I’ve kind of been on a Korean car kick these past few months, and honestly, I’ve been pretty damn pleased with the vehicles both Kia and Hyundai have been rolling out. There have been a slew of different vehicles from other manufacturers as well, but for some reason, all things Korean have been swiping the spotlight and both brands have the awards to prove it.
From the stately $67,000 Kia K900 to the rambunctious Hyundai R-Spec Genesis and the utterly utilitarian Sedona SXL, there have been a bunch of interesting Korean options on my plate and all of them have been fantastic in their own ways. My most recent review vehicle was Hyundai’s track-tuned, high-revving Genesis R-Spec sports coupe.
While going from a Hyundai Genesis Coupe R-Spec to a Sonata Sport 2.0T may sound like a wild jump, there are some surprising similarities between the two. Sure, the R-spec is an aggressive, six-speed stickshift with rear-wheel drive and is a complete Nürburgring machine, while the Sonata 2.0T has front-wheel drive, rocks an automatic slushbox, and has four doors because at its core it’s a daily driven sedan built for practicality.
The 2.0T Sonata Sport really is a surprising little performer. After driving it for extended periods of time on the open road and spending a few throttle thrashing hours on some sharp side roads, I can safely say that there is some serious substance here. When your route requires every ounce of brake bias you can muster and every last splash of stability assist to keep both car and driver on the asphalt, you will then know what manner of machine you have at your disposal.
It may sound laughable, but this car really is sporty in certain ways. With the $5,000 “Ultimate Package” added to the Sonata, there is a level of refinement here that is reminiscent of that which we found in the Infiniti Q50 S. This car does have a few glaring faults that are impossible to ignore, and some of them are even slightly disconcerting, but the 2.0T Sport really is succeeding at offering more than most.
Hyundai’s recent stab at making a truly competitive, turbocharged sport sedan is a step in the right direction, and with a little polishing and a few key tweaks, the Korean automaker could have a car on its hands that transcends the plane between performance, convenience, luxury, and affordability.
One of the first things we noticed when this car arrived was how nice it looked. This really is a sharper, more angled interpretation of the regular Sonata, and after getting over its shiny side skirts, oddly-oblong exhaust ports, and mysterious rectangular plate on the front grille, an admirable amount of design cues began to jump out. It has a panoramic roof, 18-inch alloy wheels that don’t look hideous, a flushmount trunk spoiler, LED running lights, a subtle yet sharp rear diffuser, door handle welcome lights, and a front fascia that is just angry enough to let you know this car isn’t your typical Sonata snoozer.
But the moment I got behind the wheel, the Hyundai R-spec Genesis comparison game began: As much as I enjoyed driving that rear-wheel drive rocket, it had some glaring faults that I had trouble getting over. Interestingly enough, the Sonata 2.0T Sport negates many of these oversights without issue, and while some of them may not be deal breakers for many buyers, if one is to build a sporty version of a regular car and be taken seriously, they should at least include a few of the following amenities.
It has a meatier, more masculine steering wheel, and while the R-Spec’s steering wheel was adequate, it wasn’t as well-made as the one in the 2.0T Sonata. The feel of the flat-bottomed, D-Cut wheel in this unassuming sedan is a great form of reassurance when cornering aggressively. This car also has grippy aluminum racing pedals which remain an inexpensive staple in most sports cars, yet for whatever reason remained absent from the R-Spec — further degrading its chances of being a true “R version” of the Genesis Coupe.
But perhaps the option that comes standard on the 2.0T that I found myself missing the most on the R-Spec was the turbo side of the equation. If Hyundai put two of these little twin-scroll snails on its V6 coupe and called it a day, even the heavy hitters would have a contender on their hands that isn’t afraid to throwdown with a larger weight class.
Selecting one of the three driving modes actually does something in this car too, so slapping it into “Sport” or “Eco” will either reward you with extra efficiency, grunt, or some combination of the two depending on what the situation calls for. In performance mode, the steering sharpens up enough to be felt, as does the throttle so that paddle shifters may become enjoyable. Hyundai has a lot going for it with this particular version of the 2.0T, and I found myself soaking it all up with great gusto, as it merges both comfort and controlled chaos almost flawlessly.
Unloading 245 horsepower, and 260 foot-pounds of torque, the Sonata’s 2.0-liter direct injected four banger is zippy enough to support its title. Turbo-lag is basically non-existent thanks to twin-scroll technology. Handling proved to be sure-footed enough, and while it does offer some body-roll under heavy cornering, the brakes remained sharp all day, giving me room to focus on what this car has been built around.
This machine truly is bordering on being a great sport sedan. With its comfortably bolstered, orange-stitched power leather seats, sturdy paddle shifters, and electroluminescent performance gauges, there is no reason to hate being in the driver’s seat. Throw in tri-level cooled and heated seats, heated rear seats, proximity key entry, smart cruise control, 400-watts of Infinity sound, clever camera systems, a collision warning set-up, and a navigation system that is both easy to use and incredibly insightful, and you will be comparing this car to vehicles that cost twice as much in the luxury segment.
There were some obvious issues with this sedan. Start with the smart cruise control; it worked flawlessly, up until I stopped for a smoothie and realized that it did not want to engage after getting back on the highway. Apparently this is a common problem with certain Hyundais, and amending it requires restarting the car, which is not what you want to do after getting right back on the freeway. There also was a noticeable whine coming from the engine compartment, and while the 2.0T performed beautifully in the powertrain department, it was a disconcerting sound to hear in a car that only had 8,000 miles on it.
The Sonata Turbo stacked up far better than expected against the other Hyundais/Kias we’ve driven. It has all of the interior amenities one could want once equipped with the “Ultimate Package,” like we got on our loaner. Save for a few small switches on the door, all of the materials felt top-shelf. It has enough soft-touch materials in the right places, interior door handles were large and stout-feeling, all-around visibility was top notch, and the cabin wasn’t noisy at all. Couple that with Hyundai’s BlueLink system for voice-powered search commands, text messaging, location sharing, roadside assistance, and “Geo Fences” for keeping teenagers in designated driving areas, and you have a sedan that contests the best with a reasonable $34,460 sticker price.
While the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Sport may not be the ultimate sport sedan, it is an excellent option for anyone wanting a mid-range, inexpensive daily driver with enough zip in its step to keep a smile on your face and a foot on the throttle. But perhaps what I like the most about this car is that it is not tying to be something that it is not. There are no gaudy graphics, overtly unnecessary wings or over-sized, chrome wheels here — just clean lines, European-inspired styling, and fully functional performance upgrades. This has to be a prelude of what is to come, and I’d give it a 4/5 right out of the gate — a testament to how far this company has come with the Sonata. Who knows, maybe with a little luck, a track-inspired R-Spec version will emerge some day with all-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, giving buyers even more reason to respect Hyundai’s belief of “New thinking. New possibilities.”