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Click for pictures“Hyundai’s all-new
  Sonata 2.4 is alive and
  well — that is well
  equipped, well priced
  and definitely well
  worth a second look”

THE FIRST THING you notice about Hyundai's new Sonata is just how big it is. You certainly get a lot of metal on the road for 17,495. Styling-wise — and before they'd spotted the Hyundai badge on the grille — most would guess 'European'. Launched in the UK in mid-2005, the latest Sonata is available only as a four-door saloon — an interesting move given that these days it's almost easier to find an estate, hatchback, 4x4, MPV, SUV or SAV than a traditional salon car.

Deciding on the engine won't be difficult because currently there is only one available: a 160bhp 2.4-litre petrol, although a 2.0 CRDi is coming. In fact the only choice, apart from colour, is between transmissions — either a 4-speed H-Matic automatic transmission as tested here, or a 5-speed manual 'box. In some ways the single-model, high-specification option is actually quite welcome and a similar philosophy hasn't harmed sales at Lexus.

With the new model — this is the fifth-generation Sonata — Hyundai has gone for a simple, clean look. Its deep body is fronted by narrow one-piece clear-lens headlights cut back into the front wings, framing a strongly-defined grille. Some will doubtless complain that it's not blindingly distinctive, but others will consider this to be a very good reason to take a second look. With clean-lined body styles such as the Sonata's, colour is everything. The glossy Ebony Black of our test car — the paint quality, by the way, was faultless — definitely added presence and brought out the best of the Sonata's restrained but edgy lines. Not a car, you would think, that would attract too much attention but, nevertheless, a number of people looked twice.

Longer, wider, taller and roomier than the previous model, the new model enjoys a significant size and space advantage over its predecessor. This is why it will appeal to people looking for a roomy car to accommodate a growing family, for whom space and equipment rate far higher than the badge. To appreciate its size, consider this: the new Sonata is 35mm longer, 12mm wider, 3mm taller and has a 20mm longer wheelbase than Volkswagen's latest Passat — itself no miser when it comes to roominess.

Grasp the chromed outer door handle — it has a nice pull action — and open the substantial door. They all open wide, to almost ninety degrees. Inside, you'll find a light and airy cabin with commendable fit and finish and doors shut with that quality 'thunk'. It's no exaggeration to say that the roomy interior can swallow up five six-feet-tall passengers, with ample leg, shoulder and head room both front and rear. In the back, there are three 3-point rear seatbelts and three universal ISOFIX child seat fixing points which, along with the curtain airbags, confirm the Sonata'a suitability as a family car. For added comfort when there are just two rear passengers on board, a rear centre armrest (containing two cup holders) can be folded down. And there's also independent rear ventilation.

An internal electric boot release is located on the dash alongside one for the fuel filler flap. Alternatively you can, of course, walk around to the back of the car and use the remote to pop open the bootlid (there's no boot handle but it opens high to safely clear your face) and you'll discover a cavernous and regular-shaped load bay that can easily house a full complement of large suitcases — or three sets of golf clubs, and more besides. A full-size spare lives beneath the boot floor and there's a useful open oddments bin in the nearside well. A 60:40 split-folding rear seat means you can extend the 462-litre luggage capacity even further and carry long items should the need arise. So large is the boot that — the story goes — Hyundai's engineers were concerned someone might become lost inside, so they fitted an emergency release handle on the inside. Apparently, it's true.

The spacious cabin feels welcoming, and the clean design of the two-tone dash works well. A grained finish, darker-coloured top moulding is used to good effect by visually separating it from the lighter lower half with a narrow carbon-fibre effect band. The soft-touch, padded dash covering and door cappings, along with the full leather upholstery, introduce a luxurious feel. The carbon-fibre look trim is also used for the selector lever surround and the air conditioning panel as well as for a neat insert in the well-shaped selector lever.

Ergonomics are refreshingly uncluttered, with a self-contained AirCon control panel topped by twin air vents flanking a digital clock that together occupy most of the centre stack ahead of the selector lever. The standard fitment air conditioning features big, easy-to-use silver-rimmed rotary knobs. All key switchgear is where you'd expect it to be and is positive to use.

There's good quality soft-touch trim and the three large dials = silver-bezeled central speedometer with inset trip display readout flanked by a rev-counter and a combined fuel/temp gauge — are clearly visible through the top arc of the four-spoke steering wheel, with neat white-on-black graphics. The selected gear is also clearly displayed in large black digits on the speedometer's yellow background information screen. Setting a good driving position is quick and easy, thanks to the driver's seat pump action height adjuster and the rake and reach adjustable steering column. A high bonnet line allows the driver to see both front 'corners' which, combined with excellent all-round visibility and large door mirrors, makes for easy positioning on the road.

Storage is generous with a good-sized lockable glovebox, large door pockets, a lined coin box and a number of cubbies and multiple cupholders — including a central bin behind the handbrake with a two-position sliding armrest lid and a handy rubber-lined storage area below the hi-fi. Look up at the roof level light cluster and you'll find a drop-down, lined sunglasses case. A welcome touch was the illuminated ring around the ignition that lights up when the door opens. Very few manufacturers now fit these but they are so useful at night.

Standard equipment is generous and includes a stereo RDS radio/CD/ MP3 player sited dead centre of the fascia, cruise control with steering wheel switches, large comfy seats with good side support upholstered in full leather, four electric windows and powered door mirrors, powered driver's seat adjustment, a trip computer, split/fold rear seat backrests and 17-inch alloy wheels shod with grippy 225/50 Dunlop SP Sport tyres.

Powering the Sonata is an all-new, all-aluminium 2,359cc four-cylinder DHOC engine that, with the help of continuously variable valve timing, develops 160bhp and 162lb ft of torque at 4,250rpm — delivered to the front wheels. That 160bhp is enough to get you from a standstill to 62mph in 10.4 seconds. Top speed is 126mph. No complaints about the Sonata's cruising abilities, either — it's happy to run and run on motorways and pick-up is quick enough. At 70mph (2,600rpm) there's no wind or road noise intrusion, and it feels stable and unruffled well past the legal limit on unrestricted Continental roads. New to the Sonata's automatic transmission is the introduction of a 'gate type' selection featuring Hyundai's proven H-Matic manual sequential system.

The manual option works beautifully — flick the lever to the left directly across from Drive into Sport mode, then just push forwards lightly for up changes and pull back briefly for down changes. Left to itself in Sport mode, the autobox will change up automatically at the rev limit. It will also automatically select 1st when you stop. While you're in manual mode it's easy to work the engine hard, with the additional benefit of being able to skip a gear (from say 4th to 2nd) by simply pressing forwards twice, quickly. It certainly doesn't object — in fact you'll discover an unexpectedly rorty, pleasant exhaust note. Also worth noting is that you can switch off the stability control programme if you need to.

Fuel economy is not at all bad with an official touring figure of 40.4mpg. Around town expect 22.9 and a combined figure of 32.1mpg. Our overall test figure worked out to 25.9mpg — but then, as you know by now, we don't pussyfoot around. At 15.4 gallons, the tank should be good for around 500 miles at Hyundai's touring consumption figure.

Chassis dynamics are helped by a multi-link rear suspension and it feels fine for a family four-door that makes no pretensions of being a sports saloon. The rack and pinion power steering is weighty enough with strong self-centring and good turn-in, and keeps pace with the Sonata through the corners. It also has a tight turning circle. Body control is good enough to have some fun, although there's some suspension thump from larger intrusions such as speed humps. However, the overall ride is compliant and the fuss-free brakes — discs all round, ventilated at the front — are powerful with progressive feel through the pedal.

Safety was clearly a priority at Hyundai and the Sonata comes equipped as standard with front, side and full-length roof (curtain) airbags as well as active front head restraints designed to help reduce the risk of neck injuries in the event of a rear end shunt. Active safety is covered by an Electronic Stability Programme, Traction Control System and ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution which optimises the amount of braking at each wheel according to the way the car is loaded.

Certainly the new Sonata provides a lot for your money, both in terms of equipment and space. The single CDX trim level gives you most things apart from satellite navigation, and even that is an extremely reasonable £695. You also get Hyundai's unique unlimited mileage, fully-transferable five-year warranty for peace of mind which makes the Sonata even more tempting.

What more we can say?

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Hyundai Sonata 2.4 CDX | 17,495
Maximum speed: 126mph | 0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
Test MPG: 25.9mpg | Power: 160bhp | Torque: 162lb ft

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