The mid-size, mid-price car market is approaching saturation. Depending on how they're counted, more than seven nameplates compete for shoppers looking for a car that's thrifty, yet performs; that's comfortable, but not expensive; that's fresh and new, but promises to be reliable.
Korea's car makers have never been a part of this class. They've danced around the edges, with the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata. But neither car has broken through and established a solid foothold in the mainstream U.S. market.
Enter the all-new 2006 Hyundai Sonata.
While the previous-generation Sonata made a dramatic jump to the top spot in the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Initial Quality Study ranking of entry midsize cars, the 2006 Sonata has been completely redesigned. It's bigger, better equipped, more technologically advanced and sharper looking than the 2005 model it replaces.
The class in which the new Sonata competes, however, is blurred. Exterior-wise, it goes against mid-size sedans, primarily the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima and secondarily against the Chevrolet Malibu, the Kia Optima and the upcoming Ford Fusion. Inside, though, the '06 Sonata moves up a class, to large car, which gives it a potential edge in creature comfort.
With minor and essentially immaterial exceptions, it lives up to that potential. It's roomier in almost every dimension than its midsize competitors, which is no surprise. Fit and finish is on a par with most others in the class, which also is no surprise. In terms of performance, it equals or bests comparably featured cars, which is a surprise. It's cleaner, too, than earlier Sonatas. Just as important, if not more so, the new Sonata is aggressively priced, positioned smack in the middle of the range of prices of the mid-size sedans.
All this combined makes the 2006 Hyundai Sonata good enough to put the mid-priced, midsize market on notice. There's a new player.