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Road Test: Hyundai Sonata Embera [2005-2009]

CarWale Team, 27-Aug-2008. Car Tested: Sonata Embera [2005-2009], Version: 2.0 CRDi
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Introduction

Every underdog has its day, they say. This pooch seemed to like the Embera just as much as we did!

Introduction

Hyundai Motor India Limited isn’t known for its large cars; they’re a trusted name for small, efficient cars that are cheap to maintain. Despite this, the original Sonata was quite a hit with the Indian masses. We have a go in its successor, the Sonata Embera CRDi.

Exterior

Understated lines and perfect proportions will appeal to everyone.

Exterior

The Sonata Embera has a balanced exterior, but it is too understated. The grille evoked negative comments from a few but the headlamps are admirable. The slim A-pillar blossoms and leads to the chunky C-pillar. It has bold, chunky lines, a high waist and powerful flanks. The short front overhang and muscular rear flanks give it a sporty, aggressive stance and the short bootlid with the tapered C pillar hide the rear metal mass quite effectively. The rear is also not loved by some because the tail-lamps seemed like a copy of the seventh-generation Honda Accord’s when it was launched.

The Sonata’s shutlines are good, and all its surfaces are well-finished. The metallic paint doesn’t have enough depth to make it stand out in a crowd – which it should have, since it’s got so much metal mass to cover. The Sonata’s design was meant to appeal to the masses, and it does that well – it is never out of proportion from any angle. This very mass-appeal rends it nondescript among its peers, but it certainly stands out in black due to the chrome being better highlighted.

Interior, Comfort

Acres of space, leather, and hard plastics. The Sonata's interiors need a facelift in the light of the competition.

Interior

The dashboard layout is extremely functional and well laid-out but has nothing special. The lower dash plastics are too hard for a car that costs as much as it does, but they’ll last through rough use. All controls are easily accessible, the front seats have good storage space, and visibility is good. We would like real chrome door handles and not silver-painted plastic ones – they make the car feel cheaper than it really is. The doors shut with a reassuring, solid 'thunk', but that’s when you encounter the flimsy headlamp stalks that lack the necessary weighted feel. The gear lever feels cheap too – almost like an i10’s!

All the instruments are clear, legible and easy to read, with the exception of the red needles, which are too bright when lit up. The trip computer is very useful and the air-con couldn’t be set to a comfortable temperature, it was either too hot or too cold. The dash clock is too low, you have to take your eyes off the road to look at the time.

There are more than enough cubbyholes for the front seats. The driver’s seat is electrically adjusted but the front passenger seat doesn’t – it should have it as well. The passenger does get a retractable bag hook that can carry up to 3kg, which is perfect for the ladies. The electrically-folding mirrors are a boon, as is the dead pedal. We like the door pockets, although they can be too narrow for large hands if something small falls in. There aren’t any door pockets in the rear, and there isn’t a power outlet for the rear seat passenger, either – they’ve given the user a power outlet in the boot! The rear passengers are mollified by a remote control for the audio system. The rear seat can also split 60:40, which makes carrying long objects so much easier.

An almost-perfect driving position is attainable within minutes of getting in and playing around with the seat and steering wheel adjustments. The adjustable seat base inclination helps under-thigh support, and the adjustable front passenger headrests are a thoughtful touch. The big, lovely wing mirrors show everything you could possibly want to see behind you. The steering wheel could have telescoped a little more for tall drivers. The good visibility and lots of adjustability makes life easy for the occupants, especially the driver.

The cabin has fantastic legroom, headroom and shoulder room. It is one of the most comfortable cars for five people. The front seats have no negatives, but the rear seat doesn’t have enough lower back support for tall passengers, which can become uncomfortable over long journeys. The rear armrest is at the right height, and the seat-belt height adjusters are a thoughtful addition.

The Sonata has a 6-CD changer, cassette player and AM/FM tuner that does not play mp3 discs. It lacks an aux in and USB port as well. The bass distorts at high volumes, but the system has really good punch at lower volumes.

Engine, Drivetrain, Fuel efficiency

Lots of power for the money, but we wish the auto was still on sale.

Engine

The Sonata CRDi’s muscle comes from a front, transverse, FWD inline-four cylinder 1991cc SOHC common-rail direct injection diesel engine that possesses a variable geometry turbocharger. This engine generates 142bhp@4000rpm and 33kgm@2000-2680rpm. The engine is clattery and rough at idle, but smoothens out a little before getting vocal near the redline. It is extremely noisy on the outside. However, cruising at 80kph in top gear, the engine is completely silent; tyre roar is louder at this speed! Despite the VGT, it is responsive only from 1800rpm onwards and power tails off at 3800rpm. It is lots of power for the money but the power delivery isn’t linear. Special mention has to be made of first and second gear, because you can’t crawl away from walking speeds in second gear, and to keep in the powerband you have to rev it right to 3000rpm in first gear, which can be a pain in stop-start traffic.

Drivetrain

The Sonata has a six-speed gearbox, and the gears are placed in an H pattern. The shifts are positive but cannot be hurried. The shift action is smooth through most gears with almost no engine vibration filtering through. Shifting from second to third is extremely notchy and quick upshifts cannot be done with ease in this car. Sixth gear is useful when cruising above 100kph, else five speeds are enough.

Fuel Efficiency

The running costs, of the Embera are, as expected, quite low, that tall sixth gear ratio for the highway helping it achieve figures that will have your accountant falling in love with it - but be warned, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, many petrol cars will get ahead of the Embera thanks to the huge difference between first and second gears, which necessitates frequent visits to 3000rpm in first. Overall, the number evens out to a respectable 10.5kpl given the size of the car.

Ride & Handling, Steering

Noisy but vibe-free, this engine is best suited to the highway.

Ride and Handling

The low-speed ride can be more compliant – it jars through expansion joints. The car feels big at low speed, which can be intimidating in traffic and narrow roads. The steering feels nicely weighted at high speed, but turn-in could be better. The lack of steering feedback could be due to the large tyres, which give you plenty of grip. The rear can pitch around off-camber corners with a full load at high speed. Straight-line stability is good, and bad patches cannot upset its composure. The Sonata rides on 215/60 R16 tyres, which give it very good ground clearance. The short front overhang prevents the chin from bottoming out in deep ruts.

Steering feedback/response

It may have a lot of power, but the Embera doesn't take to twisties like the Germans do. The steering wheel's mock wood finish makes it hard to grip if you're the kind who likes to keep your hands at ten-to-two or a quarter to three even in turns, and if you suffer from sweaty palms, watch out for a slipping wheel.

The car itself offers bucketloads of grip, but the feel at the helm is numb. Quick directional changes aren't this car's forte, either – it's a highway cruiser, not a corner carver.

Braking, Tyres, Safety

Seat-belt height adjust and two airbags with ABS but no traction control

Braking

The ABS-equipped brakes have good bite and are consistent throughout the pedal travel. Only at the limit does the pedal feel a little dead but the electronics and large rotors combined with the wide, grippy tyres make sure that the car stops as quickly as it goes.

Tyres

The Sonata Embera is shod with 215/60 R16 Hankook Optimo K406 tubeless tyres that have a ‘V’ speed rating. They offer good grip, but the block-type tread pattern combined with the wide footprint make for a noisy tyre on anything except mirror-smooth tarmac. At cruising speed (80-100kph) tyre noise is overpowered by wind roar, but it is present nonetheless.

Safety

ABS is present, as are two airbags (for driver and passenger). The middle rear passenger gets a lap belt. No traction control is a big minus, considering the Tucson and the cheaper Elantra CRDi had traction control as standard.

Cost, Overall evaluation

Hyundai means a hassle-free ownership maintenance with reasonable costs.

Cost

For Rs 14.45 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai) you get a lot of car for the price tag, considering that it is battling rivals like the Skoda Laura and VW Jetta. Being a Hyundai and with a 4 year/80,000km warranty, one doesn’t have to worry about exorbitant spare parts prices like some of its European rivals. Labour costs are reasonable as well.

Overall Evaluation

For sheer rear seat space and chauffeur-driven comfort at this price and considering the running costs of a diesel, this is the underdog of the pack. It’s a shame that the CRDi automatic has been discontinued because it would’ve been easy to drive in the city with the economy of a diesel and the ownership experience of a Hyundai, which is the best today in the country by far.

Useful touches

  • Electric-fold mirrors, boot and fuel lid release on door
  • Bag hook for front passenger

Painful touches

  • Non-chrome door handles
  • Headlamps aren’t powerful enough

 

Test Data

Engine Specifications

1991cc, 4-cylinder, inline, diesel, 140bhp@4000rpm, 32.9kgm@2000rpm. View specifications

Speedo Error

Speedo Reading (kph) Actual Speed (kph)
40  36.5
60  55.9
80  75.1
100  94.2
120  114.7
140  135.9

Max in Gear

Gear Speed (kph)
1st  38.4
2nd  76.4
3rd  121.5
4th  159.2
5th   ----
6th  ----

Performance Test Data

Top Speed  191.4kph
0-60kph  5.4sec
0-100kph  12.5sec
Quarter Mile (402m)  18.6sec
Braking 80-0kph  30.2m/2.8sec
30-50kph in 3rd  6.6sec
30-50kph in 4th   ----
50-70kph in 5th  11.2sec

Fuel Efficiency

  City Highway Overall Worst
Mileage (kpl) 9.5
14.5
10.5
  ----

* Achieved.

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