There’s an all-new Hyundai Sonata for the 2015 model year – it’s built in Alabama and most everything has been changed. Likewise, Subaru has redone its Legacy for 2015, which it builds in Indiana. My Sonata review car was a higher level of trim than the Subaru Legacy, so it’s important to note that although the Hyundai seems better equipped, it’s significantly more expensive too – there’s over $5000 separating these two cars. It’s also important to know that the Legacy can be optioned up to compete with my review Sonata’s trim level if you so choose – order one absolutely loaded, and it’s still $500 cheaper than the Hyundai.
Pricing: 2015 Hyundai Sonata
Base price (Limited trim): $32,999
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $34,794
Pricing: 2015 Subaru Legacy
Base price (2.5i Touring trim): $27,795
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $29,490
A few years ago, Hyundai introduced us to its Fluidic Sculpture styling language and it took the world by storm. It wasn’t for everyone, but you couldn’t deny that Hyundai was trying to do their own thing and I always give credit for that. The 2015 Sonata is the first Hyundai to bring the innovatively-named Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 to the table. The look does retain some of the last generation’s fluidity, but it’s a significantly less subjective design now. I’d say it’s confident and refined. What it’s definitely not is exciting.
Yes, the Sonata signature chrome strip is back – it runs from the rear flank all the way forward along the belt line to connect to the headlight pods. Hyundai tries to dress things up with the handsome hexagonal grille and they frame it with very nice auto-leveling HID headlights in swept back pods and LED driving lights in the lower side air intakes. The side profile has the bold character line but it’s way less out there than the last generation’s, which was overdone in my opinion.
The back of the Sonata gets a very steeply raked C-pillar and a set of nice wing-shaped LED tail lights. The 17-inch wheels on this trim look pretty staid and a little boring. Tires are 215/55s.
Subaru has admitted that its Legacy line has definitely suffered in the styling department. While the company has most certainly stepped it up a notch or two when it comes to the Legacy’s exterior, there isn’t anything here that’s going to have other designers holding their head in their hands over their raspberry ales, wondering aloud why they didn’t come up with this first. But credit where it’s due. The front end sports a new grille (hexagonal, to be exact – sound familiar?) and some slick bracket-shaped LED-strip driving lights.
You might be shocked with this next bit – the Legacy even got some interesting creases stamped into its sides, which does add a touch of character. The rear end gets somewhat interesting LED tail lights and a single, meaty exhaust tip. Wheels, also 17-inchers (which are better looking than the Sonata’s – that’s not saying much), are fitted with 225/55-sized rubber.
Add it all together and, exactly like with the Sonata, you’ve got a nice looking car that is unlikely to draw many second glances. Frankly this category of cars has become a bit of a yawn-fest in terms of styling.
Getting into the Sonata doesn’t require much effort with its keyless entry – same goes for the push-start ignition. The Legacy (in this trim) has a remote lock/unlock on the key fob, and you’ll still use the key to fire it up. Both cabins offer decent headroom and feel quite spacious. Likewise, both cars use materials that are nice and have excellent fit and finish. There is some plasticky looking trim, and the overall effect is pretty dark.
The Sonata’s power-adjustable, heated and cooled leather seats are very comfortable. The cushions appears to be designed for wider bodies (thanks America?) and the seats are not very well-bolstered for sporty driving – but in this class, that’s just fine. The heated fabric seats in the Legacy are alright, but I found them to be less comfortable, as the lumbar support intruded into my spine, even at the lowest setting. Only the driver’s side is power-adjustable in the Subaru.
The Sonata’s instruments (behind the heated steering wheel!) feature two large gauges and a crisp 4.2-inch driver information screen. The centre stack is home to an 8-inch touch screen which handles audio, phone, navigation and vehicle settings. I thought the 9-speaker Infinity-branded sound system sounded great. The Legacy’s gauges are also separated by a sharp, useful driver information screen – it’s slightly smaller than Hyundai’s at 3.5 inches. Subaru’s centre stack and dash feel much more smooth and integrated, and you’ll find a 6.2-inch touchscreen here which manages the car’s audio, phone and settings. Both systems are relatively well laid out and easy enough to use once you get to know your way around. Both cars have a dual-zone automatic climate control system.
Hyundai gives the Sonata a full suite of driver assistance tech: lane change assist, front collision warning, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, rear view camera with parking distance sensors and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. Subaru equips the Legacy with blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and a rear view camera.
The Sonata throws in a couple of extras too – a 3-position universal garage door opener and a huge panoramic sunroof. The Legacy gets a standard-sized sunroof overhead.
Both cars have three seats in the back, each with a seatbelt and headrest. I found the seats in both vehicles to be quite comfortable – the Sonata’s two outboard positions are heated. Head room in both cars is decent but the massive sunroof in the Sonata makes it seem even more spacious than it is. What I found surprising was the leg room.
There’s ample amount of leg room for rear passengers, with plenty of foot room under the seats as well.
In both vehicles, the middle seating position is somewhat compromised by the slightly raised floor (the Legacy has a taller tunnel than the Sonata) and the rear of the centre console extending into the back seating row, but it’s still usable, even for adults. Our three kids had plenty of room in the back of both cars. Both have two sets of excellent ISOFIX/LATCH connectors for child seats.
When it comes to convenience and comfort, the Sonata offers adjustable air vents, a 12V plug at the back of the console and manual sunshades for the rear side windows. The Legacy is pretty spartan – there’s nothing going on on the back of the centre console.
Both cars do a good job at soaking up your stuff in the cabin. The Sonata has storage space under the centre stack and in the console, as well as under the armrest lid.
The trunk in the Sonata seems huge – and it is at 462 litres. Unfortunately the trunk lid arms are not shrouded so they can pinch your luggage underneath if you’re not careful. The Legacy’s trunk isn’t far behind at 425 litres, and it has small hydraulic shocks mounted up on the sides which keeps them out of the way. Both of the cars’ rear seats can be folded 60/40 from the trunk only and there’s a large pass-through, adding to the utility and space.
The Legacy does not have an external trunk opener button – it needs to be opened with the button on the dash or using the key fob. Incredibly irritating. Just as bothersome is the lack of a handle inside the trunk. Once again, the omission of a 10-cent piece of plastic drives me crazy.
Under the Hood
The engine bay specs for both cars look pretty similar on paper but there are vast differences. Hyundai’s direct injected 2.4-litre 4-cylinder puts out 185 horsepower and 187 lb.ft of torque and sends the power through a 6-speed automatic to the front wheels. Fuel economy is decent, rated at 9.8 L/100 km (24 US mpg) in the city and 6.7 L/100 km (35 US mpg) on the highway.
Subaru does its own thing. They stick to their horizontally-opposed boxer engine structure, putting a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder into the Legacy. It makes 175 horsepower and 178 lb.ft of torque. The transmission is also different – it’s a continuously-variable one (CVT) with 6 pre-programmed “gears” and the Legacy has Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel drive. The Legacy’s mileage is better – which is pretty sweet considering it’s driving all four wheels. It is rated at 9.0 L/100 km (26 US mpg) in town and 6.5 L/100 km (36 US mpg) on the highway.
Both cars have a 70 litre fuel tank.
Although both engines don’t put out what would be considered a ton of power nowadays, these base engines have enough pull to motivate the sedans. Actually both cars are very responsive off the line and have enough jam for any typical driving situation. Would it be nice to have the extra jam of Hyundai’s turbo engine or Subaru’s bigger 3.6-litre when you’re passing on the highway or headed into the mountains? Of course. But nobody needs it. It’s a luxury and both rides do just fine with their base power trains.
Hyundai’s 6-speed is an exceptionally smooth transmission with basically imperceptible shifts – it can be shifted manually using the gear selector. There are three drive modes – Normal, Eco (which retards throttle response and shifts up quicker), and Sport mode which makes the power train more responsive and throws in heavier steering weight. Subaru’s CVT is smooth but simulates a traditional gearbox with fake gear ratios – it can be “shifted” with paddles, and the response is incredibly quick (and convincing). I want to note that the Subaru is so responsive off the line that it is almost too much so. It’s occasionally difficult to achieve a smooth start as the car slingshots forward and that does take some adjusting to.
For larger sedans, the handling is pretty good on both cars although the Hyundai’s electronic steering’s ratio definitely leans toward comfort and requires more cranking than you might expect. With that said, the steering effort is surprisingly hard. I prefer the Subaru’s more linear steering response and more balanced feel. Both cars feel feel competent in the corners and both exhibit a tendency to lean into them, which is just fine for this vehicle class. Overall, the Legacy feels more agile and fun to drive – I believe the active torque vectoring helps matters here. I was impressed with the ride – these cars are both wonderfully smooth and compliant, even over big hits.
Even though the Sonata makes some strange engine noises under throttle, the car is shockingly quiet – I found it very impressive. The Subaru is not as quiet – there is more noticeable road and wind noise, and the CVT transmission makes some weird whining sounds, especially when coasting around town at lower speeds.
The Sonata offers new, unexpected levels of refinement and sophistication when it comes to the driving experience, and it can be loaded to the gills with luxury, technology, safety and driver assistance. The Legacy combines a new look, a vastly improved interior, standard all-wheel drive performance and the manufacturer’s stellar reliability record.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high for the Sonata. She said it felt like an expensive car on the road, and loved the comfortable seats. She didn’t like the Subaru as much. Somehow she felt it drove like a bigger car, and said it felt grouchy on the road as it often sounded like it was working too hard. She said it just comes across as less smooth as the Hyundai.
This is one seriously crowded category – best-sellers abound, and it’s hard to find ones way through the mass of competition. It’s tough to find a crappy car among the competitors, but these two are excellent offerings. Both do things differently, and both bring different theories to the game. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either, but I would spend my own money on the Subaru Legacy. It certainly feels a touch less refined than the Sonata when it comes to interior appointments, but it has everything I’d need in terms of tech, safety and comfort (even at this lower trim level) and I place great value on reliability. The added value of standard all-wheel drive is icing on the cake, especially because of where we live. I don’t mind keeping it simple as long as everything works well, and that’s why the Subaru Legacy resonates most with me.
Disclosure: Vehicles were provided by Hyundai Canada and Subaru Canada.
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