Review and photos by Greg Wilson

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Typically, when a new family sedan is introduced, it’s the V6-powered model that gets all the media attention – not the base 4-banger. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward: 6-cylinder models are usually better equipped, more attractive, and sell in greater numbers than the 4-cylinder models. And since vehicle manufacturers prefer the media to drive the nicest models in their line-up, they usually provide journalists with their top-of-the-line 6-cylinder models.

There’s another reason 6-cylinder cars get more attention. Not that long ago, base 4-cylinder mid-size sedans were underpowered and noisy when compared to their V6 counterparts. Their main role was to attract customers into the showroom who would then be lured by the fancier, better-equipped 6-cylinder models with their higher price-tags.

It was in the mid 90s that mid-sized sedans began offering 4-cylinder engines that were smoother-running and more powerful, thanks mostly to larger displacement engines over 2.0 litres, improved fuel injection systems, balance shafts, hydraulic engine mounts, and more recently, variable valve timing and variable air induction. ‘Intelligent’ automatic transmissions and improved sound insulation also played a role in the transformation. Today’s 4-cylinder engines offer as much horsepower as V6 engines of a decade ago, and run so smoothly you would be hard-pressed to identify them as 4-cylinder engines in a ‘blind’ comparison test.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

For 2006, all the most popular mid-sized sedans, Camry, Accord, Altima, Mazda6, Malibu, Fusion, Sebring, G6, are available with these new-generation 4-bangers. Given their lower MSRPs and better fuel economy, 4-cylinder family sedans are beginning to look a lot more attractive, particularly for families on a budget. A 4-cylinder sedan is typically cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain over the long term without a big sacrifice in performance and comfort.

2006 Sonata GL 4-cylinder

Since its Canadian introduction in 1988, the Sonata has been competing in a class of well-established name-plates, and until now has been a fringe player. But earlier this year, something interesting happened: J.D. Power and Associates named the 2004 Sonata the best car in the mid-size class in its Initial Quality Survey, and Consumer Reports named it ‘the most reliable 2004 automobile sold in North America’. That was an eye-opener for many people, and a timely introduction for the totally redesigned 2006 Sonata.

2006 Sonata V6 models are now built in Hyundai’s new plant in Alabama, while the 4-cylinder models are still built in South Korea. At some future point, the 4-cylinder models will also be built in Alabama.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Compared to the 2005 Sonata, the new one is 55 mm taller, 22 mm wider, 55 mm longer, with a wheelbase that’s 30 mm longer. More importantly, the new Sonata is slightly bigger than its major Japanese and American competitors with a total interior volume of 3398 litres (120 cu. ft.) which classifies it as a “Large Car” under U.S. government size classification rules. Its 462-litre (16.3 cu. ft.) trunk is bigger than all but the Camry’s.

The Sonata’s standard 2.4 litre 4-cylinder all-aluminum engine, with dual overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, and continuously variable valve timing, makes 162 horsepower and 164 lb-ft of torque, comparable with the Camry, Accord and Mazda6 – only the 175 hp Nissan Altima has more. This is tempered by the fact that the Sonata GL 4-cylinder is approximately 70 kg heavier than its Camry or Accord counterparts, however the Sonata’s fuel consumption (9.9 City/6.5 Hwy) is slightly better than the Camry, Accord, Altima, and Mazda6, with only the 145 hp Malibu offering marginally better fuel consumption.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The 4-cylinder Sonata accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in a respectable 10.1 seconds equipped with the automatic transmission. That compares to a quick 7.7 seconds with the 3.3 litre V6 engine and 5-speed automatic.

There are some areas where the base Sonata clearly offers more than its competitors*. It offers six standard airbags (2 front, 2 side, and 2 side-curtain), as well as active front head restraints designed to reduce the effects of whiplash in a rear-end collision. Its optional 4-speed automatic “Shiftronic” transmission offers a manual shifting option, and its standard 5-year/100,000 km warranty is better than everyone except Kia and Mitsubishi. Perhaps its strongest feature is its price. Starting at just $21,900, the Sonata is priced considerably lower than its major Japanese and American competitors.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

There are some caveats: while the Sonata GL comes with standard 4-wheel disc brakes (Camry and Accord have rear drums) ABS is optional on the Sonata (it’s standard on Camry and Accord). As well, ABS is available only as part of an option package which includes sunroof, alloy wheels and fog lights ($2,000). And while the Sonata offers an optional 4-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual mode ($1,000), the Camry comes with a standard 5-speed automatic transmission. Even with those options added, the 2006 Sonata GL is still cheaper than the 2005 Camry or Accord.

Standard equipment

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Except for the notable omission of anti-lock brakes, standard equipment on the base Sonata GL model ($21,900) is extensive, including the aforementioned 6 airbags and 4 disc brakes, plus a 5-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, cloth seats with driver’s height and lumbar adjustment, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, power windows with driver’s automatic down feature, pinch protection and illuminated switches; leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt adjustment, cruise control, power door locks, remote keyless entry, 60/40 split folding seatbacks, 16-inch tires and steel wheels.

The only major options are the 4-speed automatic “Shiftronic” transmission ($1,000), and the ABS package ($1,400). Unfortunately, traction control, stability control and power adjustable pedals which are available on the GLS V6 model, are not offered on the GL 4 cylinder model.

Interior impressions

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

For a base trim car, the 4-cylinder Sonata GL’s interior is attractive and well-finished. Its two-tone instrument panel includes metal trim on the dash, metal trimmed gauges, leather wrapped steering wheel, and metal shift gate. The big, soft velour cloth seats are comfortable and supportive, and the driver’s seat has a manual height and lumbar adjustment. However, power seats and heated front seats are not available on the 4- cylinder model.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The GL’s driving position provides excellent visibility through the large windows and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom for front and rear passengers. The steering wheel offers a tilt adjustment, but only V6 models offer the additional telescoping feature. I liked the automatic-down power windows, and large ‘dead’ pedal on the driver’s side for resting the left foot.

A standard AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers (2 tweeters, 2 front speakers, 2 rear speakers) provides strong, clear sound, but steering wheel controls are not offered on 4-cylinder Sonatas. The heating and ventilation system is simple and easy to operate and the air conditioning system cools down the interior quickly.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Handy storage areas under the heater controls and behind the shift lever provide space for valuables, and phones can be charged with the 12-volt powerpoint. The two cupholders between the front seats have grippers for smaller cups, and a folding lid when not in use. At the rear, a fold-down centre armrest includes two built-in cupholders.

The 60/40 split folding seatbacks provide storage for longer items like skis, rakes, ladders and the like, and sensibly, can only be released from inside the trunk (to deter thieves from accessing the trunk from the cabin). The Sonata’s trunk is very spacious and fully lined. Under the trunk floor is a temporary spare tire (the Camry has a full-size tire).

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

Though the Sonata hasn’t undergone government crash tests yet, Hyundai claims it will meet 5-Star safety standards.

Driving impressions

As I was saying earlier, 4-cylinder engines have come a long way in the past decade. Hyundai’s new aluminum 2.4 litre powerplant is responsive and smooth, and quiet at highway speeds revving at just 2000 rpm at 100 km/h and 2500 at 120 km/h. It is noisier than Hyundai’s 3.3 litre V6 under acceleration, but it’s not noisy per se.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The optional 4-speed automatic transmission shifts well – there’s really no need for a 5-speed automatic – and the manual shift mode allows the driver some control over shift points, although this is not a sporty car, and most people will probably ignore it.

The Sonata’s ride, courtesy of a fully independent suspension (front double wishbone/rear multi-link) is comfortable but a fit floaty for my tastes – somewhere between the soft ride of a Toyota Camry and the firmer ride of a Honda Accord. Handling is nicely balanced with some lean but generous grip from its standard 215/60R-16 inch Michelin all-season tires. 17-inch tires are available as an option.

2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder
Click image to enlarge

The rack and pinion variable-assist power steering (that varies assist with engine rpms) provides plenty of boost at slower speeds and is generally lightweight. The Sonata’s turning circle of just 10.9 metres (35.8 ft.) makes manoeuvring in tight spaces fairly easy. But this is not a sporty sedan, neither in performance or appearance. It’s just a very practical, roomy, conservative, and well-equipped mid-size family sedan with moderate performance, reasonable fuel economy and a good warranty.


The four cylinder 2006 Hyundai Sonata compares well with other cars in its class, offering comparable or better interior room, trunk space, performance, comfort, and fuel economy at a lower asking price. Noteworthy features include 6 standard airbags and a 5-year warranty.

* Models used for competitive comparison: 2005 Toyota Camry LE, 2005 Honda Accord DX, 2005 Nissan Altima 2.5S, 2005 Mazda6 GS, 2005 Chevrolet Malibu

Technical Data: 2006 Hyundai Sonata GL 4-cylinder

Base price $21,900
Options $3000 (4-speed automatic transmission; ABS Group: ABS, fog lights, power sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels)
Freight $615
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $25,615 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, CVVT
Horsepower 162 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 164 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic w/Shiftronic (std 5-spd man.)
Tires Michelin P215/60R-16
Curb weight 1481 kg (3265 lb.)
Wheelbase 2730 mm (107.5 in.)
Length 4800 mm (189.0 in.)
Width 1832 mm (72.1 in.)
Height 1475 mm (58.1 in.)
Trunk capacity 462 litres (16.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 9.9 L/100 km (29 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 6.5 L/100 km (44 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with