All-new for 2006, the newest Sonata is the fifth generation of Hyundai’s mid-size sedan.

Sharing virtually nothing with the outgoing 2005 Sonata, it’s a vast improvement over the model it replaces, and raises Hyundai to a new level among Japanese and domestic midsize sedans.

The Sonata comes with a choice of two engines, both brand-new, and engineered and built by Hyundai: a 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder, and a 3.3-litre V6. Both are all-aluminum, with continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) and are fitted to the car with hydraulic engine mounts to reduce vibration. The 2.4-litre comes with a five-speed manual transmission that can be optioned up to a four-speed automatic transmission; the V6 exclusively uses a five-speed automatic.

Both engine sizes start in GL trim. The four-cylinder GL includes six airbags, air conditioning, keyless entry with alarm, cruise control, power locks and windows, power heated mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels, windshield deicer, active headrests, CD/MP3 player and leather-wrapped wheel. Available options include four-speed automatic, fog lights, ABS, power sunroof and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The V6 GL adds the five-speed automatic, ABS, fog lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, and solar control glass. Available options are a power sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The V6 can also be ordered as the GLS, which adds power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats, power driver’s seat, woodgrain interior trim, and sliding centre armrest. Available options include ESP with traction control, adjustable pedals, automatic climate control, auto-dimming mirror, Homelink garage door opener and trip computer.

Both models share a four-wheel independent suspension that’s stiffer and with improved geometry over the old Sonata. It’s a tight and responsive package, and unlike many midsize sedans, the four-cylinder is equally up to the task of moving it around, with brisk acceleration.

The Sonata’s styling borrows heavily from other manufacturers and doesn’t really stand out; it’s more understated than ornate, but it’s also uncluttered. It’s huge inside, so much so that Hyundai claims the U.S. government classifies it as a large sedan, and its interior volume is only 62 litres (2.2 cu. ft.) less than a full-size Chrysler 300.

V6-equipped models are built in a new Hyundai plant in Alabama; four-cylinder models are made in South Korea but will eventually switch to the U.S. plant as well.

Hyundai claims it offers a six-cylinder for the price of most competitors’ four-cylinders; that said, for the money, the smooth and peppy four-cylinder may be the better deal of the two, offering good performance and a fully-loaded price (including automatic transmission, fog lights, ABS, sunroof and alloy wheels) of $24,300.

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