Hyundai’s stunning new Sonata or i45 is a car you just can’t take your eyes off. But is the Korean luxury car, Expected here in January 2012, good enough to take on the competition?
It is early 2001. Honda, after the recent success of its City, swallows a brave pill and plonks the full-sized Accord into the India car market. Hot on its heels, however, is the gung-ho Korean carmaker Hyundai which, soon after carmaker Hyundai which, soon after put its own luxury car the Sonata into Indian showrooms. Now the Accord is not a car to be trifled with and the Sonata on the flipside has no reputation whatsoever. But so attractive are the Hyundai,s Jaguar-ish looks that Indian luxury car buyers fall for its charms hook, line and sinker, the car’s Korean lineage be dammed.
Hyundai will be hoping that this rakish new model, Known internally as YF, can do just that. It will mean a return to the mainstream for Hyundai in the luxury segment and will effectively reverse the fortunes of the current Sonata in India, which at present is languishing at the bottom of the charts.
BETTER BY DESIGN
With the new i45 or Sonata (depending on which market it is in), Hyundai certainly has the right weapon to get the job done. The saloon’s rakish lines may have been penned by the company’s American designer Andre Hudson but at first glance many of the surfaces on this car look like wind, water and time have had their way with the sheet metal.
Channels flow outwards from the base of the grille in waves, the heavily raked windscreens allow the cabin to rise and fall gently, and even the heavy crease on the doors seems to be caused by the arc of fluid emanating from the front wheel. The i45 looks even more attractive from the rear, those beautiful detailed tail-light, the spot-on proportions of the boot and the manner in which the lines on the car all converge at the rear making it look nothing short of stunning. Only the grille seems a bit overdone.
Under the skin, Hyundai has put its shoulder to the wheel too. Suspension, both front and rear, is independent, important on a car of this size, and Hyundai claims to have used a new ‘hot-stampign’ method so that body panels are both lighter and stronger. Another key area where Hyundai has displayed its attention to detail is the low drag coefficient of 0.28, which is very impressive and lower than the class average of 0.30.
Hyundai has also achieved a packaging miracle with this car. Sure, this car has been inspired by the Mercedes CLS to some extent but unlike the low-riding Merc, the i45 isn’t as ground-hugging and uses space really intelligently too. The compact drive train in the nose frees up more space at the front, the high beltline of the car allows for impressive legroom in the rear and the 523-litre boot is huge too.
INSIDE THE COCKPIT
The large brushstroke, bold lines and confident details are carried over to the inside of the car as well. The dashboard is clearly divided between the driver and passenger as in an aircraft cockpit, and Hyundai has used sweeping arches to clearly define each binnacle. Unfortunately, this give the impression that the front of the cabin is more cramped than it actually is, and this is accentuated by a facia that protrudes out quite a bit too. But while the cabin may not seem as wide as the one of the outgoing Sonata, levels of comfort are actually just as good or better. Hyundai’s new front seats after fantastic thigh support, they are wide enough to support your shoulders and both elbow rests are perfectly placed and well padded. Visibility from the driver’s seat is also excellent and headroom is good too.
Both front seat occupants get plenty of stowage space as well. The door pockets are huge, there is a large elbow box and because the gear lever takes up so little space, there is plenty of room in the central console as well; a pair of cupholders and an assortment of cubbyholes are also present.
There’s so much space at the rear that I initially thought the front seats were pushed all the way forward. The weren’t and that explains a lot. The wheelbase is larger than on the current car and as a result the Hyundai almost has the same cabin volume as an Accord; any which way you look at the new Sonata, it is massive. Rear seat comfort is also pretty good. You are sat a bit low and thigh support is not as good as in an Accord or Superb, but otherwise support from the backrest and headroom is very good. And like all cars in this segment, you get rear air-con vents and a very comfortable elbow rest. However, what’s missing at the rear are door pockets, which may have been axed to help make the seat wider Interior quality levels are not as good as those on the Accord either, but they are pretty close. Hyundai has used aluminium inserts to good effect on the central console, the black and white instrument have a very classy feel to them with the digital display at the centre of each dial, and the soft-feel padded leather on the dash works a treat. Some bits like the black plastic on the centre console, the vents, steering wheel and especially the stalks disappoint and their quality is not really upto what you expect.
Initial impression from behind the i45s wheel in urban conditions are very good. There is a nice weight to the steering, the car doesn’t really feel as large as it should, and agility is pretty impressive too. The suspension has been tuned for comfort, and this is apparent. It soaks up small road imperfections quite easily, never crashes over bumps, and the ride is pretty flat too. The 162bhps two-litre motor I am driving doesn’t have the peppiest of bottom ends. It makes a maximum of torque of 20.2kgm, and that’s not too bad. But max torque only comes in at a lofty 4600rpm. As a result, initial responses from the motor are sometimes lethargic; this is especially true if you deliver only a half-hearted prod on the accelerator. The car that comes to India is likely to have a livelier 2.4-litre direct injection GDI motor and we doubt pulling power will be an issue here. Maximum power should be around 198bhp, which should be plenty.
Time to put pedal to the metal then. Take the i45 up to higher speeds and it proves less impressive. Now, a lot of the car’s poor dynamics are exposed and the saloon feels loose and unsorted. Straight line stability isn’t too bad, even at speed, and corners taken at normal speeds are not an issue either. Problems, however, star as soon as you want to change direction at a slightly higher speed. You soon realise that the steering weight counts for very little, that the front wheels squirm when you tip the car into a corner, and that the i45 rolls a lot at the rear and then loses grip. Not something that inspires the most confidence. Clearly, this is not a car that enjoys taking corners at anything above medium speeds and is a car for the driver who is interested only in an ambling gait.
Yes, this 2.0-litre motor performs better once you wind it harder and now performance is decent too. And we expect the larger 2.4 GDI motor with 198bhp will perform better still. However, even more performance and a better sorted and stiffer suspension are unlikely to make the i45 a pleasing car to drive.
Hyundai’s i45 will appeal to a pretty wide audience. Its future-proof looks will attract plenty of attention, the cabin is spacious and comfortable and Hyundai should equip the car sold here pretty generously too. Ride quality is comfortable and there will be sufficient performance on hand with the 198bhp GDI motor. Furthermore, quality levels on the inside in general are pretty good too. It may not be blessed in the dynamics department and may lack the finesse of some of its competitors too. But assuming Hyundai gets the pricing right, the i45 will give Hyundai its best shot at regaining ground lost ground, and the carmaker is unlikely to pass that up.