A few weeks ago when I told my friends and family I was going to be in Alabama for just about 36 hours they of course look puzzled and asked why in the world was I doing that! Then when I explained that I was going to visit the most technologically advanced automotive plant in the world and test drive a car off the assembly line in the back roads of the deep south, that’s when their eyes widened and they began to understand. I mean, how cool is my job?
I met up with some old and new friends in the Dallas airport to make our connection to Montgomery and the excitement was palpable. The short trip was enhanced by chatting with my seat mate and ultimately witnessing the Hyundai plant out the window of the plane as we came into land! We were welcomed by Hyundai team members and a whole lot of humidity as we made the 20 minute trek to our gorgeous hotel by the river. With just a few minutes to change and get ready for a cocktail reception and dinner, we walked around the block to meet the group of Wave 4. More old friends and Hyundai executives greeted us to a delicious buffet and it’s here where we determined our driving partners for the next day’s adventures. I was partnering with Daisy Teh of TheItMom.com and we were both excited and a little nervous to get behind the wheel. After a short stay at the hotel bar after dinner the heat ,the 2 hour time change, and a full day of flying set in and I headed back to my room to prepare for an early start the next morning.
First on the agenda was visiting the HMMA (Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama) for our product presentation and plant tour. Opening it’s doors in 2005, the $1.7 billion plant employs 3000 people and over 280 robotics on 1700 acres of land that houses a stamping facility, paint shop, vehicle assembly shop, a two-mile test track, and two engine shops. Assembling both the Hyundai Sonata and the Elantra, the plant can produce about 1000 vehicles a day and at full capacity up to 399,500 per year! Hyundai demands quality from their workers and in return offer a safe, and efficient workplace that is run in 3 shifts with employees getting there hands in a variety of tasks to prevent monotony and repeated task physical ailments. The automation was incredible to watch in action, each piece of the puzzle being put together so precisely. We loved that when going by and snapping photos of the workers, they’d pause and smile or wave showing a true love for their jobs!
Ultimately the end of the tour came, but not without complete amazement and excitement. Now was the time for us to choose one of the cars on the assembly line and drive it out of the plant onto the back roads of Alabama! *Cue needle being pulled off the record here!* Our hearts beating quickly, we scanned the cars as people jumped off the tram and into them in a blink of an eye. Daisy and I stared at the Venetian Red Sport 2.O Turbo and then someone got in it, so next in line was the Quartz White Pearl Limited and it was ours. I jumped in the driver’s seat and we were moving by conveyor. I adjusted the seat height and moved it forward as I’m pretty short and then before you know it the Hyundai execs were waving goodbye to us! Daisy was my navigator with a detailed guidebook with moment to moment directions and we still managed to get lost in the first 5 minutes. After a few deep breaths we were back in business and maneuvering around Alabama!
The 2015 Sonata brings a fluid sculpture, smart features, and driver confidence to the table and the starting price begins at $21,150 and ranges to $34,335. Between following the route map and keeping my eyes on the road, I took in the lovely beige interior that gives the car a spacious feel when in fact it has a class-leading interior volume for 5 people comfortably and lots of trunk space. Also the panoramic sunroof gives an added feel of space, and nearly like you’re in a convertible. We kept ours closed the first round just to keep the temperatures cooler. Though, with the humidity creeping in on us, the ventilated seats were a must! Parents will love to hear that the rear side sunshades are available to keep little ones cooler in the back (especially those in carseats).
Lane Departure Warning-Drift outside your lane without signaling and this available system is designed to inform you with an audible and a visual cue
Forward Collision Warning-a forward-sensing camera looks down the road to determine the closing speed of your vehicle in relation to the vehicle ahead and provides an audible warning to alert the driver of a potential collision
Auto High Beam Assist-I especially appreciate this as I’m often the one others will flash because I leave my high beams on.
Blind Spot Detection in the side mirrors
Lane Change Assist-measures the closing speed of an approaching vehicle in the adjacent lane to determine if changing lanes is safe and if it’s not, gives the driver an audible and visual warning
Rear Cross Traffic Alert-helps identify and warn the driver of vehicles approaching from the side which is an added bonus to the backup camera to make pulling out of driveways or parking spaces safer
Tire Pressure Monitor
New front and rear suspension designs provide enhanced steering response, handling capability and stability. While a new dual lower arm rear suspension enhances braking and stability during high speed maneuvers. In addition, road noise has been reduced through improved vehicle chassis rigidity and soundproofing materials.
With a push of a button, you can set the parking break from the center console as well as select your Drive Mode! Everybody has a different take on steering feel. Some want more steering effort, others less. Well, with Drive Mode Select, now you get to choose. Drive Mode Select adjusts both engine mapping and steering effort to match your driving style. Select from three modes: Eco, Normal or Sport on the center console.
Daisy and I were concerned and chatted with a few others about the same issue, the Collision alert went off a few times during our drive and we were not in any sort of danger. Not sure if it was a glitch or a bad sensor, but I informed an executive to look into it.
After lunch we swapped cars for the Sonata Sport 2.0T with 18-inch alloy wheels and larger front brakes plus modified suspension and steering to deliver a sportier ride and increased steering response. Stylish quad exhaust set in a sporty rear diffuser make the most of its turbocharged engine, while paddle shifters mounted on the D-cut leather-wrapped steering wheel put it all at the driver’s fingertips. We really felt the get up and go on this model!
Sonata’s standard 2.4L GDI engine offers plenty of horsepower for the demands of daily driving. Looking for more power? The 245-hp turbocharged 2.0L GDI engine is available with the Sport 2.0T model. And if you’re seeking a boost in MPG, go for the 1.6L turbocharged engine in the Sonata Eco.Technology has come a long way and I’m so impressed by many of Hyundai’s improvements. You know there are smart trunks that can open with the swipe of a foot? Well Sonata took the next step and just with having the Proximity key on your person and getting near the trunk, it will pop open for you especially if your hands are full and lifting a leg won’t throw you off balance!The navigation is a must for us now in any new car we’ll purchase. All new Sonatas with navigation will feature Blue Link (an innovative telematics system) and will get you to your destination complete with traffic updates and will find your Starbucks shop or gas station in seconds…even tell you the current gas price at each using Destination Search powered by Google! Use this via voice recognition or the Blue Link mobile app. Also remote start or stop your car with an engine timer (1-10 min), also available to remote adjust climate control and remote defrost!
Probably my favorite feature is the Apple CarPlay! Before I was an iPhone user, I had an iPod Touch. Knowing the operation system and working with it made my smartphone purchase an easy transition. Now Hyundai is introducing the innovative and intuitive features that consumers love about Apple products and safely integrating them into the Sonata! While staying focused on the road, use voice command to make calls, send texts, read texts, use maps, listen to your music, and more. Your phone must be plugged in via USB port (iPhone 5, 5c, 5s) and the images pop up on the touchscreen display identically to those on your phone! Though it’s not immediately available, it will be later in the segment, we did see it in action and it’s pretty amazing!
After a traditional Alabama BBQ dinner, and a thunder and lightning show, I was off to bed to catch a 5am flight home. This 36 hour trip had me completely impressed by Hyundai and to boot, the cars we drove get 32-25 mpg highway and that’s really competitive for us when we have a commuter in the family! We may be a few years out on purchasing a brand new car, but I have to say, the Sonata has moved from not on the list to the top 3! I urge you to go your Hyundai dealership and test drive the 2015 Sonata to see for yourself!
Travel and accommodations were provided by Hyundai USA, all opinions are solely my own!