LA JOLLA, CA – How do you follow up a hit vehicle?

In the case of Hyundai, it pulled back.

Three years ago when the Korean automaker released the successor to its uber-successful ’11-’14 Sonata midsize sedan, it watered down the car’s alluring design. That proved to be a mistake as the shift in the U.S. market from cars to CUVs was under way and the last thing needed in that scenario was another bland 4-door.

Sonata sales tumbled from 233,605 in 2012 to 199,416 last year, WardsAuto data shows. This year, sales of the nameplate are down 30.5% through July, more than the 18.7% decline in the Lower Middle car segment home to most midsize sedans.

Hyundai officials now admit the error of their ways and have used the eighth-gen Sonata’s mid-cycle refresh to inject some style back into the sedan, hoping to recapture the magic of the earlier Sonata, which Hyundai says was its most successful vehicle ever in conquesting sales from other brands.

Will the refreshed and revised ’18 Sonata turn heads like the seventh-gen model? Probably not. The sedan ship has sailed, continuing to get battered and bruised by the CUV juggernaut.

But the refreshed Sonata is a much more eye-catching 4-door compared with the ’15-’17 version of the car, and it should at least help Hyundai maintain market share in the U.S. midsize-sedan segment, a key goal for the brand.

For the ’18 Sonata, Hyundai spent more money than is typical on a refresh to change all the sheet metal (read: more sculpting) and update the car’s front fascia, which now has a trendy, big front grille. The rear of the car also gets a thorough makeover. Notable is the shift of the license plate holder to the lower bumper, creating room for new, widely placed letters spelling out Sonata. Headlights and taillights are reshaped.

The interior goes upscale with piano-key-style buttons on the center stack and more thoughtfully placed faux metal trim to draw attention to tech-y features.

Especially attractive interior flourishes include cobalt-blue piping on seats and a new technical film, mimicking sound waves, in Limited 2.0T grades.

Mechanical changes are minor, but Hyundai does update the transmission on models with its 245-hp 2.0L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cyl. from a 6-speed automatic to a less fuel-thirsty 8-speed auto.

Non-2.0T models, barring the Eco grade, keep the same powertrain as in ’17: a 185-hp 2.4L naturally aspirated and direct-injected 4-cyl. with a 6AT. The Sonata Eco grade, due later this year, also is expected to carry over its powertrain, Hyundai’s 1.6L turbo DI 4-cyl. with a 7-speed DCT.

We experience both the 2.0T/8AT and 2.4L/6AT versions of the car here during extensive drive routes and come away preferring the latter.

While the 8AT may offer extra off-line thrust, it doesn’t hold lower gears long enough for our taste, at least in Comfort and Eco drive modes. In Sport mode, upshifts are delayed, making for a more satisfying and fun-to-drive experience.

The 2.4L/6AT Sonatas feels more responsive, with lower gears held longer even in Comfort mode, and more agile.

Hyundai doesn’t yet report curb weights for the Limited grade with the 2.4L, but there is a roughly 200-lbs. (91-kg) weight difference between a mid-grade Sonata SEL with the 2.4L, not driven here, and the Limited 2.0T we drove.

Steering effort in the 2.0T also is greater, possibly due its bigger, fatter tires. 2.0T models ride on 18-in. vs. 17-in. tires on the 2.4L grades. The 18-in. tires also are 20 mm wider than the 17s. Turns-to-lock and steering ratio are identical across the 2.4L and 2.0T models: 2.78 and 14.3:1.

Hyundai makes several updates to the car’s steering system with the refresh, including upping torsion-bar stiffness 12% for improved feel and response and recalibrating for better on-center feel.

Both the 2.4L and 2.0T Sonatas maintain their MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspensions, but Hyundai now uses 21% thicker trailing arms in the rear for easier management of heavy suspension loads.

Ride-and-handling remains a nice blend of comfort and agility. We have no complaints on either metric, based on Southern California’s pristine roads.

Despite spending a lot of our time behind the wheel in Sport mode, we return a very good 29.5 mpg (7.9 L/100 km) in the Sonata 2.0T Limited, above its 26-mpg (9 L/100 km) combined rating.

In our leg in the 2.4L Limited grade, heavy on highway driving, we net 30.4 mpg (7.7 L/100 km), greater than the car’s 28-mpg (8.4 L/100 km) combined rating.