The brand new 2021 Hyundai Sonata is a great value, but we’re here to find out if it’s better than the used Hyundai Sonata option.
The latest Hyundai Sonata is one of the boldest designs we’ve seen for a mainstream sedan ever, but the car itself has been a great value for some time now. Dial the clock back to 2019 and the Sonata was singing its swan song for the sixth generation before shifting to the all-new current design in 2020. Instead of going out with a whimper, it was truly a fantastic entry into the econo-sedan class with a remarkable warranty, a comfortable ride, and a reasonable price point. In 2021 though, we wonder if it’s still worth considering despite just how big of a leap the new car has taken. To find out, we’ve compared these two model years and dug down deep into the details to find out which is the better buy.
Both of our Sonata’s come in Limited trim form for this new vs used comparison. For 2019, that means buyers will find a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine under the hood with 185 horsepower routed to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic. The 2021 Hyundai Sonata uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged unit that makes 180 horsepower, but has 17 lb-ft more torque than its bigger, older sibling. It also provides front-wheel drive, but does so through a 7-speed automatic. While it might sound counterintuitive, the 1.6 is considered a step up from the base 2.4 in part because of that noticeable torque bump, but also due to the fact that it gets 27 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway. Compare that to just 25 miles to the gallon in the city for and 33 on the highway for 2019 making it easy to see the benefit. Both vehicles come from Hyundai with a 10 year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that switches to 5 years and 60,000 miles for the second owner. That’s quite generous.
While the MSRP for the 2021 Sonata might be some $35,000, we’ve found numerous examples listed well below that, some dipping near the $30,000 mark. Used Hyundai Sonata Limited examples will of course vary in price due to condition and mileage, but nicer examples can still be had for well below $25,000. That’s quite the price difference and it’s perhaps the most interesting factor about this comparison.
While neither of these cars is a sports sedan by any measure, it’s fascinating to feel the difference in refinement that a new platform and a more torque forward motor can provide. The used Hyundai Sonata seems to have very little interest in communicating to the driver through the steering wheel. It’s very hard to tell what’s going, but that’s not all bad. For many buyers, we expect that quietness in the steering to be an asset in their minds. While there’s little to no body roll, the Sonata does tend to dip and dive fore to aft more than we expected. It’s by no means a bad car, and we’ll get to comfort shortly, but it’s also not up to snuff compared to its newer self.
We’ve heard others complain about the dynamics of the brake pedal feel or the steering in the new Hyundai Sonata, but we feel the driving experience is flawless for what it is. It’s clear that Hyundai wanted this vehicle to be more than just a pretty and dynamic face. It’s worked hard to sharpen up the car and the firmer suspension pays off in our eyes. Through twists and turns, it’s incredibly good for what really is a bit of an underpowered, front-wheel-driven sedan.
This is where the waters get a bit muddy. The new Hyundai Sonata is objectively the better of the two cars in terms of comfort. It has a heated steering wheel, slightly better heated and cooled front seats, and ever so slightly nicer materials throughout. One subtle difference is the thicker tires that add just a touch of comfort to the ride quality everywhere it goes. It’s certainly stiffer than the older car, but it’s better damped too. What makes the winner less clear is that the old car is pretty good too, and considering it costs roughly 30% less, the new car isn’t 30% better.
The used Hyundai Sonata is outstanding in terms of overall ride quality. Soaking up hundreds of miles on the highway is about as easy as it could get in a used vehicle of this quality. The rear seats are slightly smaller than its rivals from other companies, but still large enough for most adults. The leather upholstery is fantastic and makes this car feel worth far more than you’ll pay. While the new car has the better suspension, the 2019 model had just received an updated set of parts on its own, and it feels like it. Still, the one thing that the 2019 just can’t compare on is how advanced the inside is.
Take a quick look at the interior of each of these cars and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were far more than just two model years apart. The 2021 model is far more sleek and modern. Just one easy example is the difference in the gauge cluster. For 2019, the Sonata sported two prominent silver-colored dials and a small center screen that would display vital information. In 2021, the entire cluster is completely digital and configurable. Thanks to that new technology, it takes advantage of another favorite feature of ours, blind-spot monitoring view, which brings up a live video feed of the applicable blind spot when the driver flips on the turn signal in either direction.
Both cars have excellent features that are similar throughout though. Adaptive cruise control, voice controls, and premium audio systems are impressive in each. The new car does have a heads-up display that helps it stand out though. One final party trick that the new car has is called “Smart Parking Assist”. Made famous during a Superbowl commercial, this feature allows the driver to move the car into and out of tight parking spaces with their phone while outside of the vehicle itself.
While it might be hard to find an additional $7,000-$10,000, we think it’s well worth it to spring for the new 2021 Hyundai Sonata. Getting the full benefit of that 10-year warranty in addition to the improved tech, powertrain, and styling is a big boom in value. Don’t get us wrong though, the used Hyundai Sonata models are still a great deal. They’re just a generation behind literally and figuratively.