returns a very impressive 28 mpg combined when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission. Equally impressive is the turbo engine, which cranks out 274 hp yet still gets nearly identical fuel economy.
Inside, the Sonata is big enough that the EPA deems it a "large" car. Its total passenger volume puts it ahead of every class competitor except the Honda Accord, and its 16.4 cubic feet of trunk space is equally roomy. As is the case with all Hyundais, standard feature content is generous, and it comes at a price that's significantly less than most competitors. The Sonata also stands out in terms of design, as its cabin is attractive and fitted with upscale and easy-to-use controls. This year's model is also notable for the introduction of BlueLink, Hyundai's telematics system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar.
From just about every vantage point, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata presents a clear alternative to the traditional midsize safe bets. It's more dynamic on its feet and in appearance than the Accordor Toyota Camry, and holds the price advantage over solid picks like the Ford Fusion, Mazda 6 and Nissan Altima. Ironically, its toughest competition actually comes from the related Kia Optima, as it matches the Sonata in nearly every way but with a more athletic and striking package. Yet one thing's for sure -- the Sonata is now a true contender for the title belt.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Hyundai Sonata is a midsize family sedan available in GLS, SE and Limited trim levels. Standard equipment on the GLS includes 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, a 60/40-split rear seatback, a trip computer, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an iPod/USB audio interface, an auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel-mounted controls.
The sole optional equipment package for the GLS includes alloy wheels, automatic headlights and an eight-way power driver seat. The sporty SE includes all of the above and adds 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, foglights, a dark chrome grille, a sport-tuned suspension, keyless ignition/entry and leather/cloth upholstery. Opting for the SE with the turbocharged engine also adds dual-zone automatic climate control and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. An optional Navigation and Sunroof package bundles (you guessed it) a navigation system with touchscreen display, a rearview camera, premium Infinity speakers and a sunroof.
The plush Sonata Limited has all the SE's features, but substitutes 17-inch alloy wheels, a cushier suspension and full leather upholstery. It also gains side mirror turn signal repeaters, a panoramic sunroof, heated seats (front and rear), dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an upgraded audio system (with HD radio) and unique interior accents. The turbocharged Limited variant adds 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The Limited's sole optional package bundles the navigation system with the touchscreen display, a back-up camera and premium Infinity speakers.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard Sonata engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 198 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. The dual-exhaust SE makes slightly more power at 200 hp and 186 lb-ft. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the GLS, while a six-speed automatic is optional on that trim and standard on the SE and Limited. Sonatas sold in California-emission states can have PZEV emissions certification, though output drops slightly to 190 hp.
A powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque is available on SE and Limited models. The six-speed automatic is standard.
In Edmunds performance testing, a 2.4-liter GLS Sonata with automatic transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. The 2.0-liter turbo with automatic transmission is significantly quicker, making the same dash in 6.7 seconds. Both times are quick for the midsize sedan segment.
The Sonata's EPA fuel economy estimates are equally impressive. The 2.4-liter engine is rated at 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 28 combined, regardless of transmission. The 2.0-liter turbo, despite its significant boost in power, returns a very impressive 22/34/26 mpg.
All 2012 Hyundai Sonatas come equipped with antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, front seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and BlueLink emergency telematics.
In government testing, the Sonata earned a top five-star rating for overall crash protection, four out of five stars for front-impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Hyundai Sonata earned a top rating of "Good" for frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength protection.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Sonata GLS came to a stop from 60 mph in 128 feet. A 2.0-liter turbo model with wider tires stopped slightly shorter at 120 feet. Both stopping distances are average for cars in this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Sonata feels as well built inside as it does out. The dash and center stack meld together in a seamless flow, while trapezoidal vents, sharp blue backlighting and, on some models, brushed-metal style trim pieces create an environment that looks both modern and upscale. Knobs, switches and controls operate with a feel and precision befitting a more expensive car, while the Limited trim -- with its available two-tone color schemes, piano-black trim and padded door panels -- is particularly appealing.
This year's new high-resolution touchscreen adds clarity and vibrancy to an already intuitive system for operating and viewing climate control, navigation, audio and phone functions. Also new is the new BlueLink telematics service, which, similar to OnStar, offers services like emergency crash response, remote opening of door locks, turn-by-turn navigation and speed and curfew limits for younger drivers.
Classified as a large car, the Sonata offers enough room for four adults to stretch out. Five can make do on shorter trips. But in our experience, headroom both front and rear is merely adequate, and 6-foot-tall passengers in back may find their heads bumping the ceiling due to the Sonata's sloped roof line.
The 2012 Hyundai Sonata strikes a perfectly acceptable balance between comfort and confidence. Its chassis and suspension are taut, but not enough to transmit the road's every bump and rumble. Drivers seeking a measure of sport can opt for the SE, although its sharper handling capabilities don't really justify its rougher, bumpier ride. The Sonata's steering is OK but doesn't transmit much road feel.
On the move, the 2.4-liter engine provides thoroughly respectable acceleration for a four-cylinder midsize sedan. Gearshifts from the automatic transmission are seamless and drama-free. The manual transmission is fairly unexceptional, and we recommend the automatic. Power delivery from the turbocharged engine is smooth and linear, with no detectable turbo lag. That it returns excellent fuel economy is icing on the cake.