We don’t blame anyone for not liking the look of the new Hyundai Sonata. We really don’t. It’s a bold design, and not everyone is going to like that. Then again, we’d also ask you what you thought about the last-generation Sonata. If it was anything approaching neutral, that does technically prove Hyundai’s point. Basically, it’s better for some people to love a design while others hate it. Neutral feelings, on the other hand, mean indifference.
Considering how unconventional the redesigned Hyundai Sonata‘s design is, it would make sense that it would do well in MotorTrend‘s 2021 Car of the Year competition. It ended up placing among the finalists even though it didn’t win. To understand why, let’s take a look at what the judges loved and hated about the 2021 Hyundai Sonata.
What the Hyundai Sonata did right
Rewind to two generations ago, and critics were almost universally praising the Hyundai Sonata’s styling. Hyundai certainly took a risk on that generation, but it also delivered a design that made every other midsize sedan immediately look outdated. The decision-makers then decided to make the Sonata look completely anonymous, which wasn’t great for sales.
For the current-generation Sonata, Hyundai wanted to regain that design advantage, and, well, it certainly stands out. But MotorTrend’s reviewers focused more of their praise on the spacious back seats and the value it brings to the table. Oh, and the performance-focused N-Line variant. They liked that, too.
As one reviewer put it, “This is quite a sporty sedan. The body likes to lean in nicely in the corners. It’s engaging to drive.” With almost 300 hp on tap, you’d expect the N-Line to be quick, but it’s interesting to see the handling praised, as well. So maybe the N program is a bigger deal than you might think.
On the value front, judges thought that you definitely got a lot of car for your money if you ordered the loaded test car. According to the review, “Our test car rang in at $32,050 and earned high marks in the value criteria. LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, and a 10.3-inch infotainment screen are just a few items in the long list of features. Owners get three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary maintenance, too. Judges were also pleased with the roomy back seats.”
What the Hyundai Sonata got wrong
Like with any car, there were downsides to the Hyundai Sonata. Some may be dealbreakers, while others may not. But it’s definitely worth looking at what MotorTrend’s editors weren’t all that thrilled with.
The first criticism had to do with the transmission’s refinement, something you wouldn’t normally expect a mainstream sedan to mess up. They also thought the ride quality could use some improvement. Plus, there was that minor issue with the styling that some described as “fishy.”
According to the review, “some judges noted inconsistencies with the transmission, which features editor Christian Seabaugh said was ‘wildly uncooperative’ and too eager to upshift.” And while a lot of cars these days end up too harsh, the judges had the opposite problem with the Sonata. “The springs are too soft,” said one. “It doesn’t handle normal road imperfections as well as any of the other finalists.”
Still, the biggest issue for most buyers will probably be the styling. Specifically, the front end. Hyundai took some serious chances on the Sonata’s fascia, and while there are plenty of people who love it, a decent number of possible buyers will also hate it. Alternatively, just don’t look at the part you don’t like. Or, as one judge put it, “From every angle except the front, this is an extremely attractive car.”