In many ways, the Sonata has been a big underachiever in India. It is one of the better selling cars from Hyundai worldwide, and one of the best selling ones in China, the world’s biggest automobile market.But that has not been sufficient for it to break the India jinx: customers do not want a premium car from a successful small car company. Maruti tried to break the shackles with its ambitious Kizashi last year — and failed signally. That has not put off Hyundai, though. Unveiled at the New Delhi Auto Expo in January, Hyundai’s new Sonata hits the showrooms next week. Does it have enough meat to turn the tide?
The premium sedan segment is replete with good looking cars. From the giant Honda Accord to the serious looking Volkswagen Passat or the really superb Skoda Superb, each model has oodles of attitude and tonnes of charm. It is no mean achievement, then, that the new Sonata actually comes as a breath of fresh air. Its nearly 5-metre length gave designers ample scope to play around. The wide stance and chiselled look give it a brutish look.
The wide grille and the sweeping headlamps demand attention. And the rear elicits memories of an even more premium Audi A6 — which can only be a good thing. On the flip side — the chrome looks a bit overdone, and from some quarters the fluidic design gets oppressive. Just a reminder that nothing is perfect.
The interiors are a significantimprovement on the previous, dated looks. Ample space, loaded to the gills with features, a rear camera and parking sensor just the same as the Verna... Space is also more than adequate, and the two-tone shades are pleasing. Do note biege on the steering wheel (below): quite impressive. Fit and finish are almost on a par with Honda. Only one obvious glitch: the A-pillars are big, so is the blind spot. So be warned, if you are attempting a quick U-turn.
Handling, and drive
The big surprise... both positive and negative. Handling has always been the forte of the Germans and the French. But round the bends and corners, the Sonata turns out to be a very composed animal without compromising on the ride quality. It is a big wide car, so cornering is not for the weak-hearted. But those who are up for it will have fun.
The other surprise: no diesel engine, not anymore. And that may go a long way in determining its fortunes in India. The Sonata is now powered by a 2.4-litre direct injection gasoline engine, the most powerful among petrol sedans, and the most torquey. But it does miss out on the fuel efficiency of VW Passat, which now comes only in diesel.
The engine is refined, and thanks to the 6-speed gearbox there is ample power all through. The catch is that on a long drive, it becomes boringly comfortable after a while; the driver in you may start looking over the shoulder.
It may be argued that in this category, fuel economy should not be a consideration. Someone willing to spend R20 lakh on a car would not surely bat an eyelid at tanking up. A diesel engine doles out almost 5 kmpl more than Sonata’s petrol engine, though it is on par with other petrol sedans. On the other hand, a diesel sedan in this class costs about R5 lakh more. At the current fuel price differential, one would need to drive almost 1.7 lakh km to bridge that cost gap.
The joy of driving a turbo charged diesel, however, is priceless.
Diesel hatchback: what to buy?
I have a Maruti swift (petrol) that has done about 65,000 km. My usage has increased in the last two years, to 60-70 kms a day. I would like to buy a diesel car, preferably a hatchback as a sedan won’t fit my garage. What car would you suggest in terms of brand & quality. Please also suggest a diesel sedan.
HT: Ironically the best diesel car in that segment remains the Swift. However, if you are bored of its look or daunted by the long waiting period, you could look at either VW Polo or Skoda Fabia, which are similar in many ways, or Nissan Micra/Renault Pulse. Swift apart, Polo diesel seems to be the best bet.
How to choose a mid-sized car
Can you tell me how to choose a car in the R4-5 lakh range? What are the things to consider before buying a car? My priority is low maintenance, good mileage and a good service network.
Laxmikanta Pradhan, Bhubaneswar
HT: There are quite a few cars that you will get in the R4-5 lakh range, though all would be petrol. The best are Maruti Swift and Hyundai i10. Both have good fuel economy, low maintenance and good resale value. Typically, diesel makes sense if you drive 50-60 km a day.
Confused over Fluence
I am planning to buy a car upto 15 lakhs but im confused between the Corolla Altis and Renault Fluence. I want a petrol car. I have been unable to make up my mind over a year. Will the Fluence remain in the market?
Jayesh kumar, New Delhi
HT: Between the Altis and Fluence, the former that is more reliable and spacious, though it is a tad boring. The Fluence scores high on style but is sluggish to drive. You may also like to take a look at Skoda Laura. It is technologically superior, though after-sales service remains suspect.
Write to us
Confused about what car/bike to buy? Facing maintenance problems? Write to us.