By BOB GRITZINGER, Contributing Editor | @bobgritzinger We channel what’s…
Hyundai invited Be Car Chic to be among the first 100 journalists to experience the new 2015 Sonata. We ventured to Montgomery, Alabama to meet the latest from the Korean manufacturer in the midst of a bustling year of new product introductions for the company.
Montgomery is rich in history in many aspects, and one recent piece of their revitalization is the job base and economic impact that Hyundai Motor Manufacturing America (HMMA) has on the community.
Providing more than 3,000 local jobs, Hyundai runs three shifts of production to keep up with sales demand.
During a tour through the plant, we learned that every 10 minutes workers switch up what function they’re serving in the general assembly process. This helps to reduce worker fatigue and arthritis due to repetitive motions and strain on certain body parts.
The positive mood at the Montgomery plant is contagious. One can see the dedication that employees have in their daily responsibilities and tasks. Messages to encourage and remind employees that the level of excellence begins with them are proudly displayed throughout the property.
The coolest part of the trip? Getting to drive a recently-built 2015 Hyundai Sonata off the assembly line and out the factory door.
Driving on the Backroads
We ventured north of Montgomery for foothills and curvier roads to put the new Sonata to the test. My driving partner and I started out in the base Sport model, which came stocked with 17-inch alloy wheels, a sporty front fascia with LED daytime running lights, and dual exhaust.
The Sport model also gets a 2.4L GDI 4-cylinder engine paired with a six speed automatic transmission. That engine is expected to be the most-selling across the SE, Sport and Limited trim levels, but we found it to be a bit underpowered in the “get-up-and-go kind of way”. (But to be fair, as speed junkies, auto journalists won’t likely settle for the base of anything. We are spoiled with speed and love a good turbocharged engine that gives a good off-the-line jolt…more on that shortly.)
Thankfully, on the drive back from our mid-point destination, we quenched our thirst for torque in the Sport 2.0T, painted in a beautiful metallic orange called “Urban Sunset”. The Sport 2.0T comes with paddle shifters, a turbocharged four cylinder engine, sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels in a unique design, and quad exhaust tips.
The drive was much more responsive in the 2.0T; however, we couldn’t tell much difference when driving the Sport model in “Sport” mode as the steering settings seemed to already be configured to maximize the desired outcome in that drive mode. In the base Sport model we drove, the steering in Normal and Eco mode was a bit vague for our tastes, encouraging our driving it primarily in Sport.
Our only complaint about the Sport 2.0T is that it could have benefited from a bit more editing in the chrome accent department. We would ditch the chrome handles and on the rocker panels. When it comes to chrome accents, especially when paired with a vibrant color like orange, less is often more.
Design Aesthetic on the 7th Gen Sonata
Hyundai peeled back some of its swoopy designs from the outgoing model. There are still connections to the 6th generation Sonata, however, but it mostly looks like a blend between the 5th gen’s squared-off design and the outgoing model’s extreme curves – both inside and out. Perhaps the swoopy style was too polarizing for the mass market, but Hyundai reports that its stand-out-from-the-pack design helped attract new buyers.
The 2015 Sonata is a bit more streamlined with straighter lines that resemble its competition closely enough but without being redundant. We prefer the updates to the exterior, save for some of the chrome trim on the Sport 2.0T’s rocker panels, but we’d like to see a less simplified interior on the lower trim levels to keep an interesting aesthetic.
Positioning in the Market
The 2015 Sonata is smack-dab in the middle of the competition in size and stature. Where it aims to beat the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima and others, is with its impressive interior room, fuel economy, and price tag. In fact, the starting MSRP from MY2014 to MY2015 has dropped $300 to $21,150 in spite of the addition of these standard features: LED DRL, driver knee airbag, rear lip spoiler, height adjustable passenger seat, and a driver blind spot mirror.
Hyundai is aggressively tackling its competition through conquest sales and price cutting, while continuing to excel in industry standards. Ranking fourth – sitting below only Porsche, Jaguar and Lexus – the brand recently earned recognition from J.D. Power and Associates as part of its 2014 Initial Quality Study. Hyundai’s dealers are doing well, too, jumping from the 11th spot to number five in J.D. Power’s Sales Satisfaction Index Study.
Who’s buying the 2015 Sonata?
Hyundai’s demographics have changed dramatically since sales of the Sonata first began in the U.S. The median age Sonata buyer has reduced from 61 to 56 years old, while nearly 50 percent of buyers have a college education and an average household income of more than $81,000 annually.
We can’t wait to see how the 2015 Hyundai Sonata sells. Can it beat its 2013 sales of nearly 204,000 units? The 2014 Sonata comprises of about 30 percent of all Hyundai sales, second only to Elantra, so we think it’s possible. With the value and reputation for being a reliable brand with a focus on the consumer, Hyundai continues to impress us with the strides its making in the industry overall.
Disclaimer: Hyundai paid for one contributor to attend and cover the launch of this vehicle. Travel, accommodations, meals, and branded gifts (“swag”) were provided as part of this event. While we appreciate all that manufacturers do to ensure our safe travels and creature comforts while participating in such a program, we remain committed to sharing our honest opinion on and evaluation of their vehicles.