NEW YORK -- Sales of mid-sized sedans may be off 8 percent so far this year, but redesigns from Toyota and Hyundai unveiled at the auto show here indicate the segment has plenty of fight left in it.
Last week each automaker aimed to deliver a blow to its family-sedan competition, from different directions.
With an ambitious, sporty restyling just three years into the current cycle, Toyota sought to change the Camry's image as a bland appliance. Hyundai, meanwhile, positioned its 2015 Sonata to cast a wider net by offering shoppers a more upscale driving experience and a design less flamboyant than that of the swoopy, value-priced version that burst into the segment five years ago.
The twin unveilings spotlighted two competitors -- one a perennial but aging champion, the other a small but feisty challenger -- that still have something to prove in a mature market.
As an attention-hungry challenger, "We had to do something fairly dramatic five years ago," Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America CEO, said in an interview, referring to the outgoing Sonata's polarizing shape.
But with nearly 900,000 more Sonata owners on the road since the outgoing model's debut, and a chance to build a broader, more sustainable following, "We have to be more careful," Zuchowski said.
The next-generation Sonata rides on a carryover platform with carryover powertrains tweaked for more torque. But Hyundai says the car's suspension and steering have been redesigned for better ride and handling.
The interior also is new, with greater use of soft-touch materials and more countermeasures against road noise.
Also, high-tech features and advanced safety equipment -- plus a starting price that Zuchowski says won't stray far from the outgoing model's sticker of just over $22,000, with shipping -- will help the Sonata retain the value image that has been a key purchase reason for the sedan, Hyundai says.