Mountain Wheels: Futuristic Hyundai Sonata moves ahead with improved design (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Futuristic Hyundai Sonata moves ahead with improved design (column)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

With the Paralympics now underway and the recent Olympic Games providing plenty of good memories for local athletes, let us throw a little extra attention on the games' South Korean hosts.

There are few success stories to match the spectacular advancements made by Hyundai, whose product line is now deep and rich with beautifully crafted automobiles. They've been so successful they spun off their high-end model line into its own brand, Genesis, and their offerings show huge advances in design and quality.

And in the most improved-overall category — at least until we get to see the new eighth-generation Santa Fe, plus a Chevy Bolt-beating all-electric compact SUV, which both debuted at this week's Geneva Auto Show — is the 2018 Sonata.

An old name is now a long, lean, crisply designed and comfortable mid-size sedan, with flair aplenty and ample power, when you opt for the high-output 2.0-liter turbo.

That direct-injection motor gets you 245 horsepower and provides a somewhat unexpected dose of acceleration and highway-cruising power, with highway mileage in the 32-MPG range.

A 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 185 horsepower is a more standard option; Sonata also comes in hybrid and plug-in hybrid variations.

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I was given the keys to the Limited and its hotter engine and decided to make a pilgrimage to the Snowy Range Ski Area, west of Laramie, Wyoming.

That proved to be an ideal distance (about the same from the northern Front Range as Summit County is) to check out the Sonata's improved highway feel and its increasingly classy setup. And, I might mention, to ski in a wonderful and absolutely no-pretenses environment where a full-day student lift ticket was less than $50. Talk about doing the time warp.

For its futuristic 2018 Sonata model, Hyundai rebuilt its steering systems (more stiffness and refined calibration), updated and reinforced its rear suspension and also added an 8-speed transmission. Sonata's turbocharged examples also get 18-inch wheels as standard fare.

The resulting mix makes for a confident and stylish machine that was right for the kind of high-speed cruising you get when not soul-killingly bogged down by traffic, which we still anticipate we'll never see in Wyoming for another 100 years.

Overall design is also quite slick, with a smoother tail design that pushes the car into Lexus or BMW territory, a credit to the company's study of higher-end import competition and the work of Chris Chapman, head designer at Hyundai's North American Design Center, located in California.

The new and slightly ominous, all-black cascading grille, sandwiched between huge nostril-shaped wedges, is topped with nicely shaped, thin-profile LED headlights with automatic high-beam detectors.

We expect you'll see more of that grille treatment in other Hyundai products. Sonata, assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, was crafted with the U.S. market in mind and the zillions of mid-sized sedans that still attract buyers not entirely consumed by SUV or truck choices.

And as is the Hyundai way, the $33,460 Limited model we drove was overloaded with upscale features and technology, no options required. The cars all get seven-inch touchscreen displays with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included; the Blue Link telemetry package can also integrate with Amazon Echo, allowing you to program your home when you're on the road. There's also cordless cellphone recharging, plus well-marked USB and audio auxiliary inputs, plus dual 12-volt electrical outlets.

Large aluminum-look wheel shift paddles, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and aluminum pedals all contribute to the car's sportier feel, while a drive mode switch can enhance the responses or make the Sonata a bit more appropriate for snow driving.

The smaller touches are also quite nice, including blue highlight stitching on the seats and gear shifter shroud, aluminum weave detail on the doors and dash and a piano black plate on the center console.

The well-bolstered seating was supportive over the long haul, and rear passengers also get considerable room; if you're hauling skis, a 60/40 split rear seat can drop and enhance the already significant trunk room.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0T

MSRP: $32,450: As tested: $33,460

Powertrain: 245-HP 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA MPG figures: 26 combined (23 city, 32 highway)