Rarely in the world of affordable midsize sedans is bold design a priority—just look at the newly revamped but bland-as-a-boiled-potato Subaru Legacy. That’s not the case with the new Hyundai Sonata.
As part of the design process, the Hyundai team looked back toward the sixth-generation Sonata that we first drove back in 2010. They see that car as “an icon vehicle that really put us on the map” as an automaker that values design, and they aimed to further illustrate that value with the 2020 Sonata.
We touched on this car’s design shortly after its initial reveal (read here), but after hearing from Kevin Kang—senior creative manager at Hyundai Design North America—and experiencing the car for ourselves, there’s definitely more to tell.
I shadowed a transportation design class once. When you’re sketching a car, you start with wheels, and as a general rule, the more distance between the fronts and the rears, the better the car will look. It’s no surprise then, that Kang pushed for a longer wheelbase on the eighth-gen Sonata.
He and the design team got it—the 2020 Sonata has a 111.8-inch wheelbase, which is 1.4 inches longer than that of its predecessor. The designers also lobbied for a shorter front overhang to deemphasize the Sonata’s front-wheel-drive architecture. At just 20 mm, the negative delta for the front overhang is smaller than the positive one for wheelbase, but it’s large enough to make a visual difference.
According to Kang, though, “the biggest win was lowering the shock towers.” Minimizing the height of the shock absorber mounts up front allowed designers to eschew the traditional three-box sedan look and create the eighth-gen 2020 Sonata’s sculpted, sloping front end. Kang says he was surprised to learn during the design process that, “a good design is quantifiable. Every millimeter counts.”
About that front end, Hyundai is quick to point out that the hood extends all the way to the front grille. This is extremely rare among the midsize car segment (only the Volkswagen Passat has a similar design) but it’s much more common with luxury cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4/A5. To buy a Mercedes-Benz sedan without a cut line for the hood, you’d need to step up to the near-$100,000 S-Class.
It’s not something I would have noticed had it not been pointed out to me, but the lack of a hood cut definitely makes the design look more upscale. Especially in Hampton Gray, the Sonata does a convincing impression of a coupe-like Audi four-door.
The second, more noticeable exterior design element is what Kang and his team call the “dynamic lasso.” It’s a silly name for what consists of a chrome strip that starts in the daytime running lights and carries back toward the windshield and around the window profile. Remember, cohesive design elements that tie a vehicle together are always good. The LED running lights are phased into the chrome trim on the beltline with hundreds o tiny laser perforations in a way that looks premium beyond the Sonata’s price point.
The theme of continuity carries over to the 2020 Sonata’s interior. One design trend Kang’s team has observed recently is connecting the infotainment screen and the digital gauge cluster, a la Mercedes. However, they felt that the Mercedes approach of physically connecting the displays on the same plane resulted in a gauge cluster that’s too close to the steering wheel, meaning it’s exposed to glare.
In the 2020 Sonata, the driver’s side of the infotainment screen slopes down and inward toward the gauge cluster. Kang calls it “screen threading.” This gives the illusion that the displays are connected but allows the digital gauges to be set deeper in the dashboard. On the passenger side, the airbag cover is also mounted extremely low, which gives the cabin a light, airy feeling.
The dynamic lasso shape appears as a metallic trim piece on the front door panels, sitting just above Kang’s favorite part of the vehicle: its armrests. Never have I seen a man more excited about armrests.
As a passenger in the car, I totally get it. The armrests are maybe 10 inches long and a couple inches wide—nothing special—but there’s an alcove punched out into the door along its entire length. That not only creates a small shelf for phones and wallets and such, but it means the handle with which to pull the door closed is much longer than in most cars, and it works ergonomically with a wider range of users. Again, it’s a little detail that you might not think about, but another little way the 2020 Sonata stands out in its class.