2007 Hyundai Sonata
an excellnt midsize vehicle

W   
e got a property damage settlement for my 2001 Honda Civic … book value … $6000 bucks. So, immediately went serious new car shopping to stop my credit card hemorrhaging from rental car pleurisy. Whether I’ll get back my rental costs remains an insurance mystery yet to be solved.

We looked for a couple weeks but when we got the cash it was down to the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata. We took the Sonata. I liked the Camry but not as much as the Sonata. Ultimately it was the spaciousness and design details of the Sonata that won the day … as well as the fact that it was ~ $4000 cheaper. The cheap is in the price … not in the car.

Here are some of the details that won me over

Mainly, when I sat in the driver's seat, it was roomier than the Camry or Honda Accord and the parking brake was a hand brake for the right hand that I prefer over the Camry or Accord's left foot parking brake. With their parking brake I cannot hold in the button on the end of the brake lever so as to hold the car on an incline … releasing it as I accelerate forward. When it's in hand I have more subtle control than when it's on the floor … and … there is nothing to bump my left foot into down there so I am more comfortable on a long drive.

The seats were more comfortable as well, though not by too much. The Camry's headrest forced my head into a slight forward position that I didn't care for. The salesgirl couldn't adjust it … but maybe it adjusts. If it doesn't, I could never accept a constant little push against my head. The Accord was a little more cramped as well though the Accord had the tightest "build quality" of the three.

I would say that the build quality of the Camry and Sonata are about the same in the cars that I test drove but the Accord was maybe 20% tighter. Too bad that tightness doesn't last forever. They are all real solid and quiet and roomier than my Honda Civic. I need room 'cause I'm getting old and I like to relax and enjoy my ride in as much comfort as possible.

I got the "#02 - $500" option for power driver seat and woodgrain trim look. Observe the ignition switch position. It's on the dashboard instead of the column so I never have keys banging my knees endlessly. In fact, I can't touch them with my knee at all. There is a ring of green light around the keyhole so you can see it in the dark without fumbling.

Now, note the roller controls over the AC vents. What amazes me is why any carmaker would not put these roller mechanisms on their vents (some still have levers and you can't set them as you want while you're bouncing down the road). The vanes inside have a terrific amount of variabliltiy. In fact, this is the first car that I've owned where the vanes can actually be completely closed. This cost Hyundai nothing extra … just an intelligent design.

There is a dedicated clock sitting between the vents that is always on. In my rental car, you had to turn off the radio to see what time it was! The Hyundai displays are "black on snot" which I see as a primitive LCD display but it's there all the time and is simply and completely functional. The details of the Hyundai seem to have been designed by "my kinda' guy". Of course, I could do it still better … hmmmmm.

Here's some more pics

The radio does something that my Honda Civic wouldn't do. It changes channels instantly like the old analog radios did. My Civic took 1.5 seconds to go to the new selection. And, the steering volume control is very fast changing as well. "Black on Snot" display here too, but it's very functional and efficient.

If I designed a steering wheel it would look something like the design below. There would be a cruise control button on the front of the wheel … press with thumb to engage. Behind the wheel would be two buttons corresponding to the gas pedal and brake pedal … and they would do the same thing … except … with cruise engaged, when you stop depressing the finger gas pedal, the car maintains the speed it is presently at. If you use the finger brake, the cruise control will maintain the then present speed when you stop depressing the finger brake.

There is no "Resume speed". This feature of cruise control sucks because if you hit it when the car is going ten or fifteen miles under the previously set cruise speed … the car "floors" itself and you emulate a teenage driver (what were the engineers thinking?). If you depress the foot brake, it always disengages the cruise control as before.

This is also the biggest trunk of the three cars I considered.

Standard conveniences on door. Best side view mirror controls I've yet seen.

This is turning into a Sonata commercial I guess. I need to dig up some dirt on Hyundai too but so far I have nothing bad to report. There are probably many Hyundai sucks pages on the net. But I believe that they have improved vastly over the past 13 years since I bought my last little Hyundai. For now, I am just enjoying my new car.

Economic considerations

The midsize cars that I considered all get 24-33 mpg (four-banger). I hope to get an average of ~27 … (please?). My Civic got 40 on the highway in Colorado and averaged about 30 the last couple years.

Now, a big selling point on the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry is that they "Hold their value at trade in time". This is true. The Sonata will generate a Blue Book value five years from now that's maybe $4000 less than the Camry or Honda. But … it costs ~$4000 less initially for a comparably equipped vehicle. Why is this?

Well, as I see it, all these cars are truly comparable. Some have a feature here or there that the others don't or are missing a feature of another. I'd give them a general "equality of quality" and so do the people who test cars. The Hyundai gets excellent reviews from customers and reviewers alike. So … what's up with the $4000 bucks?

Well, here's the deal. You pay Toyota/Honda and extra $4000 up front … then … they give it back to you five years later. Hyundai doesn't offer you the $4000 at the back end but doesn't take in on the front end either. The truth is that all cars depreciate structurally very badly in several years. The Camry/Accord/Sonata will all be in about the same physical shape when trade-in comes but the Toyota/Camry will make you feel better about it 'cause they're "worth more".

Functionally, this means that you loan Toyota/Honda $4000 up front … then pay interest on YOUR LOAN TO THEM for say, five years … then, they give you back your loan (sans interest) years later. Hey, such a deal! I declined on this "good deal" after coming to an understanding of the scam. Hyundai doesn't engage in this scam because they are #3 on the midsize hit parade and have to play catch-up with the senior dealers at Toyota and Honda.

See if you have the will power to save $4000 over the five years in your bank and keep the inerest yourself. Most people can't save anything. So, what Toyota/Honda does is what the Federal Government does when you have more taxes withheld so you get some back at the end of the year. It's no different. Toyota/Honda will pass it off as better quality but objectively … it just isn't so.

My wife insisted on getting the extended warranty for $1200 bucks. I don't think it's a bargain but … So, we are now covered bumper to bumper for 10years/100,000 miles instead of 5 years/60,000 which is the standard Hyundai warranty (10 years/100,000 miles on the drive train). This means that we have to have $1200 worth of problems between three and five years of ownership because we drive and average of 20,000 per year. I've got an extra two years for $1200.

Got 5 years (no milieage limit) on Roadside Service which includes up to $100 per day for hotel and meals if you get stuck bad out in the hinterlands (the hills have eyes).

Buying experience

This time was the best new car buying experience I've yet had. The salesman I bought the car from (Terry Gibson at Freeman Hyundai) gets an A++ for no pressure, no hassle and general helpfulness. He even took our picture next to our new car (maybe he runs up your picture on his comp when you come back or call so he remembers your face). We got a full tank of gas as well ( is this S.O.P. now for all dealerships?). And … since I told him that we couldn't take the car home that day (because the rental place was closed and I can't drive two cars at once) … while we were signing papers with the finance guy … he called Enterprise Car Rental and arranged to take the car back to them himself the following morning … and we drove away in the new car very happy. I checked the following morning to make sure that the rental car was, in fact, returned before noon so I wouldn't get charged another day's fee. It was taken back as promised.

Everyone was extremely friendly … no problems too great to overcome. And … we financed with Hyundai for only 1.9 % for three years on the balance (I have good credit).

There's a reason for the "no hassle, no pressure" approach to car buying.

That reason is "EDMONDS.com". This website has been up for quite a few years and enables the buyer to compare features and costs at will without having to go to the dealer at all. Thus, you know what you want and approximately what it will cost before you even go out the door. They have a "True Market Value" price which reflects the average that people are paying for the car you want in your area. They show the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) as well as the Invoice price paid by the dealer. And they give you a "True cost of ownership" estimate in terms of cents per mile it will cost you to own this or that car for five years. This means that the dealer is "cornered" in terms of not being able to "force" a sale by high pressure tactics.

Or … does it?

Methinks this is not the case. In fact, you can't defeat the free market. What has happened is that the dealers have made arrangements with the manufacturers to counteract the "Edmonds Effect" and turn it to their advantage. It works like this.

I call the MSRP the "Fujita Price" after the famous tornado scale estimate. What do tornados have to do with car sales? … well, absolutely nothing … and neither does the MSRP. You see, the True Market Value price (TMV) … IS … the new MSRP. You just don't understand it yet. They set their MSRP and Invoice price so that when you opt for the TMV price it looks like the dealer is marking up what he pays (the invoice price) about 5% to 6%. That seems fair to the buyer because he sees this big dealer building and imagines the overhead and … "The dealer can't stay in business for free". Of course he can't. So you ante up an extra $1000 or so without a fuss feeling that it's just fair.

Well, you ca't run a big dealership on a measily $1000 bucks per sale. If you think it can be done, you need a serious reality check.

What has happened is that in response to Edmonds … dealers are rearranging their mechanisms involving funds transferred back and forth between them and the manufacturer. There are exactly 222,768 ways for the dealer/manufacturer to arrange the financial details of the car business. Of these, exactly 71,455 are "legal". So, they pick several legal ways to push cash back and forth and thereby "even out the Edmonds Effect" so as to generate enough money to stay afloat and prosper. That is why they don't have to hassle customers anymore. They get the same real price from everyone … it's enough to prosper on … and everybody is happy … including the customer (me). They aren't cheating you. It's just the free market working properly.

To me Hyundai seems to be the best value at this time.
They are the up and coming and still struggling.
Whereas Toyota is the established and ...
Honda is the old man.