Classic CARmentary: 1998 Hyundai Sonata GLS Sedan

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

I distinctly remember when the Sonata was introduced in the United States in late 1988 as a 1989 model.  It had bland styling and, according to Car & Driver, cornered like a mid-sixties American sedan.  It was also just as unreliable as the Excel, and a few drives in a friend’s second-generation Excel left me less than impressed with Hyundai overall.  However, I was quite impressed with a coral Accent my girlfriend (now wife) and I rented in 1995 that we nicknamed “Harry the Hot Pink Hyundai.”  We drove it from D.C. to Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and back with nary a problem, squeak or rattle.  I was so impressed that I strongly considered buying one when we moved to Central Virginia, but financing a car would likely have killed our chances of buying a townhouse.

Harry the Hot Pink Hyundai


It was because of this experience that I was looking forward to driving this second-generation Sonata, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Sure, it wasn’t as refined as the Camry or Accord, but it also cost considerably less.  Today, of course, the Sonata stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those two.  My sister-in-law is now on her fourth Sonata, and it was the first car out of my mother’s mouth when I told her that I was looking for a new car several years ago.  

The below review ran on November 2, 1998.

Question: Why buy a Sonata?

Answer: It costs about $3,000 less than a comparably equipped Camry or Accord, and a buyer could probably get it for less than that as the Sonata is at the end of its product cycle.

Next question: Is it worth it?

The current Sonata is the flagship of Korean automaker Hyundai. What was originally a bland, bargain-basement, mid-size sedan has evolved into a stylish automobile that’s much more distinctive than its benchmarks listed above.

The protruding grill and unique headlamps highlight the crisp, sporty styling. The interior is well thought out, with all of the controls arranged logically and within easy reach. Luxury features not expected for the price include a moonroof, alloy wheels, power antenna, and radio controls mounted on the steering wheel.

Four passengers and their luggage will fit nicely in the Sonata; five in a pinch. The rear seat also folds for serious hauling.

One area that’s clearly improved for Hyundai is quality control. Early Hyundais, including the Sonata, were plagued with squeaks, rattles, and inferior trim pieces that didn’t feel like they’d last a full 48-month payment cycle. During the one week with our 7,000-mile example, nothing squeaked or rattled, and everything felt tight. The overall feel of the materials is not up to the level of most Japanese and American cars, but well ahead of Korean competitors Kia and Daewoo.

Where the Sonata really falls short is in the powertrain department. The 3.0-liter V6, although it pulls strongly from the start, sounds harsh under hard acceleration. Furthermore, the four-speed automatic transmission allows the driver to feel every shift – not exactly a desirable trait. Hopefully, these two shortcomings will be addressed in the 1999 model, which will feature even sportier styling, a new 2.5-liter V6, and a more advanced automatic. Handling and ride were average for the class, but much improved over previous Sonatas.

So, is it worth it? If you don’t mind trading a little refinement for a huge cost savings, you’ll end up with a good looking, Camry-sized sedan for about the price of a Corolla.

For more information contact 1-800-826-CARS


Type:4-Door Sedan
Engine:142-horsepower, 3.0 liter V6
Transmission:four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage:17 city/24 highway
Tested Price:$20,812