Special Coverage

Ward’s Auto Interiors Show

Not long ago, Ward’s compared the interior fabric of Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.’s then-new Tucson small cross/utility vehicle to that seen on a dentist’s chair from the 1980s.

Although harsh, that criticism provided an impetus for a fabric change on the Tucson mid-cycle refresh, an executive later said.

Since then, Hyundai has been whipping its vehicle interiors into shape, impressing with each successive redesign or refresh.

Case in point: The new ’09 Sonata, which earns special recognition for “Best Redesign” in this year’s Ward’s Interior of the Year Awards.

While we initially liked the Sonata’s interior when it launched in April 2005, subsequent experiences were underwhelming.

Yes, it boasted soft-touch skins from the get-go, but the Sonata still left the impression of a rental car, especially in comparison with newer competitors. The design of the center stack especially was dated.

This year, Hyundai gifts the Sonata with a soothing, calm interior that is awash in soft matte surfaces and just the right amount of faux metallic trim. The center stack is much more contemporary looking, although it was marked down a bit for the ultra glossy wood trim finish – still dated in our book.

Certain Ward’s editors advocated for the Sonata as tops in the “Popular-Priced Car” category for the Interior of the Year competition but were outnumbered by other judges who picked the Chevrolet Malibu as No.1.

Still, the entire staff recognized Hyundai’s massive strides in catapulting the Sonata from a forgettable also-ran in a fiercely competitive, high-volume segment to a formidable contender that aspires to near-luxury status.

“Talk about a comeback!” WAW Editor-in-Chief Drew Winter writes on his Sonata scoresheet. “Hyundai has gone from mediocre to best-in-class with Sonata.”

The new Sonata has everything a buyer wants in this daily-driver sector: a spacious back seat and trunk, good ergonomics, snug seats, premium-looking gauges, a sleek sense of style and quality materials.

The Sonata cabin is warm and inviting – like comfort food at the end of a hard day – and manages to raise Hyundai’s brand image as a benchmark for interior design.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com