If any car had the potential to change the public’s perception of the Hyundai brand in the modern era, it was the last-generation Sonata. Available from 2006 to 2010, the Korean automaker’s bread-and-butter family sedan was packed with the engineering, quality and styling needed to give the big boys from Japan a serious run for their money.
In the used marketplace, Sonata’s Korean roots and relatively short history as a family sedan contender mean that resale values will be relatively low compared to those of Japanese competitors. If you’re looking for a good deal on a used family car, the last-generation Sonata may be a great place to start-- especially considering that it seems to have fared very well where reliability is concerned.
Under the hood
Standard was a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with 162 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission. A manual-mode automatic was available, as was a V6 engine with 235 horsepower. The 3.3-litre engine was available only with an automatic transmission, and all models were front-wheel drive sedans. Note that horsepower was bumped towards the end of this generation’s life, with the four-cylinder unit making 175 horsepower, and the V6 making 249 for 2009 and 2010.
Shoppers in the used market will find entry-level Sonata models labeled with a GL badge, while GL V6, GLS and GLS V6 models filled out the model range. Sonata Sport and Limited models were available in later years as well.
Available features included a power glass sunroof, 17-inch wheels, stability control, automatic climate control, an Infinity CD-changer audio system, auxiliary audio device inputs, remote access, power leather seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Shoppers after a ride with a factory-installed navigation system won’t find it here, as the last-generation Sonata was never offered with navigation.
What owners like
Owners taking to the Web to share their Sonata experiences commonly praise the vehicle’s styling, roominess, massive trunk, comfort levels and overall refinement. The V6 engine is a favorite with performance buffs, who mainly say they enjoy the available power and acceleration. Long-haul comfort is rated highly too, as is fuel mileage with the four-cylinder engine.
What owners hate
Complaints include interior squeaks and rattles, some low-budget interior trim pieces, the lack of lighting on certain controls at night, and premature brake wear-- though the latter is largely subject to the individual driving style and locale at play.
Noteworthy is a mixed sentiment between two comfort-related aspects of the last-generation Sonata: the seats and the ride quality. Some owners rave about comfort levels related to both, while others complain of stiff, uncomfortable seats and a noisy and harsh ride. Take a lengthy test drive to ensure you feel comfortable in the used Sonata you’re considering.
Here’s a bit of a surprise to some: the last-generation Sonata looks to be very reliable. In this writer’s standard checks of numerous online forums and websites, no major, systematic or worrisome issues were found to be reported by large numbers of owners. Drivelines and major systems all look to be solid and dependable.
One online owner comments “I used to own a Japanese-made car as well as a German-made car before. I thought the Japanese cars were maintenance-effective compared to German cars, but I got to admit that Hyundai beat the Japanese car I had. Good car to own and operate!”
Regardless, the Sonata is a machine made of components that will eventually wear out and break. As such, a check over for tire wear, brake system condition, clutch wear (if applicable) and the condition of the vehicle’s suspension is advised. Be sure the former owner was fond of changing their Sonata’s oil on time, and budget for a full fluid change and tune-up if you’re unsure of the vehicles history.
Additionally, test-drivers will want to inspect the body for rust, check the cabin for loose, broken or missing panels or switches, and ensure that all door locks and windows operate as expected. If the Sonata you’re considering has a CD-changer or power seats, ensure these expensive-to-fix parts are in proper working order, too.
While driving, listen and ‘feel’ for unwelcomed noises and sensations with the stereo switched off. Popping or clunking noises from the suspension likely indicate a worn-out component, and a pulsation during moderate braking likely means that a brake-job is on the horizon. If the vehicle ‘pulls’ to one side or the other when the steering wheel is released on a flat road, it may need an alignment, too.
Ultimately, if you’re able to find a good deal on a last-generation Sonata that’s healthy and well-maintained, you’ll likely wind up with a reliable and enjoyable car. Best of all, you’ll save a few bucks, too.