Will Hyundai Make Your Day? The 2013 Sonata Limited

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Dottie Li and Michael Toscano

That’s a Hyundai? Really? Wow.

With apologies to the folks who work for the Korean car company, I expect that’s a standard response from people getting their first close-up look at the Sonata these days. It’s not the econobox of years past. Sporty and almost plush, Hyundai’s stylish multi-year re-design of the Sonata makes the 2013 Limited worth your consideration if you’re seeking a budget-friendly car that doesn’t feel like one. Or look like one.

There are three main Sonata models, the GLS, SE and the Limited, a comfortable mid-sized vehicle which is what we’re looking at here. There’s also a hybrid available. The Limited has all the standard features you find in the GLS and SE, which is a surprisingly long list of what we used to think of as luxury options. Prices start at $21,000 for the basic GLS. The Limited can be yours for $25,000, although the model we’re talking about here was loaded with additional options which boosted the price up to a bit under $30,000. Even that’s fairly modest for a car which is great-looking, feels stable, and rolls with an air of understated grace. You might even be forgiven for thinking it’s a Lexus or some other denizen of that rarefied class at your first, and even second, glance. And while it may not drive exactly like a Lexus, it still provides a lot of comfort, confident handling, and just enough power that you won’t feel inadequate on the Beltway.

Radiating a Pacific Blue Pearl hue, our visiting Sonata Limited looked right at home next to the family BMW in our driveway. A solid-looking, four-door sedan with sleek and sculpted lines leading to a traditional notchback trunk, it’s almost big enough to classify as a large sedan. A dramatic split grille and wraparound headlights flow into a sharply raked windshield, and the eye follows the curve back over the roof to the abbreviated trunk. Proportions are nicely balanced over the 17-inch alloy wheels this one sported.

Inside, the materials are not exactly top-of-the-line, but they are carefully selected to give the look and feel of quality. Fit and finish are first-rate. There’s full leather upholstery, and the dashboard and center stack blend into each other, highlighted by snappy blue backlighting. Entertainment, climate and communication controls are precisely arranged and convey a touch of quality workmanship. There’s plenty of storage space, and a trunk that Hyundai boasts is the largest in its class at 16.4 cubic feet. So is this both pretty and practical.

Somehow Hyundai has figured out how to pack on a wide array of features at the moderately practical price. These include full power accessories, heated mirrors, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, 60/40-split rear seatback, trip computer, Bluetooth, a premium sound system with satellite radio, iPod/USB audio interface, foglights, automatic headlights, heated seats, performance tires, sport-tuned suspension, keyless ignition/entry , dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation with touchscreen display, rearview camera, and on and on. Standard safety features on all Sonatas include front seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction and stability, and active front head restraints. Also onboard is Hyundai's emergency system providing remote access, emergency assistance, and theft recovery.

Now, you can’t get everything for 30K, so it must be said this car may not satisfy serious drivers seeking an enhanced road experience. The Sonata Limited does well enough for average drivers with its smooth acceleration and handling. The suspension is beefed up a bit and the ride is sure and steady. Braking is quite firm. Steering is not as tight as I prefer, and the looseness made me feel I had to baby it somewhat at highway speeds. For the price, though, it’s not quite bad enough that I’d consider it a definite deal-breaker. Check it out to see how you feel.

The front-wheel drive Sonata moves with a 190-hp 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine. (The upgraded Limited 2.0T comes with a 274-hp 2.0-litre turbocharged gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine.) A six-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC & Active ECO is standard, and allows zippy, if not exactly muscular, performance. It seems Hyundai has chosen brains over brawn here, with efficiency more important than raw strength. That shows up in the 28/35 mpg rating from EPA/DOT.

I liked this car for its practicality, appearance, and for a performance that exceeds what one might reasonably expect from the size of the pricetag.