Testdrive Hyundai i45/Sonata's spacious cabin, comfortable ride and good interior will help it climb up the sales charts

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? ‘ Known internally as YF, Sonata 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 presently languishing at the bottom of the charts.

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 have been penned by the company's American designer Andre Hudson.

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 beautifully detailed tail-lights, 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-stamping' 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.

The i45 uses space intelligently. The compact drivetrain 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.

The large brushstrokes, 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 gives 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 in the outgoing Sonata, levels of comfort are actually just as good or better. Hyundai's new front seats offer 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.

The wheelbase is larger than on the current car and as a result any which way you look at the new Sonata, it is massive. Rear seat comfort is pretty good. And like all cars in this segment, you get rear air-con vents and a very comfortable elbow rest. However, what are missing at the rear are door pockets, which may have been axed to help make the seat wider.

Hyundai has used aluminium inserts to good effect on the central console, the black and white instruments have a 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 such as the black plastic on the centre console, the vents, steering wheel and especially the stalks disappoint and their quality is not really up to what you expect.

Initial impressions 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 162bhp 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 to higher speeds and it proves less impressive. This is not a car that enjoys taking corners at anything above medium speeds. The 2.0-litre motor performs better once you wind it harder.

The i45/Sonata should ideally appeal to a pretty wide audience. Assuming that Hyundai gets the pricing right, the i45/Sonata should give Hyundai its best shot at regaining lost ground in this class and the Korean major is unlikely to pass that up.


Styling update March 13, 2012

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