by Frank A. Aukofer

As midsize sedans struggle against the onslaught of customer preference for crossover sport utility vehicles, manufacturers work hard to up their game with cars like the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport.

The Sonata started a successful run with its “fluidic sculpture” design in 2012 but then backed off for more conservative styling in the 2015 model year. With other midsize sedans, sales tailed off in recent years. Where Hyundai had been selling more than 200,000 Sonatas a year, sales dropped to 199,416 in 2016 and in 2017 have been running at an annual rate of fewer than 150,000.

For 2018, the South Korean manufacturer delivers freshened styling that could persuade customers that they’re seeing an all-new automobile.

2018 Sonata

The design is rakish and handsome from every angle, accentuated by a bold new grille. Overall, the look would do justice to a near-luxury sedan costing many thousands of dollars more than the $26,210 price of the Sonata Sport tested for this review.

Moreover, the tester’s 122 cubic feet of interior volume gets it a large car rating from the U.S. government. Though an inch shy of 16 feet long, the Sonata Sport has airy rear-seat headroom and especially generous knee room that allows outboard back seat passengers to stretch out. As usual in most cars, however, the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion and a small floor hump.

2018 Sonata

Other seat comfort is first rate front and rear with one of the best upholstery combinations around. Seats are covered mainly with sturdy leather but the butt and back areas are a comfortable cloth. It means the Sonata doesn’t need seat heaters or coolers, though it does come with heated front seats. A power front seat and a fully-adjustable steering wheel with a sporty flat bottom assures an optimum driving position.

Out back, the trunk can swallow a large load of luggage or cargo, However, the C-Hinges are naked, without anything to isolate them, so could damage the contents when fully loaded.

2018 Sonata

Though there are some pricier trim levels with 245-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter engines, along with an Eco model, the focus here is on the standard Sonata lineup, which consists of SE, SEL, Sport and Limited models.

All four, including the Sport, come with a 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 178 lb-ft of torque. This one does not have a turbocharger, which seems to be the engineering fad of the moment, especially among 2.0-liter engines.

Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles, the tested front-wheel drive Sonata Sport acquits itself well in everyday urban, suburban and freeway driving.

It comes with three separate driving modes: Eco, Comfort and Sport, which alter shift patterns and other performance parameters. In Eco, automatic shifts sometimes can feel a bit dodgy, so it’s best to stick with the Comfort or Sport modes. But you have to pay attention to select either one when you set off because the system defaults to Eco when the engine is shut down.

2018 Sonata

You won’t win many drag races in any of the drive modes, though the Eco mode falls away if you punch the throttle to pass or otherwise speed up. But there’s plenty of power for any driving circumstance on public roads and the Sport delivers city/highway/combined fuel economy of 25/35/28 mpg burning regular gasoline.

The Sonata Sport is equipped with with full basic safety equipment like stability/traction control and antilock brakes, enhanced by blind-spot warning, tire-pressure monitoring and a rear-view camera.

It also comes with a motorized sunroof, an easy-to-use center interface with a touch screen and redundant buttons for functions like SXM satellite radio, HD radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Touch screen functions are simple and intuitive.

 

2018 Sonata

A navigation system is not included, though many people nowadays forego the built-in systems in cars and simply use Waze, Google Maps or Mapquest anyway, and there are USB ports in the Sonata Sport for smart phones.

The only glaring shortcoming, given the overall high level of equipment, is that the Sonata Sport is not equipped with automatic climate control. Though the temperature and fan-speed knobs are easy enough to use, they require occasional fiddling around to maintain cabin comfort.

Given the average price of near $36,000 for a new car today, the $26,210 Hyundai Sonata Sport should deliver many years of trouble-free motoring well beyond the end of the monthly payments.

2018 Sonata

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder, 185 hp, 178 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 106/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds (est.)
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/35/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,085.
  • Price as tested: $26,210.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Sonata

Photos (c) Hyundai.