2002 Hyundai Sonata
2002 Hyundai Sonata GLX. Click image to enlarge

by Jeremy Cato
photos by Grant Yoxon

Hyundai reinvented the Sonata mid-size sedan for the third time with the 1999 model year. It was a credible effort. That combined with a remarkable price advantage over such rivals as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry make the Sonata worth a look on the used car market.

Indeed, so-so resale values make the Sonata an appealing second-hand car. We’re not talking bare-bones family transportation, either. It should be possible to find a three-year-old loaded Sonata – one with a V6 engine, side air bags, sunroof, anti-lock braking, traction control, leather seats and shift knob, power everything and so on-out there – priced in the mid-teens.

And quality issues are not what they used to be in years past. Since 1999, there have only been two recalls of the Sonata. We also found a limited number of noteworthy service bulletins issued by the manufacturer. If you’re considering a used Sonata, have your technician focus the inspection on the manual or automatic transmission (see Buyer’s Alerts).

What will be obvious for buyers, however, is that the latest versions of the Sonata have better assembly quality than many might suspect. Paint quality has proven comparable with other Asian models and the seams and panels of late-model Sonatas are for the most part reasonably uniform all around.

Inside, the cabin design is sensible; you won’t find yourself searching all about to find controls and switches. Still, in all honesty the materials are just a notch below what you get from Toyota and Honda. Not a big notch, but a notch just the same. That said, even with the 1999 remake, the sound system buttons are way too tiny for anyone to operate with gloves or if the car is in motion.

In terms of room, there’s plenty of it in terms of head, leg and shoulder room. Notably, the back seat will fit two adults and there’s a proper three-point belt for the middle seat, along with adjustable head rests. Rear head room is tight for those over six feet tall. Meanwhile, the split-fold rear seat back opens up the trunk space for versatility.

In terms of styling, the Sonata is a very nice looking sedan. The 1999 restyling delivered plenty of interesting shapes and angles (check out the wheel arches) and the proportions look just right. The shape of the trunk is not only attractive, but functional, too. Trunk size is more than ample.

From 1999-2001, Hyundai offered a (149-horsepower) four-cylinder version of the Sonata along with a standard five-speed manual transmission. The V6 is rated at 170 horsepower. For 2002, Hyundai upped the V6 to 181 horsepower.

The V6 has adequate get-up-and-go, but passing power is modest. The automatic transmission is slow to kick down in passing mode, even though for 1999 it was equipped with adaptive shifting or so-called “fuzzy logic.” The latter employs a computer brain to change shift points based on what the driver does behind the wheel. Shift quality is a bit harsh.

The Sonata has a pretty stiff body structure and that helps the suspension engineers when they’re tuning the front double wishbone/rear five-link suspension. The ride quality is pretty good. However, soft damping makes for only adequate ride control in emergency-like manoeuvres and more aggressive cornering.

The steering is properly boosted (not too much assist, not too little) and it’s fairly precise, too. This is not what you’d call a driver’s car, but as far as family cars go, it is predictable and comfortable.

At highway speeds, there’s a bit of road rumble, suspension noise and wind whistle at higher speeds. This Sonata is not as quiet as a Camry.

So the Sonata has a price edge among used family cars. This is a well-equipped sedan with better quality than you might have been led to believe.

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