Thai Hyundai Sonata vs. Rivals

Hyundai has entered the Thai market, and if you visit their showrooms you will be greeted by friendly sales staff hoping you will take an interest in one of the 3 models Hyundai Thailand have on offer.

The Santa Fe SUV, and the aptly named Coupe come in CBU (completely built up) form, meaning that they cost more than is reasonable due to being subject to heavy import duties on the way into the country. This is the first reason that I would give both of these cars a wide birth, and the second reason is the other car on show, the Sonata.

Sonata Front

The Sonata enters Thailand in CKD (kit) form, and assembled at the Thonburi Automotive Assembly Plant (TAAP) in Samut Prakarn. TAAP is also where Mercedes chooses to have its models pieced together, so build quality shouldn't be too shoddy. By assembling the Sonata locally the pricing can be competitive, and this is why the Sonata is the only "interesting" car that Hyundai have to offer Thai customers at the moment. Indeed the Santa Fa and Coupe are really just about presence of some brand diversity, while the Sonata is the car that Hyundai are pinning their hopes on, for now!

Sonata Side

Let's not beat around the bush here. The Sonata is not going to win any style awards. The design looks like Sonata copied the least offensive parts from Toyota and Honda and put them together to make a very ordinary looking car, and I like it. Sure it's boring and conservative, exactly what it has to be in order to win a lot of sales in this segment of the market. Folks don't buy large family cars to be noticed!

Sonata Rear

Rivals - Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Teana, and BMW 5 Series

Okay, the 5-Series is too expensive and can't compete with the Sonata, so we'll scratch that out of the equation. But have a look at this ad from America and tell me if you think that Hyundai aren't being serious.

But of course, unlike Accord or Camry buyers, folks that pay 3 or 4 times more than they really need to for their transport do want to be noticed.

So, how well does the Sonata stack up against rivals on paper?

The comparrison tables below are very basic, and only really intended to give a rough idea. But given the price difference between the Sonata and the rivals in this segment, other details wane in importance. So we just compare on basic engine and safety specification, and of course price.

Sonata comparison chart

So how can Hyundai offer such competitive pricing? Perhaps they skimp on features? Nope! All models come with automatic climate control, powered driver seat, and keyless entry. The base model has two airbags as standard. The rear view mirror is Electrochromic, which basically means that it automatically reduces the headlight glare from cars behind when driving at night. The brake system also has ABS and EBD across the range.

Sonata Airbags

The range topping 2.4 EXE is fitted with 6 airbags, ESP (Electronic Stability Program), cruise control, and rear parking sensors. In the US, the Sonata managed a 5-star rating from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), while in Europe it scored a 4-star NCAP rating. Not perfect, but the BMW 5 series isn't either.

Sonata Cabin

Maybe the price is lower because it's smaller? Nope! The wheelbase is 2,730 mm, and this allows the Sonata to have the largest cabin in the class, something which is perhaps more important in America than it is here in Thailand.

Any catch?

On paper the Sonata looks like a great deal. But isn't it possible that buyers will end up with a lemon? Unlikely for a few reasons. First the warranty! The Sonata comes with a 5-year warranty! Of course this is nothing compared to the 10-year-warranty offered on the US Sonata, but here in Thailand, a 5-year warranty is impressive. Compared to the usual 3-year, or 100,000 km warranty deals, Hyundai's unlimited distance, 5-year deal is impressive.

But, there is a catch to all this. Hyundai sold cars in Thailand before, and left with tail firmly between legs when the economic crisis hit in the late 90's. Hyundai say they are here to stay this time, but until they start making heavy cash investments in Thailand we can't be sure they will.

How does it drive?

I can't tell you, since I haven't been at the wheel of one yet, but to be perfectly blunt about it I think that reading another persons opinions of a car's driving manners is pointless. Having said that the handling and road holding of the Sonata have been praised in the US. But again, it's not a sports car, you don't buy a large family car for sporty handling!

This video below shows how superior the Sonata is to the Accord and Teana when in the hands of a Korean driver!

Worth a look?

Absolutely. Although Honda are about to roll out the 2008 Accord, pricing for that model will be the same (or marginally higher) than the current model, so the Sonata will remain the budget option in the large family sedan segment. Given the low pricing, the Sonata might even rob a few sales from the high end Altis and Civic which cost around the same as the base Sonata.

If you are in the market for a large family car, the Sonata should be one of the cars you take for a spin. If you make decisions mostly with your head, then the Hyundai Sonata is impossible to ignore.

Welcome to Thailand Hyundai. Hope you stick it out this time!