2014 NEW YORK AUTO SHOW

Hyundai goes mild with 2015 Sonata makeover

Hyundai says the 2015 Sonata's styling is a refinement of the outgoing model. It continues to feature many of the current Sonata's most distinct characteristics.

Photo credit: RYAN BEENE
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NEW YORK -- Hyundai is tweaking the recipe that made the Sonata one of the industry’s hottest mid-sized sedans in recent years with a makeover for 2015 that is more mild than spicy.

The redesigned 2015 Sonata, introduced at the New York auto show today, will offer more technology and safety equipment than the outgoing model.

While the Sonata’s design resembles the outgoing model, the sedan is losing the rounded corners and some of the curvy, slick lines that made the outgoing Sonata turn heads -- and proved a turning point for Hyundai -- when it arrived in early 2010.

Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski said he anticipates annual Sonata sales of about 200,000 to 225,000 units. Sonata sales peaked at 230,605 units in 2012. The 2015 Sonata goes on sale in June.

“We’re not looking to try get to unprecedented volume levels with this vehicle. We want to get back to the area around when we first launched the [current Sonata],” Zuchowski said in an interview at the auto show here.

Prices were not announced, though Zuchowski said prices will remain close to the current model.

The outgoing Sonata rode on a new platform, featured new engines and an all four-cylinder engine lineup at a time when competitors offered an optional V-6 engine.

It was wrapped in striking sheet metal to show consumers that a family sedan could also sport an eye-catching design.

The sedan powered much of Hyundai’s U.S. sales growth from 2010-2012, making it a tough act to follow for the seventh-generation Sonata.

Since then, the Elantra has surpassed the Sonata as Hyundai’s top-selling product. But Zuchowski says Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., which builds both vehicles, will adjust its production mix to allow the Sonata to become Hyundai’s best-selling product once again.

Hyundai’s first-quarter U.S. sales skidded 3 percent and company executives and dealers are counting on the 2015 Sonata to help revive the brand’s momentum and regain some of the market share that’s been lost over the last two years.

Market share boost

The Sonata, with a long list of standard equipment and competitive pricing, helped Hyundai’s share of the mid-sized sedan segment surge to 10.8 percent in 2011 from 4 percent in 2009.

But as it has squared off against redesigned Japanese and U.S. rivals, notably the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion, its share has dropped.

Returning to anticipated sales levels will mean “more share for us though it may not mean the share we had in that segment when the Sonata first launched,” Zuchowski said. “It’s important for us, we’re going to get that volume back.”

In the first three months of the year, Hyundai’s share of the huge segment slipped to 6.6 percent, compared to 7.9 percent for all of 2013 and 9.1 percent in 2012.

And there are signs the 2015 Sonata and other mid-sized sedans may face tougher prospects. U.S. car buyers are increasingly shifting to crossovers and other light trucks, driving mid-sized car sales down more than 7 percent in the first quarter. In 2013, the segment expanded by just 1 percent.

“You’re seeing a lot of attrition and movement from the mid-sized car segment to the CUV segment, and that’s just an industry movement,” Zuchowski said.

'Refined' design

Hyundai says the 2015 Sonata’s styling is a refinement of the outgoing model. It continues to feature many of the current Sonata’s most distinct characteristics: a creased beltline that runs from atop the front wheel arch to the tail lamps and chrome trim that connects the headlight to the greenhouse.

In a statement, Chris Chapman, Hyundai’s U.S. design chief, likened the 2015 Sonata’s styling to the way a top chef continually refines and tinkers with recipes.

“With the 2011 Sonata, Hyundai took the mid-size sedan from a meal to a gourmet dinner. The evolution to Fluidic Sculpture 2.0’s more taut, modern lines reflect the improvements in refinement and driving dynamics for 2015,” Chapman said.

The 2011 Sonata rode on a new platform and was powered by new engines and transmissions. Hyundai is retaining the powertrains on the 2015 Sonata, while modifying other parts of the car for improved driving dynamics and safety.

Mike O'Brien, vice president of product planning at Hyundai Motor America, says the automaker prioritized "engineering integrity" with the Sonata's 2015 makeover.

The car's suspension and steering have been redesigned for better ride and handling performance and efforts to reduce noise, vibration and harshness were applied throughout the vehicle.

The car’s body-in-white uses more advanced high-strength steel than its predecessor, boosting rigidity, Hyundai says.

The Sonata’s rear multi-link suspension has been recalibrated to be more responsive and less harsh under impact, with single lower suspension arms being replaced by a dual-arm design to improve ride quality.

Under the hood, Hyundai will offer a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine for Sonatas in SE, Limited and Sport trims, while a 2.0-liter, turbo-four will power the Sonata Sport 2.0T.

But each engine will provide less horsepower compared to current power plants.

Hyundai says horsepower in the 2.4-liter will drop by 5 hp to 185 hp while horsepower in the 2.0-liter turbocharged will tumble by 29 hp to 245 hp.

Both engines were retuned to make more power available in mid- to low-rev situations for better drivability, Hyundai says.

New features

Some of the biggest changes on the 2015 Sonata are designed to improve safety and connectivity.

Automatic dimming high-beam headlights, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning are among the new safety features on the 2015 Sonata.

Some 2015 Sonatas will also be offered with Apple’s CarPlay system.

The system lets iPhone users access their phone’s text messages, Apple maps, make calls and listen to music through the Sonata’s voice recognition system. The system displays the iPhone features on the Sonata’s touch screen.

New convenience features include a smart trunk system that will automatically pop the Sonata’s trunk when the driver stands behind the car for three seconds while holding the car’s key fob.

An updated version of Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system will also be available. Hyundai will also make an in-car service scheduling, dealer locator, roadside assistance and maintenance app available for download to the car’s head unit on Sonatas with Navigation.

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter


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