Hyundai Sonata

When did you last see a Hyundai Sonata on the streets? After four versions and an incredible 15 years of obscurity, the Korean manufacturer is hoping that an all-new model will finally break into the mainstream with a sharp, fresh look and a huge leap forward in quality.

Sharp styling, plenty of space and generous kit for a bargain price have given the Sonata a new lease of life. Despite the tweaks to remove US handling traits, it still lacks rivals' driving verve, but it could be worth a look if chassis dynamics aren't your priority. However, economy-minded buyers should wait for next year's diesel.

When did you last see a Hyundai Sonata on the streets? After four versions and an incredible 15 years of obscurity, the Korean manufacturer is hoping that an all-new model will finally break into the mainstream with a sharp, fresh look and a huge leap forward in quality.

Key to the success of the latest machine will be its styling. Designers have given the saloon a new edge, with cues borrowed from rivals such as the Honda Accord. The result is a reasonably handsome four-door.

Next on the priority list is value for money. As usual, Hyundai has fitted all the luxuries it could find into the cabin. Only one trim level will be available, and this is expected to cost a highly class-competitive £17,500.

Inside, it is hard to criticise the Sonata's build quality, and some of the softer plastics wouldn't look out of place in a German executive saloon. However, there are still elements of the design which have a budget feel.

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We have got no complaints about space, though. In this class, only Skoda's Superb matches the Hyundai for sheer length, and that's reflected in the generous rear legroom and 462-litre boot.

For the first time, European Sonatas get suspension tweaks to correct their sloppy US-style handling. That means stiffer settings to reduce body roll when cornering, but the pay-off is a harsh ride that makes every bump felt through the cabin. While drivers benefit from surprisingly responsive steering, overall the Hyundai still seems ponderous.

Under the bonnet, a new 159bhp 2.4-litre engine gives brisk performance. We wouldn't recommend you test the claimed 0-62mph figure of 8.9 seconds, though; drivers who use all the available power will have to put up with a loud engine note, which is frustrating given the lack of mid-range torque.

In other markets, the Sonata also comes with a new 236bhp 3.3-litre V6. However, Hyundai is still deciding whether to make this more powerful variant available in the UK, because the 2.4's estimated 30mpg combined economy is thought to be as low as many buyers will find acceptable. Cus- tomers wanting better fuel economy will have to wait for a new 2.0-litre diesel model to be added to the line-up in February next year.

The 2.4-litre Sonata goes on sale in May, and represents a huge improvement over its predecessors. Yet we feel its rivals are too far ahead on UK roads for it to become a familiar sight.

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