Singing My Song

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2008

An auto writer gets far more vehicles than can be reviewed. For this writer, there are at least three—often more—that will be tested and not reviewed in any given month. One column. One vehicle. Most times.

So each month as I contemplate this column, I go over a growing stack of those price stickers you see on the side windows of new cars. Auto writers keep those for the lists of features and options. I try to select a vehicle that will have current interest. Sport utilities and trucks are sitting unsold on dealer lots; no sense reviewing one of those. Performance is even taking a back seat. Today, we want fuel efficiency, safety, comfort and reliability.

That’s why I pulled aside the $23,170 price sticker for a 2009 Hyundai Sonata SE V6. It wasn't too long ago that you might have turned up your nose at the thought of buying this South Korean-brand car. Like Kia and Daewoo, Hyundai did not enjoy a reputation for durable, reliable cars. No South Korean car could match the quality from Japan or Germany or the U.S.

That has changed. Hyundai invested heavily in automation, assuring that each Sonata off the production line is a clone of the Sonata before and the one to follow. Once quality was achieved, the process could be duplicated.

And achieve it Hyundai did. Its vehicles now fight it out with any challenger for quality honors. But, when the cost of the car is considered, Hyundai has an advantage. Model to model, Hyundai can sell for less than just about anyone.

On a personal note, my son-in-law and his father both own Hyundais, and each is a walking salesperson for the worthiness of their cars. I have yet to meet an unhappy Hyundai owner, although unhappy owners can be found for any brand. 

Here are three things you'll find most appealing about the 2009 Sonata: It seats five in comfort, gets 29 miles per gallon at highway speed, and has virtually everything that is optional with other cars as standard equipment for its $23,179 price.

Go ahead. Shop around. Let us know when you find better value.

And here's something else that might make you feel even better about buying a Hyundai in these troubled financial times: the Hyundai Sonata is made in Montgomery, Ala. The engine is entirely a U.S.A. product (the automatic transmission is assembled in South Korea, however). Rest easy that not all your American dollars are flying overseas, never to return again.

For your money, you'll get a very complete car. The only option on the tester, in fact, was carpeted floor mats for $90.

Consider safety first. Many people do today. The Sonata has front air bags, side air bags and side curtain air bags for head protection. Electronic stability control, often an option on more expensive cars, will help get a driver out of trouble on slippery road curves. There are four-wheel anti-lock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system (I don’t care for these, and the test car flashed its indicator at me at one point—a false alarm until the tires had a chance to warm up).

The alloy wheels are hefty 17-inch models, again more often found on more expensive cars. Performance tires come mounted on them.

Among standard convenience features are remote keyless entry, power everything, a high-end audio system with eight speakers and steering wheel controls that will play MP3 CDs and pull in satellite radio if you're subscribed (three months come free), air conditioning, and cruise control.

All of this comes with a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty, with 10 years or 100,000 miles on the drivetrain components. Hyundais also come with a five-year, unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan. Remarkable for an inexpensive car, and one of the best warranties in the business.

This year, it's the interior that got a badly needed freshening. It's far more striking than the austere interiors of older Sonatas. Think of this as Lexus Lite.

There's not much to niggle about the Sonata, but performance-oriented drivers will not like the sloppy steering. This is a car seemingly totally tuned to comfort; not a road jolt will be felt by those inside. But it doesn't have that steering feedback found in cars like the Nissan Altima. With some cars, a driver can almost "think" the car through a turn; that is not the case with the Sonata.

Of course, those with carpal tunnel syndrome or bursitis in the shoulder will appreciate the easy power steering.

There are both less and more expensive Sonatas. There's even a stick-shift with a four-cylinder engine, for even better fuel economy at lower initial cost.

Hyundai Sonata has yet to become a “magic” name like Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. But with its economy, safety and comfortable interior, it can now be considered along with those quality cars. Don't look past it. And if you know a Hyundai owner, ask how he or she likes the car.

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