Hyundai launched the first shot in the coming battle for the family sedan market by introducing a new generation Sonata at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday.
The South Korean automaker launched the current Sonata five years ago as a value play in the mid-size car market, packing the vehicle with features and pricing it below major competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
Helped by dramatic new styling, Sonata sales zoomed, proving that Hyundai could compete effectively against the segment leaders.
“It upset the apple cart,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst at auto information company Kelley Blue Book. “There was now an attractive, value-packed and fun-to-drive family sedan. Even the traditional Accord and Camry buyers had to stop and take a look.”
The other automakers responded with improved new generations of their mid-sized sedans, turning the segment the most competitive in the auto industry. Analysts expect a similar cycle to start again when the new Sonata goes on sale this summer.
In a bid to keep the focus on its most popular car, Toyota used the auto show to detail improvements it was making to its current generation Camry, the top selling passenger car in America.
The Hyundai sedan follows the same “Fluidic Sculpture” design language that the South Korean automaker introduced with the out-going Sonata five years ago. But this version has a more refined, gentler look that gives the Sonata a more stately stance. Hyundai is clearly leaning toward luxury over sporty with the new look.
For shoppers looking for expressive over conservative, the automaker will offer a “Sonata Sport” version with a more aggressive front grille and bumper, side rocker extensions and side chrome molding.
Hyundai is packing the frame of the new model with advanced high-strength steel -- a move the automaker said improves ride quality and crash test performance.
Like the previous generation, the Sonata will come equipped only with four-cylinder engines. The main power plant is a 2.4-liter motor that four-cylinder 185 horsepower and 178 lb. ft. of torque. There’s also a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine option that produces 245 horsepower and 260 lb. ft. of torque.
The automaker has redesigned the inside of the cabin to give the Sonata more room than most of its competitors. The car will qualify as a “large” vehicle rather than a mid-size sedan under the Environmental Protection Agency classification.
It has 106.1 cubic feet of passenger cabin volume. That compares to around 103 cubic feet for the Camry, the Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion. It has 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space, tying it with the Chevrolet Malibu for the most in the family sedan segment.
Hyundai also has stepped up the safety features. The new Sonata has seven air bags, including a new driver’s knee air bag designed to help prevent the driver from sliding down the seat in a collision. The automaker also is offering optional safety features including Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Lane Departure Warning System.
On the technology front, Hyundai is putting Apple’s CarPlay system into the Sonata. The system will allow iPhone users access to car-safe apps on the eight-inch touchscreen in the dashboard. Users of the iPhone 5 and above will be able to make calls, use maps, listen to music and access messages through their device.
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata will be built at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama plant in Montgomery, Ala. Hyundai has yet to release price and fuel economy information for the car.
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