2012 Hyundai Sonata Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jul 13, 2011

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2012 Hyundai Sonata Buying Advice

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata is the best car for you if you want an attractively priced midsize sedan that looks more expensive than it is and boasts advanced engines and cutting-edge infotech.

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata gains in fuel efficiency and adds a telematics system that, among other functions, lets the owner keep track of the car has when it’s being driven by someone else. The 2012 Sonata represents the second year for a midsize-sedan design that’s been a sales hit on the strength of breakout styling and value pricing. The 2012 Sonata remains a roomy four-door with front-wheel drive and body lines that do a fair imitation of a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It also continues to point to the future by ignoring a V-6 engine in favor of four-cylinder powertrains that include a lively 274-horsepower turbo and a 40-mpg gas-electric hybrid. The 2012 Sonata will need all this and more to compete with the all-new 2012 Toyota Camry.

Should you buy a 2012 Hyundai Sonata or wait for the 2013 Hyundai Sonata? The prime reason to wait would be to compare the 2013 Sonata with the flood of redesigned rivals set to launch for model-year 2013; these include the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, and Nissan Altima. The 2013 Sonata itself isn’t likely to change significantly, and the 2012 Sonata still looks radically new in a way the 2013 won’t as its styling becomes more familiar. Waiting for the 2013 Sonata will put you a year closer to this car’s midcycle freshening, when styling will be tweaked and features adjusted. Finally, annual model-year price increases are likely to make the essentially unchanged 2013 Sonata more expensive to purchase.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Hyundai Sonata styling is unchanged from the radical model-year 2011 redesign that brought dramatically drawn-back body lines complimented by swoops and creases, a look Hyundai calls “Fluidic Sculpture.”

There’s substance to all this style, however. The 2012 Sonata has an interior roomy enough to seat four big adults in comfort and not squeeze a middle-rear passenger too badly. The quality of the cabin materials is as good as any competitor’s. And at 16.4 cubic feet (10.7 cubic feet for the hybrid model) the 2012 Sonata’s cargo volume is among the largest in the competitive set.

The 2012 Sonata lineup returns three model groups, each named for its engine type. The 2012 Sonata 2.4 models – the GLS, 2.4 SE, and 2.4 Limited -- have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. These accounted for 78 percent of 2011 Sonata sales. The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T SE and 2.0T Limited models return with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. These accounted for 14 percent of 2011 Sonata sales. Rounding out the lineup is the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which teams a four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and returns in a single level of trim.

Style-wise, the 2012 Sonata 2.4 SE and Limited models are distinguished from the GLS by fog lamps and a chrome-dressed grille and door handles. The 2012 Sonata 2.0T Limited mirrors the look of the 2.4 Limited. And the 2.0T SE model shares dual-exhaust outlets with the 2.4 SE but has its own dark-accented grille.

The Hybrid is the most visually distinct 2012 Sonata. It gets a darken grille opening twice the size of that on the gas-only models. The 2012 Sonata Hybrid uses LED-accented headlamps and taillamps and has a subtly reshaped rear fascia that Hyundai says improves the car’s aerodynamics. The Hybrid’s instrument cluster also includes exclusive features, such as electroluminescent lighting and a 4.2-inch screen that displays fuel-economy information as an “Eco Score.”
The 2012 Sonatas GLS comes with 16-inch wheels (steel standard, alloy optional), the 2.4 Limited and 2.0T Limited use 17-inch alloys, and both the 2.4 SE and 2.0T SE have 18-inch alloys. The 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid comes with special aerodynamic 16-inch alloy wheels.

Mechanical: The 2012 Hyundai Sonata continues the minor revolution joined by the 2011 Sonata by remaining a midsize sedan that does not offer a V-6 engine. The 2012 Sonata relies instead on a trio of advanced four-cylinder engines and a well-designed six-speed automatic transmission. Virtually all other midsize sedans offer a six-cylinder engine -- though that won’t be true in the future, given tightening fuel-economy standards and the trend toward turbo-boosting four-cylinders to achieve V-6-levels of power. The redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, for one, will have an all-four-cylinder lineup.   

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS, 2.4 SE, and 2.4 Limited models have an all-aluminum 2.4-liter four-cylinder with the latest in mileage- and power-maximizing tech, including direct fuel injection and continuously variable valve timing. This engine ranks among the more powerful base four-cylinders in the class. It generates 198 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque in the 2012 Sonata GLS and 2.4 Limited models and 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque in the 2.4 SE. (Consider torque the force that gets a car moving, horsepower the energy that sustains momentum.)

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T SE and Sonata 2.0T Limited have a 2.0-liter version of this engine that’s turbocharged to produce 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. That output is easily in league with any rival’s six-cylinder, though Hyundai says the 2.0-liter turbo is 15 percent more fuel-efficient than a comparable V-6. Moreover, Hyundai is not promoting the 2.0T so much as a sporty-performance choice as a sensible substitute for a six-cylinder.

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid marries a 2.4-liter gas engine with an electric motor and boasts one of the highest net outputs of any hybrid in the class: 206 horsepower and 193 pound-feet of torque. Like rivals such as the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid and 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid, the 2012 Sonata Hybrid can drive on either power source independently or in tandem. It does not require plug-in charging and can shut off the gas engine when stopped to save gas.

Two key features, however, set the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid apart from most rival hybrids. First is use of lithium-polymer batteries instead of nickel-metal-hydride batteries. Hyundai says its lithium-polymer batteries are lighter, more compact, and better able to hold a charge than batteries in rival systems. The second key difference is the 2012 Sonata Hybrid’s use of a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. Every direct rival uses a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). A CVT performs the duties of a conventional automatic transmission but with a rheostat-like delivery of power rather than stepped gear ratios. Compared to a CVT, Hyundai claims its six-speed automatic provides more driving fun and promotes better fuel economy on the highway, where the majority of American driving miles are compiled.   

The 2012 Sonata GLS is the only model in the lineup available with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic transmission is optional on the 2012 Sonata GLS and is the only transmission used in the 2.4 SE, 2.4 Limited, and 2.0T models. In the Limiteds, the transmission gets a separate floor gate to facility manual-type gear control and in the SEs it adds steering-wheel paddles designed for the same purpose.

The 2012 Sonata is a front-wheel-drive design, which concentrates the weight of the powertrain over the tires that propel the car. This is the common format for midsize cars and works to benefit traction on slippery surfaces. Traction control for better grip on take-offs and an antiskid system to fight sideways slides is standard on every 2012 Hyundai Sonata. So are antilock four-wheel-disc brakes for improved control in emergency stops.

Sonata’s overall performance is highly competitive with that of any midsize car of similar price and specification. It isn’t quite as athletic-feeling as the Honda Accord or as isolating as a Toyota Camry. But it provides a laudable blend of firm ride comfort and competent handling. Among its few notable dynamic compromises is steering that feels remote and artificial in some changes of direction. Weight-saving construction means the 2012 Sonata is among the lightest midsize sedans, and the 2.4-liter models have all the power most buyers could want while turbo versions provide enough extra kick to justify their higher prices. The Sonata Hybrid rides rougher and has lazier throttle response than the other models but there’s nothing to disqualify it from a green-car shopping list.   

Features: The 2012 Hyundai Sonata continues this South Korean carmaker’s knack for generating strong showroom appeal by including as standard on every model hot-button features that cost extra on some rivals. These include Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone linking, and satellite radio. Every 2012 Sonata has an auxiliary audio jack and a USB interface for iPods and other digital media, plus a steering wheel fitted with audio, Bluetooth, and cruise controls.

All 2012 Sonatas are newly equipped with Hyundai’s Blue Link safety, service, and infotainment telematics system. It makes use of smartphone technology and is available in progressively more complex and expensive tiers of service (See 2012 Hyundai Sonata Prices below). Blue Link’s core function is similar to that of General Motors’ OnStar: provide emergency roadside assistance and collision notification at the push of a button. But it does much more.

Moving up from the basic Assurance Package to the Blue Link Essentials Package adds vehicle-location sharing via social networking, including Facebook. It enables hands-free text messaging using voice-recognition technology and provides remote engine-start, door unlock, and other conveniences through mobile-phone apps.

The Essentials Package also includes several telematics functions that can monitor and even control the car remotely. A component Hyundai calls Geo-Fence tracks the car’s movement into and out of pre-defined regions configured on the owner’s website. When the Sonata enters or leaves a designated area, the owner is notified by email, text message, or automated phone message. Similar notifications can be triggered if the car is being used in violation of predetermined speed or curfew parameters or if a valet drives it beyond a prescribed area. In addition, the package’s Stolen Vehicle Recovery capability enables law enforcement to remotely slow the Sonata or immobilize it by preventing the engine from starting or running.         

The ultimate Blue Link level of service comes with the Guidance Package. It includes the Assurance and Essentials packages and delivers turn-by-turn directions verbally and displays them on the radio faceplate. Guidance to points of interest can be downloaded to the car from websites or triggered on-board by verbal searches using casual-speech terms, such as “pizza” or “pharmacy.” Information about traffic jams, fuel-efficient driving, gas-station locations and prices, weather conditions, and restaurant ratings can also be captured.

Hyundai had distinguished the 2011 Sonata from the competition by offering a navigation system on every model in the lineup; many rivals confine navigation systems to select trim levels, usually the more expensive ones. For model-year 2012, however, Hyundai isn’t making the navigation system available on the Sonata GLS model, relying instead on the directions and services available via Blue Link telematics.

A navigation system continues as optional on all other 2012 Sonatas. It’s again activated by voice recognition as well as dashboard touchscreen, though the screen increases in size to 7 inches from 6.5 inches for model-year 2012 and the system adds High Definition radio reception. Also for 2012, the navigation system on Sonata SE models is now accompanied by the rear-backup camera previously exclusive to navigation-equipped Limited models. On all 2012 Sonatas, ordering the navigation system adds hard-drive music storage, Bluetooth streaming audio and real-time traffic, weather, sports, and stocks data.

Air conditioning, power windows, locks, and mirrors, remote keyless entry, and a 60/40 split folding rear seatback return as standard on every 2012 Sonata. So does a tilt/telescope steering wheel. A power driver’s seat is optional on GLE models and standard on all other 2012 Sonatas. GLE and Hybrid models have cloth upholstery. SEs add leather seat bolsters. Full leather seating surfaces are standard on Limited models and optional on the Hybrid. Sonata Limited models also come standard with heated front and rear seats.

A power moonroof is optional on 2012 Sonata 2.4 SE and 2.0T SE models while Limited versions replace their standard moonroof with a new Panoramic glass roof that includes a sliding pane over the front seats and fixed glass over the rear seat.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Hyundai Sonata is $20,455-$28,855 – excluding the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, for which pricing had not been announced in time for this review.

The 2012 Sonata is, like every Hyundai, aggressively priced within its competitive set.

Also like every Hyundai, there are select rivals with more dynamic poise, but this South Korean carmaker has won a fast-growing U.S. following by delivering value that stands out in the showroom along with strong warranty coverage and innovative incentives.

The 2012 Sonata GLS starts at $20,455 with manual transmission and at $21,455 with automatic. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Hyundai’s fee for the 2012 Sonata is $760.) Automatic-transmission 2012 Sonata GLS models are available with the Popular Equipment Package, a $750 option that includes alloy wheels, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, and upgraded interior trim.

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 SE has a base price of $23,855. Optional at $2,900 is the SE Navigation and Sunroof Package that includes the navigation system with backup camera, power moonroof, and upgraded audio with subwoofer.

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited starts at $27,501. Its optional Navigation Package is priced at $2,900 and includes a 400-watt, nine-speaker Infinity-brand audio system.

Base price is $25,405 for the 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T SE and $28,855 for the 2012 Sonata 2.0T Limited. The 2.0T SE’s Navigation and Sunroof Package is priced at $2,900.  The 2012 Sonata 2.0T Limited comes standard with the Panoramic roof so its Navigation Package is a $2,200 option.   

Expect the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid to start around $27,000 and again come equipped roughly equalvent to a fully optioned GLS model, with the navigation system, leather upholstery, Panoramic moonroof, and 17-inch alloys part of a Premium Package option priced around $5,000.

Blue Link will be available on all future Hyundai models but it debuts on the 2012 Sonata and on the automaker’s new sporty coupe, the 2012 Hyundai Veloster. The telematics service comes free for an introductory period of six months for the basic Assurance program and three months for the Essentials and Guidance programs. After that, fees are based on the level of service and range from $79-$279 for a one-year agreement, $139-$491 for two years, and $198-$699 for three years.

Among Hyundai’s value-added promotions is guaranteed trade-in value and warranty coverage of 5-years/60,000-miles bumper-to-bumper and 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain. Owners also qualify for 24-hour roadside assistance at no extra charge for 5-years/unlimited mileage; the service includes emergency towing and lockout service. The automaker charges no deductible for any of this coverage, though only the original purchaser gets the full 10/100,000 powertrain coverage. The powertrain warranty for any subsequent owner reverts to 5/60,000 from the date the vehicle was manufactured.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Hyundai Sonata increase slightly for some models, boosting efficiency that Hyundai already claims is best in class.

All versions of the 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS, 2.4 SE and 2.4 Limited models rate 24/35 mpg city/highway and 28 mpg combined. For automatic-transmission models, that’s a gain of 2 mpg in city driving and 2 mpg in combined city/highway driving and means the 2.4-liter now rates the same with automatic and manual transmission.

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T SE and 2012 Sonata 2.0T Limited also gain slightly, to 22/34 mpg city/highway, 26 mpg combined. That’s an increase of 1 mpg in highway driving.

EPA ratings for the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid were not released in time for this review but are not expected to change from model-year 2011 ratings of 35/40 mpg city/highway and 37 mpg combined. Note that most hybrids rate higher city mileage than highway mileage, owing in part to their system’s ability to maximize pure-electric operation at around-town speeds. By use of a conventional automatic transmission and through other measures, Hyundai has tuned the Sonata Hybrid to emphasize highway fuel economy, which the company believes is more relevant to American travel habits.   

To improve fuel economy in ways not necessarily evident in EPA ratings, 2012 Sonatas with the 2.4-liter engine and automatic transmission and those with the 2.0 turbo continue with Hyundai’s Active Eco system. This uses a dashboard button to engage a set of computer-controlled measures that alter throttle-mapping and transmission shift points to improve real-world fuel economy by as much as 7 percent, Hyundai says. The 2012 Sonata Hybrid continues with Blue Mode, which modifies operation of the climate-control system and boosts real-world gas mileage by 5 percent, Hyundai says.   

2012 Hyundai Sonata Release Date back to top

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.4-liter and 2.0-turbo models went on sale in June 2011. The 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will go on sale in autumn 2011. Note that the 2012 Kia Optima is essentially the same car as the Sonata, but with different styling inside and out and with slight variations in powertrain. Hyundai and Kia are part of one South Korean parent company and share other vehicle designs in the crossover-SUV and subcompact-car segments.

What's next for the 2012 Hyundai Sonata back to top

Don’t expect much change in this sixth-generation Sonata’s styling until model-year 2014 or so, when the car will get a midcycle update that could also include a shuffle of transmissions. Hyundai might decide the six-speed manual has too low a take rate to justify its survival. And some reports hint the company is developing a sportier dual-clutch manual for the 2.0T models. This type of transmission can be used like an automatic but can be set in manual mode to provide ultra-quick gear changes via steering-wheel paddles.

Hyundai itself acknowledges it’s working on plug-in hybrid technology in which the vehicle’s batteries could be charged from the public or private grid to provide extended electric-only range before resorting to the gas engine. Plug-in technology could be in the cards for this generation Sonata Hybrid or make its Hyundai debut with the next all-new Sonata, due around 2016 or 2017. Hyundai has been testing what appears to be a four-door station wagon body style for Sonatas sold in overseas markets and that, as well as a two-door coupe, could also be in this car’s future.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Competition back to top

Honda Accord: With an all-new Accord due for model-year 2013, the 2012 versions of this midsize sedan and coupe are clearly at the end of a distinguished run. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth considering, especially with close-out discounts making them even more attractive values – if you don’t mind styling that’ll look dated as soon as the 2013s hit the road. Regardless, you’re not likely to be disappointed in the 2012 Accord’s roominess, road manners, fuel economy, or reliability: all will be class benchmarks that rivals of any vintage would do well to emulate.  

Toyota Camry: It’s a big deal anytime a segment sales leader is redesigned and every rival is anxious to learn what challenges they’ll face with the first all-new Toyota Camry since model-year 2007. Expect the redesigned 2012 Camry to retain the hallmarks that have made this car a paragon of midsize-car virtue: roomy, comfortable cabin, refined powertrains, laudable reliability, and strong residuals. Handling prowess has taken a backseat to bump absorption, and Toyota is likely to address that with road manners that are sharper without jeopardizing Camry’s reputation for ride comfort. It’ll also need to modernize the styling without alienating conservative buyers or diminishing passenger or cargo space. Expect four- and six-cylinder engines and the likely return of a gas-electric hybrid model, too.

Kia Optima: We don’t often include “platform mates” among a car’s competition, but in this case, the Optima from Hyundai’s business partner presents an intriguing alternative. The Optima is built from the same underskin design as the Sonata but aims for sportier appeal. That’s reflected in sharper-cut styling inside and out and in suspensions tuned for more control at the slight expense of ride comfort. Similarly, Kia shoots for a bit more performance from the same engine lineup, even if it means a shade worse fuel economy. Kia shares Hyundai’s generous warranty coverage and value-for-dollar proposition, and along with its bigger and better-known corporate sibling, is among the fastest-growing car brands in the U.S.