These automotive compositions are a decade apart in design and technology, but both embody the essence of Korean motoring.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

These automotive compositions are a decade apart in design and technology, but both embody the essence of Korean motoring. 

My Reading Room

IF you want solid proof of how much Hyundai cars have improved in the past decade, just put two generations of the same model side by side and compare their stark differences in design, quality and technology. 

We’ve done exactly that here, placing Hyundai’s all-new LF Hyundai Sonata alongside its NF predecessor from two generations ago (the previous YF model was marketed as the i45). 

Ten years separate the two saloons in Singapore, but the rapid progress that the Korean automaker has made within that time makes the 2000s Sonata look and feel as if it’s from the 1990s. 

The new Sonata’s contemporary styling is one of the clearest testaments to this progress. It has an imposing front grille flanked by chiselled headlamps, and sleek lines across its body. Only the rear looks rather generic. 

The old Sonata looks plain and chunky beside its sleek 2016 successor. Its styling is made even more boring by the car’s ubiquity on our roads, in the form of the many blue and yellow Sonata taxis (which started plying the streets of Singapore in 2007). 

The new Sonata is sleek on the inside, too. Its surprisingly premium-feel interior comes with noticeably higher-quality materials. The car also has higher-tech amenities, some of which used to be available only in full-blown luxury vehicles. 

These include a smart key, a factory-fitted touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth/USB/Aux connections, ventilated front seats, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and blind spot detection. Buyers can even specify a sunroof. 

For greater convenience, there’s also a self-opening boot. Stand behind the trunk for three seconds with the key (in hand/pocket/bag) and the boot opens automatically. 

In terms of equipment, the old Sonata is spartan. 

My Reading Room

It originally came with a locally installed double-DIN head unit, which was modern then but outmoded today. 

Unfashionable, too, are the cheap plastics and fake wood strips. Luxurious features are non-existent in this old car, apart from the leather seats (which were probably super-soft when new), and the cabin of this particular 2007 Sonata looks the worse for wear. 

Space-wise, occupants in the newer and bigger Sonata get a better deal. The latest model is 4855mm long and 1865mm wide, or 55mm longer and 35mm wider than its ancestor. 

More crucially, the new car’s 2805mm wheelbase is 75mm longer than before, resulting in a much roomier interior that accommodates taller folks more comfortably. 

Both Sonatas feel different to drive, even though each is powered by a 2-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine. The old engine produces 144bhp and 189Nm, and is mated to a 4-speed automatic gearbox. 

With a power-to-weight ratio of just 99bhp per tonne, the old NF can only trundle from point to point. If you try to be a crazy cabbie driving it like a grand prix taxi with a torquey diesel powerplant, its point-to-point performance would feel even weaker.  

The new LF is livelier, thanks to its engine having more energy (extra 13bhp and 7Nm), along with two more gears to deploy the power and torque. The kerb weight is similar to the NF’s (1460kg), despite the much better equipment.  

The newer Sonata still won’t win any drag races with fast and furious cabbies, but it’s a nice drive otherwise, with a smooth-shifting 6-speed transmission and light steering. 

The old model is less “light” on its tyres and requires more effort to manoeuvre, with a setup geared towards a leisurely driving style. 

These two Sonatas share the same name, but are otherwise dramatically different, with a wide disparity in design, quality and technology. They show Hyundai’s impressive improvements in the building of saloons for the mass market. 

At this rate, the 2020 Sonata should turn out to be a really good automotive composition. 

More: sonata