2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Last Updated: Mar 4, 2010

What are you driving? The best-selling car from Hyundai, an automaker ascending the charts with a bullet. The current-generation Sonata was a watershed design when it debuted as a 2006 model. Its contemporary styling and five-passenger-sedan dimensions put it in league with the midsize-class benchmarks, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Here was the first South Korean car truly at home on Main Street USA. For model-year 2009, this front-wheel-drive four-door was visually freshened inside and out, getting a bit more power and a retuned suspension in the process. The Sonata in the driveway this week is a Limited model, the most-expensive of the car’s three trim levels. It’s got a 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.   

How much does it cost? Significantly less than a like-equipped Accord, Camry, or Chevrolet Malibu. The 2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited’s base price is $23,970. The test example had optional carpeted floor mats ($90) and, with Hyundai’s $675 destination fee, stickered for $24,735. That undercuts the comparable Accord EX-L by $2,155, the Camry XLE by $2,385, and the Malibu LTZ by a fat $3,285. Among the Sonata Limited’s standard features are leather upholstery, 17-inch alloy wheels, a power tilt and slide sunroof, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, dual automatic climate control, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The tilt and telescopic steering wheel incorporates audio controls. The audio system has an in-dash six-disc CD changer, an external subwoofer, and links to your iPod through USB and auxiliary cords. Adding a voice-recognition navigation system would tack on $1,250, Bluetooth phone connectivity another $325, and upgrading to the 249-horsepower V-6 would cost $1,700. Sonata’s least-expensive model, the GLS, starts at $18,120 and the midline SE version is priced from $20,520.  

Is it worth it? Judged side-by-side with a similarly outfitted Accord or Camry, the Sonata Limited looks like a flaming bargain. The Hyundai’s standard equipment list gives any rival a literal run for its money, especially since a full compliment of active and passive safety equipment is standard. The Sonata’s styling and its cabin’s layout and materials quality are likely to please the widest possible audience, as well. These assets send Sonata’s showroom appeal through the roof. But take this Hyundai out of the showroom and compare it back-to-back with the Honda and Toyota. Suddenly, the Accord and Camry rationalize their price premiums with engines that run just a sliver smoother, in suspensions that confront bumps with a breath more absorbency and leave them behind with a little less residual motion. The Accord, too, will cut through turns with a sharpness the others can’t match. These differences may be slight, but they’re real. The question is whether they’re advantages you’re willing to pay more for. As for the Malibu, it’s as quiet as the class-leading Camry and it paces the Sonata for clean looks and -- for better or worse – for driving feel.   

What’s to like? Fine straight-line stability for confident highway cruising. The driver’s view of surrounding traffic is unimpeded. Nothing on the dashboard is hard to reach, no control difficult to decipher. Four adults ride in comfort. The cabin has a wealth of bins for stashing stuff; there’s even one in the rear center armrest. Big cupholders are on duty front and rear. And the large trunk is easy to load. The four-cylinder engine has perfectly adequate power, so long as you understand its job is to deliver combined city/highway fuel economy of 25 mpg, not to snap your head back.

What does it need? While the Sonata Limited’s steering has a relaxed, locked-on-center feel driving in a straight line, it shouldn’t feel light and artificial in turns. And it certainly needs to be more linear in corners to eliminate a nervous hunt-and-peck sensation when you change directions. As for suspension tuning, it’s worth noting that ride control is an asset for some of Hyundai’s other models, including its small SUVs. Exchanging faint violet lighting for crisp illumination would make it easier to read Sonata’s readouts for transmission gear position and odometer and fuel-consumption information. And a patch of padding would quell annoying knocking as the keyfob bounces off the hard plastic ignition surround. 

What’s Hyundai’s opinion? “The feature-packed Sonata Limited is a fully equipped luxury model for midsize sedan buyers who want it all—at a great price.”

What do you say? It may be picking nits to focus on the finer points of suspension and steering behavior in what is essentially a family car – a family car that does indeed excel for features and pricing. But driving satisfaction and value aren’t mutually exclusive. If you are the kind who cares about these nuances, the 2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited will come across better on the showroom floor than on the road. 

Vital statistics
2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited

  • Base price: $23,970            Price of test car including options and $675 destination fee: $24,735
  • Size: 188.9 inches long, 107.4-inch wheelbase, 3,327-pound base curb weight
  • Engine: 175 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder; front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy: 22 mpg city/ 32 highway (EPA ratings)
  • Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 10/100,000 powertrain
  • Safety ratings: maximum five stars in government crash testing for occupant protection in front and side collisions. 

Automotive journalist Chuck Giametta has covered the auto industry for more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter, Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide books and magazines, and as Managing Editor of Iguida.com. This test vehicle was provided by the manufacturer.