My recent seat time with the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited showed how upscale Hyundai can take its redesigned mid-size sedan, but how does this car stack up without being loaded with options? Not long after the Sonata Limited was picked up, I found the volume-selling Sonata SEL sitting in my driveway. The SEL trim level is a step up from the base SE, and while it whittles down some of the Limited’s standard features, it does so without losing any curb appeal.
As great as the premium Sonata Limited was in our test drive review, more buyers will opt for this mid-grade SEL trim. Lopping off about $6,000 from the as-tested price, we spent a week in the 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL to see where this model stands.
2018 Hyundai Sonata Exterior
The 2015 Sonata was a step forward for this sedan, and while it was attractive, it was a little too close to what you see on a Subaru Legacy. This redesigned face might be less aggressive than the 2015-2017 Sonata, but it is far more distinctive in an overcrowded segment. Relatively small details are the difference makers on this new look such as Hyundai’s new cascading grille up front and, surprisingly, the Sonata lettering spelled out across the rear decklid. This new lettering stood out to me on the Limited trim level, too, and just adds a more distinctive touch to the overall style.
Other than the updated front and rear ends, the rest of the Sonata’s shape was left alone. The long roofline and upswept decklid give the sedan an almost-hatchback-like profile, which is by far this car’s best angle, and this aspect of the Sonata dates back to the 2011 model year. The profile shot also reveals the chrome accent trim that wraps around the headlights and stretches back to the side window surround trim. Tasteful amounts of chrome are applied to the lower fascia, grille, door handles and the trapezoid-shaped exhaust outlet.
Compared to the Limited trim level, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL is practically identical with the only exception being the lack of LED taillights or optional LED headlights; it’s fairly difficult to tell the differences between the stock and upgraded lights. Speaking of lights, the SEL retains the stylish and unique five-LED daytime running light setup, and even the 17-inch split-spoke wheels are the same as the Sonata’s top trim. This tester also wore one of the new Sonata’s best colors, Electric Blue.
2018 Hyundai Sonata Interior
Inside is where you will find the most obvious differences between the SEL and Limited trims, but you’re still getting a lot of content for the money. The 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL downgrades to cloth seats, but it is a high-quality “premium” cloth that has a good look and feel. The SEL also gets the smaller seven-inch touch screen display (compared to eight inches on the Limited), yet it retains creature comforts like the leather steering wheel and shift lever as well as heated front seats, the 4.2-inch trip computer and proximity key with push-button start. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all 2018 Hyundai Sonata trim levels, and this helps to make up for the lack of available navigation on the SEL.
No matter which trim you choose, the interior of the 2018 Sonata is comfortable and spacious. You will have no problem fitting five adults in this car with ample headroom and legroom for rear occupants, and the 16-3 cubic of trunk space is more than enough for a family road trip.
2018 Hyundai Sonata Powertrain
Being an SEL trim, the only engine offered is the same 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder that I have already sampled. It would have been nice to test out the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine (only offered on the Limited and Sport trims), but my extra time with the base engine just helped show me that you really don’t have to opt for the pricier options to get a great Sonata. This engine produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, and it is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The EPA-rated fuel economy estimates for this powertrain is 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway**, and my week with the Sonata SEL returned an average of 28.7 mpg according to the trip computer.
Where the 2018 Hyundai Sonata really stands out is its improved ride quality. Not that the previous car was anything to complain about but the upgraded rear suspension setup and revised steering gives the new Sonata a more comfortable and communicative ride. If you want a sportier model, check out the Sonata Sport, but the Sonata SEL now gives the driver better response making it more fun to drive. Honestly, though, people probably aren’t buying the Sonata for fun, which is why the 2018 Sonata is still tuned for more of a neutral feel resulting a smooth ride on the interstate and responsive feel in the city. Again, this aspect of the SEL is identical to the 2.4L Limited.
2018 Hyundai Sonata Safety
As a part of its numerous enhancements, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata now comes standard with Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and it received a five-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This tester came with the optional $1,000 Tech Package that added driver-assist technologies like Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep Assist, Smart Cruise Control with stop/start capability and the Electronic Parking Brake with Automatic Vehicle Hold.
2018 Hyundai Sonata Overall
The reoccurring theme that kept popping up during my week with this car is that the 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL is proof that you don’t have to spend $30,000+ to get a great Sonata. The base Sonata starts at $22,050*, and the SEL you see here had an as-tested price of $25,710. That’s definitely not a lot of money for a brand-new car that offers as much as it does. On top of everything else, the Sonata still offers Hyundai’s lengthy warranties including the five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and the 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Hyundai dealership and test drive the 2018 Hyundai Sonata today!
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2018 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.