2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco: Affordable, Economical with a Beasty Sport Mode

Leaving the pastures greener in a 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco. Photos by Matt Coker

I concede that when a 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco was dropped off at my home, I did not think much of it. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by other recent test vehicles. The Eco just seemed kinda … meh.

This midsize sedan actually pulled up with a lot of fanfare, as car reviewers have been raving about the Korean automaker making stylish upgrades to its 2018 Sonatas, especially when it comes to more aggressive looking front grilles and headlight arrangements with similar interior upgrades.  

I would defer to these experts except, when taking the Eco out for a first spin, my blahs continued. I mean, it wasn’t unpleasant to drive. There just wasn’t much about the experience that wowed me.

Then I flipped on the Sport mode.

Holy moly.

More stylish front grille: check!

Other Sonata trims–such as the SE, SEL, Sport and Limited–have six-speed automatic transmissions and 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter engines. (The top-of-the-line Sonata Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T have eight-speed transmissions and 245 hp, 2.0-liter engines.) Meanwhile, the fuel-economy minded Eco has a seven-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission and a 178 hp, 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbocharged engine with dual continuous variable valve timing.

When you are buying a car with “Eco” in the name, you are doing so more for the fuel economy than the driving performance. In this Land of the Commuter we all find ourselves in–one where we pay more at the pump than they do just about everywhere else in the country–that’s necessary.

The ’18 Eco is EPA rated at 28 miles to the gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway for a combined 31 mpg. Its fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating is an impressive 7 on the 1-10 scale where 10 is best. Not bad at all.

However, there are those rare instances where you encounter an empty country road and you want to go all Lightning McQueen. On all seven Sonata trims, including the Eco, Hyundai includes the Sport drive mode that alters throttle steering and transmission behavior.

 

Important tip: Don’t park the Sonata Eco this way.

The result, as I discovered on my initial test ride, was what had been a sedate commuter in normal drive mode instantly turned into a road and track beast while Sport was engaged. It’s like that prim and proper co-worker who, after too much of the loaded Christmas party nog, suddenly unleashes an inner Mr. Hyde. The big difference is that dude does not make the automatic shifts between gears anywhere near as smoothly as the Eco does. 

Being able to live in both driving worlds, while acknowledging that the distance between urban and country roads has grown so much that you are going to be living in the fuel sippy one a large majority of the time, is a good thing. Knowing that going Korean has other cost-saving advantages is a great thing.

As I mention to friends who ask about the price of these test vehicles that magically show up in my driveway–they no doubt believe I work for Los Zetas–the sticker prices among an array of similar models from different makers all land around the same places. You’d be amazed how many times I can close my eyes, guess “in the $34,000s” and have the sticker confirm that total price.

The shadow knows that there is plenty of space inside the trunk of the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco.

The difference with Kias and Hyundais are how many bells and whistles they include as standard that other carmakers make you pay extra for. In the case of the ’18 Eco, that would include power windows, all-season tires (including the spare), tire pressure monitoring, 16-inch alloy wheels, the alarm, the back-up camera, cruise control, auto-off projector headlights, solar control window glass framed in chrome, telescopic steering wheel (with cruise and audio controls on the wheel), an advanced trip computer with custom settings and remote trunk release.

But wait, there’s more, like: variable speed intermittent wipers, keyless entry, power door locks, power mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors for the driver and front passenger, power steering, 7-inch color touchscreen display for the AM/FM stereo with an MP3 input and smart device integration, heating and air conditioning, navigation and wireless cell phone hookup and premium cloth seats covering bucket seats in the front and a bench seat in the back. The rear seats have a pass-through to the trunk, which is fairly spacious.

When it comes to safety, standard are the air bags that are all over (front, side, head), ABS electronic four-wheel disc brakes, vehicle stability management, daytime running lights, child safety locks, traction control, blind spot monitoring with a cross-traffic alert and front seatbelt pre-tensioners. 

Dear Hyundai: No, that golfer did not launch the chip shot into the side of you Sonata Eco.

For all of the above, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco comes in at a relatively affordable $22,650. The only extras on my test vehicle were the carpeted floor mats ($125), which along with the freight and handling charge ($885) pushed the total up to $23,660.

With or without the mats, Hyundai boasts of offering “America’s best warranty,” with five-year, 60,000-mile basic and 10-year, $100,000-mile powertrain, seven-year, unlimited miles anti-perforation, five-year, unlimited miles roadside assistance warranties all standard. 

This month, the industry-first Hyundai Shopper Assurance program went national. It is said to make buying a car faster, easier and without worry through transparent pricing, flexible test drives, streamlined purchasing and a three-day money-back guarantee. Learn more about it at www.hyundaiusa.com/shopperassurance.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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