Driving Hyundai Sonata to PD

By JAY WONG | 14 January 2015

Making its Malaysian debut in December last year, the seventh generation Hyundai Sonata LF has been restyled to project a more elegant aura over the previous model’s aggressive looks.

We had an opportunity to test this latest incarnation in its range-topping Executive trim, costing RM158,053 (on-the-road with insurance) with a quick drive from Kuala Lumpur to a small town in Negeri Sembilan that was once known for its charcoal and tin ore.

The town was once a busy trade centre, but today it’s now known for its beaches among the locals and tourists alike – holding much nostalgia as we take in the sea breeze for the first time, or how the waves would chase us onto higher ground.

Yes, Port Dickson (PD) was to be our destination.

With the sun beaming that morning, it was perfect to make our hasty departure from The Club Saujana, before clouds moved in to “rain on our parade”.

Our route first took us past the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) via the Elite highway where we could experience the refined ride the Sonata had for us.

Cruising at 100kph, the highway drive demonstrated that the new Sonata is a silent glider thanks to the its already low 0.27 coefficient of drag (Cd) and flat undercarriage panels, though some wind noise did come off the wing mirrors as expected.

What was not expected was the level of comfort afforded by the combination of the Sonata’s chassis and suspension, especially for passengers seated at the rear.

With 51% of the body utilising high tensile steel for better rigidity, it usually translates to more vibrations from an uneven road intruding into the cabin, but here is where the suspension takes care of things with its compliance.

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Traditionally, a more absorbing suspension would reduce performance in handling.

But the Sonata’s amplitude selective damper (ASD) increases stiffness when there’s more compression, thus allowing for improved handling.

We passed the SIC’s paddock entrance on our right and headed to more exciting trunk roads and it was here that its suspension began to shine even more while rolling on 18-inch wheels with 235/45 tyres from Nexen.

To be honest, we were anxious to see how the Sonata’s suspension was tuned, since it was indicated that it was tested in a variety of locations worldwide from the Mojave proving ground in California to Germany’s infamous Nurburgring.

Throwing it around the bends, the Sonata has little roll and is very much balanced in its weight distribution for a Front-engine Front wheel drive (FF) layout.

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But of course when pushed too hard – understeer rears its head.

The three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) allowed us to select the way the Sonata behaves, with throttle response left a little dull in Eco mode and the steering overly light and boosted, but becomes progressively sharpened up to
Sport mode.

While the steering weight becomes apparent from Eco to Sport mode, throttle response was marginal.

The Nu 2.0L engine, with 152bhp at 6,200rpm and 194Nm of torque at 4,000rpm, mated to the six-speed in-house developed transmission helps the Sonata feel nimble, even though its kerb weight is somewhere in the vicinity of 1,600kg.

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Push the engine to the redline, the raspy four-potter engine noise didn’t seem to intrude the cabin as much as one might have expected, but other than that, it would be nice if the paddle shifters from the previous generation were retained for a sportier experience.

On our way back from PD, we began to realise how little increments can go a long way, especially inside the cabin with greater shoulder and knee room to be experienced thanks to an increase in the car’s width and length by 30mm and 35mm, respectively.

We took a short detour to the paddock carpark area of the SIC, where we were able to push the car beyond its limits in a controlled environment.

Two areas were presented to us, one of which consisted of a slalom, U-turn and a quick lane-change before coming to a complete stop within a box (post haste).

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The second area allowed us to experience the Sonata’s behaviour during a sudden change in direction.

It was there that our praises for the Sonata’s handling characteristic was further confirmed with the lack of apparent roll that leaves the driver confidence inspired…even with the electronic stability control (ESC) deactivated.

The new Sonata – with much improvement in ergonomics and handling dynamics–- the overall experience has become incredibly European… sans the premium price.