Used Vehicle Review: Hyundai Sonata, 2015-2018

Vehicle Type

Spacious and upscale cabin, generous trunk space, and an easy-to-drive, effortless character.

Mid-size sedan

History/Description

Showcasing Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design ideology in every inch of its body, the new-for-2015 Sonata courted shoppers with its taut lines and confident proportions, which reflected Hyundai’s latest generation of sophisticated styling.

This generation of Sonata also capitalized on the latest array of driver assist features available, including technologies like forward collision warning (FCW) system, adaptive cruise control (ACC), blind spot detection (BSD) with rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), a lane departure warning system (LDWS), and more.

A new structure, heavily comprised of high-strength steel, was twice as rigid as the previous generation, and 10 percent lighter. The stiffened body enabled finer tuning and control of the suspension, steering, ride, and handling, which contributed to a more upscale and refined driving experience. Shoppers considering upgrading into this generation of Sonata from an earlier unit will likely find it an compelling upgrade.

Feature content included a rear-view camera, heated front seats, Bluetooth, keyless entry, automatic lights, full power accessories, and more. Higher-end models like the Limited, Sport, or Ultimate added content including Park Assist, heated rear seats, push-button engine start, a heated steering wheel, premium audio systems, and more.

Engines

Look for a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection (GDI) as standard, with about 185 horsepower. A 2.0-litre GDI turbo engine with 242 horsepower was the up-level powerplant. Both engines drove the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. Sonata was also available with a hybrid driveline, comprised of a 2.0-litre engine and electric motor, for a combined 193 horsepower.

What Owners Like

Owners rate this generation of Sonata highly for its spacious and upscale cabin, generous trunk space, and an easy-to-drive, effortless character, backed by good highway manners and solid all-around comfort. The navigation system, and the refinement from the powertrain, were also highly rated.

What Owners Dislike

Though online owner reviews are largely positive, some owners complain of a vague feel from the brakes and steering, especially on hybrid-powered models.

Here are some owner reviews.

Pro Tip: Shop Newer for Extra Safety Tech

If you’re after an extra helping of safety equipment and your budget can handle it, go for a 2017 or newer model. This year saw the availability of additional driver assist systems, and an advanced new steerable xenon lighting system for improved peace of mind. Lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert were also available.

Pro Tip: Confirm Warranty Status

If you’re set on a few-year-old Sonata to take advantage of the remaining warranty, be sure that said warranty is still in good standing. Note that failure of a past owner to properly maintain or repair the vehicle can void some (or all) remaining warranty coverage, possibly even if a single oil change or inspection and tune-up have been missed or performed late.

Modifications of the driveline with non-factory parts can void portions of the vehicle’s warranty coverage, too. Seek out a model with full service records, and one that’s never been modified, for maximum peace of mind. Ask your dealer service department if you have any concerns.

Note that, while relatively rare, some owners have reported damage or failure caused by engine problems, almost exclusively during the warranty period. The issues may stem from a combination of factors including manufacturing debris within the engine, or poor oil flow. Here’s some more reading. This issue affected a small number of vehicles compared to overall sales volume, though its’ worth being aware of.

Pro Tip: Additional Hybrid Checks

If you’re set on a hybrid-powered Sonata, a few additional checks and inspections are advised, in addition to those listed below. First, have the vehicle treated to a full diagnostic system scan, including a scan of the hybrid driveline and battery, by a dealer technician, before agreeing to buy. This scan can reveal a multitude of possible problems within the hybrid system, if present. Further, ensure that all software updates have been applied to the vehicle, which can help optimize or correct the operation of various systems related to the hybrid driveline. With a satisfactory diagnostic scan and all software updates installed, you’ll reduce the likelihood of possible headaches.

The Test Drive

The Walkaround

Though the durability of a vehicle’s finish is largely a function of maintenance, care, climate, and the environment in which the vehicle was operated, some owners have reported peeling or fading paint earlier than expected, so scrutinize the condition of the finish, especially in vulnerable areas like the front edge of the hood and bumper, and behind each wheel. Call any excessive wear into pricing negotiations. Further, check around the inner and lower edges of the doors, hood and trunk for signs of sneaky rust.

Shifting (and the Parking Camera)

Check the shift lever, multiple times, as you change from Park to Drive to Reverse, and back again. Do this numerous times on your test drive, noting that any issue shifting smoothly between positions, or any unwelcomed hesitation or clunking during gear shifts, may require attention to the shifter linkage in the form of lubrication, adjustment or replacement – depending on the severity of the problem.

As you shift into reverse each time, you’ll also want to confirm that the back-up camera works as expected, several times. Some owners have reported issues, which may be caused by anything from a bad camera module (not too expensive) up to and including the need to fully replace the central display unit in the dash (very expensive). Though reports of trouble here are too sporadic to warrant much alarm, they’ve been encountered on other Hyundai models, too. Shoppers are, therefore, advised to confirm proper operation before they buy.

Transmission

Note that some owners have reported hard shifting from the transmission, failure to respond with a downshift, or random clunking from beneath the vehicle during shifts. If detected, these issues are typically software and sensor-related in nature, possibly caused by a bad vehicle speed sensor, or a bad temperature sensor within the transmission. Some owners have had success with having new software installed to the transmission control computer, or having that computer reset.

In any case, have any transmission-related funny business assessed by a professional before agreeing to buy. Here’s some more information, including a list of Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) that dealers can look up to help diagnose and address transmission problems more quickly.

Software Update to Detect Engine Knock

Ask your local Hyundai dealer if the Sonata you’re considering might be eligible for this software update, which adds improved functionality to the engine computer for the detection of engine knock. As this update seeks to help prevent possibly fatal engine damage caused by knock or detonation, it’s important to ensure the update has been applied. In many cases, this update will have been carried out automatically when the vehicle was previously serviced at a Hyundai dealership, but shoppers are advised to be sure that that’s the case.

Smart Trunk

Some Sonata models have the Smart Trunk system, which automatically opens the trunk for the driver if they stand still just behind it for a moment with the key fob on their person. It’s designed to open the trunk for you, even if you’ve got an armful of shopping. The SmartTrunk system works in certain conditions, not in others, and may have been turned off or disabled by the previous owner. If this system doesn’t seem to be working for you, check the owner’s manual for the scoop.

Maintenance Considerations

Though the Sonata doesn’t appear to be a maintenance-heavy vehicle, it’s important to have any maintenance related to fluid changes carried out by the dealer, or an independent shop, using only the factory-specified fluids and filters. Modern engines like those found in the Sonata are designed to run a specific type of oil filter and engine oil to help them achieve the fuel efficiency and durability intended by the factory. Use only the fluids and filters specified in the owner’s manual when its time for an oil change, or any other fluid change. Note that failure of a non-factory-approved part (for instance, a non-factory oil filter installed at a lube shop) may cause damage that’s not covered by your vehicle’s warranty.

Other Notes

Use Good Fuel

Though you can run 87 octane through your Sonata from this generation, a higher-octane fuel is likely best, given the engine’s high compression ratio. Many owners choose to run a premium fuel, like Shell V-Power, at a higher octane rating for improved performance and additional cleaning of engine internals. Regardless of the octane level you’ll choose, be sure to fuel up exclusively with Top Tier-rated gasoline from a reputable retailer, to help ensure the Sonata’s engine stays clean and gunk-free for the long haul.

Commonly Missed Maintenance

A check of a few easily overlooked maintenance items is strongly advised for minimal headaches. Check the battery and charging system, swapping to a new battery to fend off electronic problems if the currently-installed battery shows any signs of weakness. Confirm that the cabin air filter is fresh and new, not old and clogged, to prevent performance problems with the Sonata’s heater, defroster function, and air conditioning. Finally, be sure to change spark plugs not a moment later than advised in the owner’s manual, as this is a key contributing factor in the long and trouble-free life of a GDI engine.

Recalls

Here’s a list of recalls. You can look up if any of them apply to the vehicle you’re considering by looking up the VIN on the Hyundai website.

Verdict

The most major reported issues include hard shifting from the transmission, and in-warranty engine failure. In the case of hard shifting, the fix is almost always easy, and simply requires the installation of new computer software. The rare but well-documented engine failure issue tends to happen exclusively at low miles, and under warranty. By and large, Sonata seems to have been loved, with minimal trouble, by the vast majority of its owners. Still, maintenance is key, and some software updates may be required to ensure properly optimized operation of all systems. A healthy used Sonata with all software updates and maintenance up to date, and with plenty of warranty remaining, can be bought with confidence.

Crash Test Results

IIHS: Top Safety Pick
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2015)

Few concerns, but don’t forget the maintenance! 1/3/2019 6:28:00 AM