"Looks Better Than It Actually Is"2.0 starson by BMXLaurier
Pros: Low price/good warranty, fuel economy
Cons: Weak engine, poor visibility, mediocre handling, so-so build quality
Summary: I test-drove this new Sonata a couple of weeks ago, alongside a Chevy Malibu and a Ford Fusion. Neither Camry nor Accord were on the list of candidates as I'd hate giving an arm and a leg for a regular family sedan, especially now that the quality ratings of the Japanese are coming crushing down. Now, these are my impressions.How come I only had "American cars" on my list? Well, it's probably because most of the compact/midsize sedans available in the US are "American cars" regardless of the origin of their makers. The North American versions of the Camry, the Accord, the Altima, these have been largely designed and completely built in the US for like two decades now. The Mazda6 and Subaru's Legacy are essentially the Ford and GM products. Oh, and this Sonata was designed in California and built in Alabama. Of course, there are also European and luxury makes (which are not assembled in the US), but those were outside of my price range.
The exterior of the sedan looks modern and even imposing, although I must admit I'm not a big fan of the grille and also would do without the fancy fluid motion theme or whatever they call this. Fit and finish of the cabin isn't particularly good; there were also a couple of couple of build quality flaws on the exterior and some apparent cheap looking stuff under the hood. Driver's position is comfortable enough, but the rear and side visibility is seriously compromised by the high trunk lift and the slot-like windows. The rear seat is spacious enough for two adults.
The new GDI four-cylinder offers good fuel economy (my estimate was around 25 mpg for mixed highway/city), but it comes at the expense of performance. Acceleration is rather sluggish, and gear changes feel surprisingly unrefined for a 6-speed automatic. The ride quality is good, but it is on a firmer side. Stopping distances are adequate for this class. The amounts of body roll and understeer are tolerable, too. Steering lacks practically any feel to it, which I believe is characteristic of most Japanese/Korean cars.
The Sonata is certainly potent, but its weak engine, uninspiring handling and lackluster overall execution don't make it a winner compared to either Malibu or Fusion. It just looks better than it actually is.
Updated on Apr 10, 2010
The reason I didn't look at either Camry or Accord has to do with their less than stellar reviews. The last two generations of these cars have been criticized for their middling performance, design and quality issues. The last gen Altima has garnered mostly positive reviews, but Nissan is the Chrysler of Japan, there have been too many ups and downs in its recent history.
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