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As one of the most popular car types in the United States car market today, the mid-size passenger sedan segment is just as competitive as you would expect. While it has been dominated for many years by the stylish Japanese imports and powerful American cars, the Korean Hyundai Sonata has broken its way into the top echelons of the genre in recent years.
Spacious, attractive, and filled with nice technology, the Sonata has wowed consumers with its low price and impressive warranty. Just three years after the complete redesign in 2015, the Hyundai engineers took another go at the Sonata, though this update was not as all-encompassing. The mid-cycle refresh has given the 2018 Hyundai Sonata new exterior styling and a new mid-range trim level.
The newly-added model brings the number of trim levels available on the Sonata up to seven, not including the two Hybrid varieties that are also available. While choosing between them could seem daunting when you first start shopping for a new Sonata, the trim levels are fairly distinct and straightforward in their design.
Compare the 2018 Sonata SE vs Eco Trims. What is the difference?
Hyundai’s quest to offer drivers good value for the money starts with the entry-level Sonata SE, which is less expensive than most rivals, while still being just as nicely equipped.
The base Sonata comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, power features, air conditioning, and cloth seats, as well as a powerful infotainment system. The infotainment system comes with a 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary inputs, and support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mobile app protocols.
The Sonata SE also comes with a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alerts and a lane change assist system, as well as a rearview camera. An automatic transmission is standard on this model, and it is matched with the base 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder engine making 185 horsepower. It is also one of the models that can be equipped as a hybrid, but otherwise there are no packages or factory-installed options available on the Sonata SE.
The Eco is very similar in its design and equipment to the Sonata SE, but it comes with a different engine and transmission. The Eco uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine that outputs up to 178 horsepower and matches it with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Otherwise, the Eco offers the same features as the Sonata SE. Similarly, it offers no optional packages either.
The Sonata SE offers a strong choice for many entry-level buyers, striking a nice balance between rival models that offer very little and those that offer a lot but are more expensive. It includes some of the more popular safety features and a number of nice convenience and technology features, all for a very competitive price.
Compare the 2018 Hyundai Sonata SE vs SEL Trim Levels. What is the difference?
The SEL is the newest addition to the Sonata trim level selection, rolling out this year. It is an intermediate step between the entry-level SE and Eco models and the high-end Sport and Limited entries.
Its additions are primarily focused on convenience and style, though some important safety features are also available. The base SEL comes with all of the regular SE equipment, as well as a power driver’s seat, a smart key with push button start, heated front seats, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, a hands-free trunk, and leather trim covering the steering wheel and the gear selector. There are also nice leatherette inserts in the doors, and HD and satellite radio support. It uses the same engine and transmission as the SE.
The SEL is one of the few Sonata models that features an optional package available from the factory. The Technology Package adds a set of advanced active safety features. Those include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, smart cruise control, and an electronic parking brake. It is a good choice for the more safety-minded customers.
Compare the Sonata SEL vs Sport Trims. What is the difference?
While the Sport model may have a name that implies a greater degree of agility or acceleration, the Sonata Sport comes with the same engine and transmission as most of the lower-end Sonata models: the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.
Most of the features that it offers over the SEL are added interior and exterior accents that all give it a more sporty appearance. In terms of practical equipment, the only major additions offered by the Sport are the standard power moonroof and sport seat upholstery that mixes cloth and leather. Even more unfortunately, the SEL technology package is not available on the Sport, which limits the advanced safety technology that it can equip.
Given the relatively few features that it adds, the Sonata Sport is fairly pricey compared to the SEL. It also does not offer the same caliber of options, as it lacks the ability to add the technology package. This makes the Sport a poor choice for any but the most appearance-focused buyer.
Compare the Sonata SEL vs Limited Trim Levels. What is the difference?
The Limited is the premium model of the Sonata, and comes with a nice set of high-end equipment, though it uses the same engine and transmission as the rest of the lineup so far. The Limited model adds a number of premium elements to the SEL feature set.
The biggest is its reworked interior, which is upholstered in leather and has wood grain trim accents. Its front seats are heated, ventilated, and powered with a memory function. There is also a dual-zone climate control, a power moonroof, LED tail lights, and metal door sill plates. This is the other model that is available as a hybrid, sharing the same equipment and options as the regular Limited model.
The technology package from the SEL is replaced by the optional Ultimate Package on the Limited, which includes the active safety technology from the technology package together with a heated steering wheel, navigation, Infinity audio, and wireless device charging.
Compare the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport vs Sport 2.0T Trims. What is the difference?
Where the Sonata Sport simply looks the part of a high-performing vehicle, the Sport 2.0T adds some actual performance upgrades to the model to match its looks. The Sport 2.0T is equipped with the more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter GDI engine, giving it 245 horsepower. This gives the Sonata a strong and efficient alternative to the few remaining rivals who still pack optional V-6 engines in their mid-size sedans.
With the larger engine, the Sport 2.0T feels quite a bit more responsive and powerful than the regular Sonata Sport. Apart from the engine, it also gets a more rigid suspension tune and high-performing Michelin tires. Aside from those features, it is identical to the Sport in equipment and styling.
If the base Sonata is a little too slow for your personal taste, the Sport 2.0T can be a good cure for that feeling. Combining the Sonata’s excellent fundamentals like good equipment and a spacious cabin with a stronger powertrain makes for a very attractive combination. At only about $2,000 increase in the price tag, it can be quite worth the price if you are a more performance-minded driver.
Compare the Sonata Limited vs Limited 2.0T Trim Levels. What is the difference?
Just like the Sport, the Limited model of the Sonata also comes in regular and 2.0T varieties. The Limited 2.0T does not include the styling cues of the Sport, instead sharing the equipment set and appearance with the Limited model. It does get the improved suspension and Michelin tires from the other 2.0T model. Otherwise, the Limited 2.0T is the same car as the regular Limited, with one major exception. While the Ultimate package is optional on the Limited, it is part of the standard equipment for the Limited 2.0T.
The Limited 2.0T is the Sonata with all of the upgrades that it is possible to choose for the car. The impressive set of equipment and the strong engine both recommend the model, but it does come with quite a price tag, being the only model to break $30,000 in its stock configuration.
Which Trim Level to Choose?
While the 2018 Hyundai Sonata does offer an impressive seven trim levels, many of them are very similar to each other, with a few exceptions. You can significantly narrow down your choice of trim by choosing your preferred engine.
The base engine that balances between efficiency and performance leaves you with the SE, SEL, Sport and Limited options, of which the SEL offers the best balance between features and price, especially once its technology package is factored in. The SE and the Limited are both strong alternatives, with the SE perfect if you find yourself on a lower budget and the Limited a good choice for buyers used to leather and comfort.
The economical turbo engine is only available on the Eco, while the powerful turbo is used on both the Sport 2.0T and the Limited 2.0T. In the latter case, your choice depends on if you want the leather interior and the expansive feature set that the Limited offers.
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