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2006 Hyundai Sonata page 2

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So if it costs less than the main competition, where are the shortcuts? Well, none are obvious. Outside and inside, the Sonata looks, feels and sounds like a well-made, quality car. And that impression is backed up by recent surveys of owner experiences by industry research firm J.D. Power & Associates.

2006 Hyundai Sonata. Photo by Bill RoebuckThis result should be no surprise to those who have been following the ascent of Hyundai's reputation. Even the 2004 Sonata garnered honours when Consumer Reports magazine called it  "North America's most reliable car."

If you still remember the Excel, Pony or Stellar models from the old days, whose quality reputations certainly were not stellar, Hyundai's new models are nothing like ones it used to sell in the seventies and eighties.

Sonata designers clearly studied the instrument panels and interior designs of the competition and copied the best ideas for ease of use of controls and visibility of instruments and gauges. Nice big knobs adjust the heating and ventilation, while the stereo is mounted high for easy access.

The seat-height adjustment is basic on the GL, with a pump lever that adjusts the level of the driver's seat. The seat moves well back for those with long legs (still leaving plenty of legroom for the rear-seat passenger behind the driver). Even so, I couldn't find a completely comfortable position for me in this model. The V6 with its eight-way power driver's seat was much better -- no complaints there.

Headroom is plentiful, even on models equipped with a power sunroof. Front and rear, there's plenty of space, with capacity for five passengers. Rear passengers will be especially pleased with the legroom and headroom they have. There's even good room under the seats to fit the toes of those with large shoes.

I thought all this interior space would have meant a cramped trunk, but not so. It's quite spacious, holding 461.5 litres (16.3 cu ft) of cargo. Overall, the new Sonata is longer, taller and wider than the 2005 model -- and than many of its competitors.

2006 Hyundai Sonata. Photo by Bill RoebuckEven the base GL Sonata is nicely equipped. It includes air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, power windows, door locks and heated mirrors, keyless entry, leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, windshield de-icer, and 16-inch wheels. However, ABS brakes are optional here.

You can add a $2,100 option package to the base model that includes a four-speed automatic, ABS, fog lights, power sunroof and alloy wheels. The top-end GLS I tested was priced at $28,125.

Another benefit is that the four-cylinder 2006 Hyundai Sonata GL was presented the 2006 EnerGuide Award as the most fuel-efficient full-size sedan available on the Canadian market. It offers a fuel consumption rating of 9.6-L/100 km in the city and 6.3-L/100 km on the  highway.

With a lower overall cost plus high ratings for quality, reliability, fuel economy and safety, the Sonata is finally ready to challenge the traditional family sedan leaders in these criteria.

Bill Roebuck is the editor and senior reviewer for ©2005.

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