Fleet News

Hyundai Sonata



##HyunSon--right##WITH the launch of its new-look Sonata, Hyundai is hoping to almost triple sales compared to the current model by building demand among sub-100 vehicle fleets.

Key selling points are its low front-end price compared to mainstream competitors and a list of standard equipment as long as your arm (the Sonata has no optional extras).

With such an offering, the South Korean manufacturer is hoping the Sonata will eat into the fleet sales of major rivals - the Vauxhall Omega and Toyota Camry. However, with just 400 models sold during the old model's run-out period this year, it is a relatively small bite. The firm hopes to sell 700 new Sonatas to fleets and 500 to private buyers in 2002.

Hyundai managing director David Walker said increasing demand in the small fleet sector would be fundamental to the growth of the Sonata and to the Hyundai brand as a whole.

He said: 'We will be looking to build a relationship with business users and small fleets. We want to work with dealers in their local patch, targeting fleets running between three and five vehicles.'

Manufacturers have in the past used daily rental to get their product noticed by as many drivers as possible, but Hyundai is looking at different alternatives after pulling out of rental business earlier this year because of falling residual values.

Instead, the firm is focusing on demonstrators and Walker added: 'We have got to take the fleet sector more seriously than we have done in the past.'

The new Sonata uses the same platform as its predecessor, although this version is 37mm longer, 2mm wider and 12mm taller and is shared with the Kia Magentis.

Prices for the Hyundai have either been frozen or reduced, so the 2.0 CDX manual comes in at £14,499, rising to £15,499 for the automatic, while the new 2.7 V6 - the engine already used in the Santa Fe SUV and seven-seater Trajet -costs £17,499 as an automatic only.

These prices undercut the Vauxhall Omega 2.2i GLS, which costs £18,195 and the Toyota Camry 2.4 GLS, which is priced at £19,495.

Carbon dioxide emissions for the new Sonata are 215g/km for the 2.0 manual, equivalent to a 25 per cent tax bill in the first year of the new CO2-based tax regime next year, while the automatic emits 228g/km, incurring tax based on 27 per cent of P11D price.

This means that from next April a 22 per cent taxpayer will face an annual tax bill of £797 for the manual and £921 for the automatic. The 2.7 V6, which emits carbon dioxide at 256g/km, incurs a benefit charge of 33 per cent of the vehicle's £17,499 list price, so the same 22 per cent taxpayer would face an annual tax bill of £1,270.

The Sonata's emission levels are almost identical to its competitors with the Vauxhall Omega 2.2 GLS emitting 227g/km and the Toyota Camry 2.4 GLS 214g/m.

Because of its low front-end price, Hyundai is pitching the car as a cheaper alternative for company car taxpayers, although it does not have a diesel in its line-up and there are no plans for one to be introduced. On the European combined fuel economy cycle the 2.0 manual returns 31.4mpg while the automatic achieves 29.7 mpg. The 2.7 V6 auto is more thirsty, returning 26.4mpg overall.

A key bargaining tool in swaying buyers to the Sonata will be its long list of equipment, which removes the need for an options list. Drivers of the CDX 2.0 manual get driver, passenger and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and power steering, manual air conditioning, a CD radio, electrically-operated and heated wing mirrors, electric front and rear windows, 15-inch alloy wheels and metallic paint.

Drivers of the 2.7 V6 also receive cruise control, traction control, electronic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, and leather upholstery as standard.

THE front styling of the Sonata seems to emulate the Germanic look of a Mercedes-Benz with its grouped front light cluster.

From the rear, the block of lights gives it a strange nostalgic aura that accompanies the old Rover 600 or even a Jaguar X-type. However, the comparison with European rivals ends once you get inside as there is a large amount of fake wood.

The instrument panel is a self-contained unit made up of large amounts of black plastic and is perfectly suited to the uninspiring interior. Nevertheless, everything is clear and in its right place.

The 2.0-litre engine is carried over from the existing model and completes the 0-62mph dash in 13.2 seconds, clocking up a top speed of 114mph. Acceleration feels leisurely, but at motorway speed the Sonata is quiet. The seats have been improved in the new model and the Sonata takes its cues from Hyundai's top-of-the-range XG30, offering sturdier, more durable seating and offering drivers a good level of support. But an adjustable lumbar support is notably absent.

Hyundai's H-matic transmission offers drivers a choice between automatic and sequential gear changes. However, as the four-speed automatic changes up at high revs and is eager to change down, there seems little point to it in my mind.

In fact, during my time with the car, the automatic 'box has been its most endearing feature. It is able to push right up to the red line or cruise gently through the gears and always responds well to the needs of the driver.

It is not the most inspiring car to drive, but at the price and with the equipment offered, it is a comfortable driving companion.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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