The name should have been Hyundai Sonata Evolve, because an evolution of the Embera is what this car is. The suspension, chassis and the seats are identical to the Embera and while the engines are the same, they get a bit more power. The main changes to the Sonata Transform (the Embera name has been discontinued) are the ones that address the weaknesses of the earlier car, namely, the interiors. To complete the update, Hyundai has given the Sonata a nip and tuck of the exteriors as well.
You’ll recognise it for a Sonata, but you’ll notice it has bigger headlamps, a bigger front grille, a new chin and new alloys. The sides and the rear look the same though. These changes have made the Sonata look a bit more grown up.
The real transformation is in the interiors, which get a serious up in quality levels. The big Hyundai now gets dual-zone climate control, AUX and USB ports, six airbags and steering-mounted audio controls. And, unlike the Accord, the diesel automatic version gets a keyless entry-and-go system.
Hyundai didn’t stop short with the equipment. Slide into the armchair-like seats, feel around the dashboard, and you’ll find most surfaces now covered in material that feels at least a few notches up on the Embera. The part-leather/wood steering wheel feels good, the switchgear quality is a few generations up on the Embera, and even the wood finish looks more the part of a luxury car.
The cabin is well thought out too. There’s a big box in the centre console and another one between the front seats. If there were grouses, it would be that the climate control system has too many buttons for it to be instantly intuitive. You’ll also not like the placement of the front bottle-holders — the bottles get in the way of your elbows when you shift gears. Hyundai’s redesigned dashboard still looks traditional in comparison to the Accord and quality is a slight notch below the Honda too. The Transform retains the Embera’s 2.4-litre petrol and the 2.0-litre CRDi diesel, but both have a little more power. The petrol gets 10bhp more, the diesel adds eight. The eight extra horses came by tweaking the ECU and making a few minor changes to the exhaust system. The petrol’s power-up comes from a variable valve timing on both the intake and the exhaust camshafts (the Embera had this system only on the intake camshaft), a variable length intake tract. The petrol is now available only with a five-speed manual, while the diesel gets a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic option.
We drove the diesel manual and automatic. It’s nice to know that the Sonata’s forte is intact. The cabin’s spacious, the seats comfy and the ride is absorbent over most surfaces. Now the interiors feel nice too.
The engine is refined for the most part and in the manual, it is quick. Rev it and it gets noisy, and the turbo lag it possesses below 2000rpm can get irritating in traffic. But, on the highway, the top three gears are all you’ll need. It pulls strongly, the shift and clutch action is light and overtaking is a cinch.The Auto is not so impressive. It behaves like an old-school automatic, shifting up every time you lift off the throttle, which is a little unnerving in corners. It’s not all that quick at downshifting and feels like it saps quite a bit of the engine’s power. Also, when you want to get somewhere quick, the ’box keeps the car in the lower gears, making the engine spin hard, and seem less refined than the manual at the same speeds. It does disguise some of the engine’s turbo lag though. The manual is still the better bet unless you drive yourself in town a lot.
Yes, it may not offer the same driving pleasure as an Accord, or the badge snobbery either, but for sheer space, comfort and price, it’s hard to beat the Sonata Transform’s combination.