Review: 2021 Hyundai Sonata (DN8) – Is this enough to topple the Camry and Accord?

Eric · Jan 16, 2021 09:00 AM

Review: 2021 Hyundai Sonata (DN8) – Is this enough to topple the Camry and Accord? 01

The Hyundai Sonata’s history in Malaysia dates all the way back to the second-generation (Y2) model, but it was the sixth-generation YF model when the model really took off in Malaysia.

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The YF-generation Hyundai Sonata’s Fluidic Sculpture design language won fans over, as it was considerably more stylish than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord from that era. If that wasn’t enough, the YF Sonata was also priced cheaper than its rivals at that time.

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Now in its eighth generation, armed with a completely new design and powertrain, does the Hyundai Sonata has what it takes to challenge well- established rivals such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat, and Mazda 6?

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Exterior – There’s no faulting Hyundai’s design language

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Gone are the days when D-segment sedans were dreary-looking, as practically every other D-segment sedan on sale today have some form of sportiness injected into them. Even the long-standing Camry is not spared from this.

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The DN8 Hyundai Sonata further emphasises this point, as it is by far one of the most stylish-looking D-segment sedans today.

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Thanks to a design team led by Luc Donckerwolke, the DN8 Sonata boasts a design that is unmistakably Hyundai, as evident by its large gaping front grille flanked by a pair of LED headlights at each edge of the front-end.

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But perhaps the most eye-catching element of the front-end is the Sonata’s LED daytime running lights (DRLs). You see, the Sonata’s LED DRLs blend seamlessly from the tip of the headlights into the chrome strip that runs along the body, forming the Sonata’s character line.

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Then there’s the rear-end of the DN8 Sonata and its resemblance with the FC-generation Civic. Regardless, Sonata’s rear-end is like nothing else on the road, giving it an easy-to-recognize design in the sea of mundane-looking cars.

Interior – Easy-to-use and fuss-free

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The stylish trend continues inside - the Sonata's interior is one for those who values a well-designed interior. I mean, look at that fancy twin-spoke steering wheel amd slim air-conditioning vents. 

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In fact, I would go as far as to say that the interior layout of the Sonata is actually better than the Toyota Camry. The Camry's interior is a tad bit too busy and user interface is very bad - both of which are a non-issue on the Sonata.

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In the centre of the dashboard lies an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – pretty standard stuff given the segment the Sonata competes in.

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The Malaysian-spec Sonata also gets a fully-digital 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that offers sharp and responsive graphics. But therein lies the issue, as this fancy instrument cluster is rather lackluster in terms of feature set.

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The Accord does turn-by-turn navigation really well

Unlike rivals such the Honda Accord or Volkswagen Passat, the Sonata’s digital cluster does not display turn-by-turn navigation, nor does it display song information.

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Where it loses out in functionality, it gains in safety, as the Sonata’s Blindspot View Monitoring (BVM) camera is rather impressive, but we'll get to that later.

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Instead of a traditional gear lever, the Sonata offers a unique push button-type gear solution. While it may seem odd at first, you’ll eventually appreciate the space freed up by the lack of the traditional gear lever.

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Our only gripe with the cabin is the faux stitching on the dashboard and it feels cheap, especially when the Camry and Accord's interior feel so much more expensive. 

Really, for a car that costs RM 200k?

Driving Performance – Smooth operator

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The Hyundai Sonata is powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre SmartStream G2.5 MPI petrol engine that does 180 PS and 232 Nm, mated to a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission.

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While these output figures may trail rivals that offer more firepower, the Sonata makes up for that in smoothness.

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Not only are the gear shifts from the six-speed auto ‘box seamless, power delivery is also buttery smooth, making the Sonata an easy car to drive on a daily basis.

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Pedal to the metal and the Sonata's engine note is surprisingly sporty, which belies its less-than-sporty suspension tuning. 

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The Sonata managed to complete the century sprint in just 9.6 seconds, quicker than the Camry's 10.5 second. 

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But that’s not all.

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Hyundai engineers have managed to calibrate the brakes to deliver very linear and strong braking performance. In fact, the Sonata's brakes are better at stopping the car than the Camry (40.5 meters), Accord (38 meters), and Passat (40.1 meters).

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In terms of comfort levels, the Sonata does it reasonably well. Although the front seats offer sufficient back and thigh support, the same cannot be said for the back seats, as they lack sufficient thigh support, making it rather uncomfortable for some at the rear.

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The Sonata's comfort-biased suspension tuning is also evident whilst driving, as it has a tendency of leaning in turns, though not excessively so. The Camry and Passat remain as the best driver-focused D-segment sedans, while the Accord offers the best comfort.

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Putting aside the seats, the Sonata also deserves credit for the sound insulation. Whilst cruising at 110 km/h, our dB meter recorded an average of 68 dB – putting it between the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

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But subjectively speaking, the Sonata isn't one for keen drivers. The steering, although responsive, lacks feedback and is too light at times, making it hard to predict where the front wheels are pointing. The Camry's steering is far more communicative and more engaging in this regard.

The driving dynamics of the Hyundai Sonata, though relatively faultless, is marred by one factor - it lacks a soul.

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In the Sonata, it just feels like you're driving an soul-less appliance - one that steers, brakes, and accelerates as you require, nothing more, nothing less. If driving engagement is what you seek, then try the Toyota Camry, Mazda 6, or even the Volkswagen Passat; they won't disappoint.

Safety – Nearly RM 200k but lacks ADAS, but saved by BSW

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For a D-segment sedan that is priced in the RM 200k region, the Hyundai Sonata is surprisingly spartan. Unlike the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry that offer ADAS features, HSDM did not equip the Sonata with any ADAS features.

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The only saving grace of the Hyundai Sonata is its Blindspot View Monitoring (BVM) cameras, which functions just like Honda’s LaneWatch, but works on both sides.

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As such, there are two cameras, each mounted on the base of the side mirrors, feeding into the car’s 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

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On paper, this solution sounds great, but in real-world conditions, your eyes have to go back-and-forth, left-and-right between road, mirror, and instrument panel, making it a tedious and counter-intuitive move.

Honda's LaneWatch is better thought out, as it only works on the passenger side, but the infotainment screen is within the line of sight of the driver as you sweep your eyes across the left.

Fuel efficiency – Better than Camry, but loses to turbocharged rivals

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The Sonata averaged 9.2-litre/100 km in mixed conditions of about 50/50 highway and city driving.

Its 9.2-litre/100 km figure beats the Camry (10.5-litre/100 km), but is behind the Accord (8.8-litre/100 km) and Passat (6.5-litre/100 km).

The Sonata we sampled had less than 1,000 km on the odometer, so it's no surprise that fuel consumption figures are average at best. 

Conclusion – On the right path, but could have been better

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The Hyundai Sonata does a lot of things right, albeit not any better than its core rivals.

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Ride comfort is decent for what it is, but is marred by rather short seat base at the rear, making it rather uncomfortable for some.

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While the availability of BSW is appreciated, we would have preferred the Sonata to offer the SmartSense ADAS suite instead, seeing that the Accord and Camry both offer it. Even the cheaper Hyundai Kona, Hyundai Ioniq, and recently-launched Hyundai Elantra offer it.

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With all said and done, the Hyundai Sonata has indeed come a long way since its inception. Gone are the days when the Sonata was merely a more budget alternative to established rivals, as it is now able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best rivals in the segment.

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You just got to manage your expectations correctly with the Sonata. It's not a bad car per say, but just like every other car out there, there are quirks and shortcomings. You will need to overlook the cabin materials that don't live up to the expectations set by the stylish exterior, lacks ADAS, and isn't as engaging to drive as its rivals .

If you can live with those shortcomings, then the Sonata makes for a good option if you're in the market for a D-segment sedan. After all, we firmly believe that this is by far one of the most stylish options out there. 

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