Hyundai’s Sonata scores in design and dynamics

It’s been more than a decade since the last time I drove a Hyundai Sonata, and more than three times that span since a group of American automotive writers were invited to South Korea to drive the mid-size sedans that were about to begin exportation to the US automotive marketplace.

What I remember most from that trip wasn’t driving the car, though the Korean coastline was California-gorgeous, well, except for the military bunkers placed should North Korea invade, but how Hyundai first took us on a tour of its shipbuilding facilities. 

There, but without saying so in so many words, a message was delivered: We know we aren’t building wonderful world-class automobiles yet, but look at the big ocean-going cargo ships we build and how successful they are, so give us some time and we’ll be doing the same thing with passenger cars.

It took a few years longer than the decade we anticipated for the diversified South Korean company to catch up with the world’s leading automakers, but it did, and then some, and has become a major player in the global automotive industry. 

As evidence, consider the week I just spent driving a 2021 Hyundai Sonata SEL Plus, a vehicle that seemingly can more than hold its own in the $30,000 family sedan competition.

Seriously, I had to remind myself as I drove that this car was, indeed, a Sonata, from Hyundai, not a Lexus or Acura. Well, at least until one surprisingly (for southern Nevada) cold and very wet afternoon when the car’s navigation system, radio and backup camera failed to work for a couple of hours. 

But everything was fine when I restarted the car after volleyball practice (my granddaughter’s, not mine), and the rest of the week went smoothly. I found the car to be something I would eagerly recommend to a young family that wanted a sedan that could be fun to drive and eye-catching in which to be seen.

About all that the original US-market Sonata had going for it in the 1990s was its exterior design, done by none other than Italy’s acclaimed Giorgetto Giugiaro. But not much else.