The Carchive: The 1989 Hyundai Sonata

If you enjoyed our regular delves into The Carchive last year, you’ll probably easily tolerate them in 2015. For the uninitiated, this feature (which tends to be posted at slightly irregular intervals) is more-or-less unique in its scope. Nowhere else on the internet does anybody take the time to fillet and digest forgotten, worthless brochures for forgotten, worthless cars. In some cases the comments section fills with emotional outpourings as nostalgia is sparked; more usually there’s total radio silence punctuated only by the occasional drifting electronic tumbleweed.
One thing’s for sure, you can take it as read that todays offering exemplifies the sheer class of product that you’ll be reading more about on this wavelength in the year to come.
Welcome back to The Carchive.
“The Hyundai Sonata represents a breakthrough in performance motor-car technology- a perfect marriage of elegant looks and hi-technology engineering. Not only is its styling classical in line and form, but it is also aerodynamically efficient”
The Hyundai Sonata was the first Big car (or as Americans would say, really small car) to carry the brand across the US. Following success with the car-by-numbers Excel, the Korean firm just knew there would be punters a-plenty to lap up a larger cook-up of the same wildly unadventurous recipe.
I say wildly unadventurous, but progress had certainly been made compared to the Hyundai Stellar which went before. That car (which was never officially marketed Stateside) sat on the ancient rear-wheel-drive chassis of the European Ford Cortina, a car which died in 1982. Stellar (or Sonata in some markets) was still being flogged in various markets (including Canada, but excluding those clean-air loving Americans) right up to the late ’80s.
As had been the case with the Stellar, Giorgetto Giugiaro was the man in charge of sculpting the majestic form of the new car, this time trading in his set-square for a French curve. I have no precise data to back up the claims about aerodynamics, but lets just agree that it is visibly one helluva lot more streamlined than the old Stellar.
“A range of engines is available, depending on the model you choose. All engines are Multi-Point Fuel Injection- 1.8i, 2.0i, 2.4i. “
The engines were familiar; look in the right places and you could probably see where the Mitsubishi stamp might have gone. They were based on Mitsubishi’s globally proven Sirius range, in three different capacities for the European market. The two smaller engines were continuations from the Stellar, but the carburettor was phased out in favour of that fuel injection system.
Power ranged from a respectable 98.7hp for the 1.8 litre, to a slightly lacklustre 117.3 for the 2.4 litre. The bigger engine did bring bigger torque, though, which probably made for a more relaxed drive.
“The specifications of the GL are very high, offering a standard of equipment and comfort far in advance of what you’d normally expect.”
We could use some clarity here, really. Normally expect from what? A Car? or a Hyundai? Again, maybe we should just agree that it was a helluva improvement compared to the old Stellar.
GLS models were endowed with front door map pockets, a remote fuel filler release, power boot release, padded centre console armrest and under seat storage. All models were equipped with a digital clock, and there appear to be two different grades of radio-cassette player in the range; that of the GLS enjoying full-logic control.
“All in all, the new Sonata is more than just a car. It’s a luxurious means of transport to meet the needs of the driver who demands performance and style, interior roominess and a high standard of comfort”
Isn’t that actually the very definition of what “just a car” has come to be? Surely every driver in the world would prefer, if at all possible, that his car was good looking, comfy and came with a decent turn of speed? You’d have to be a lunatic to say “yeah, but I wish it was a bit less comfortable”.
I’m not actually being facetious here, the Sonata was the right car for an awful lot of people; I just wish the brochure would be a little less pretentious. The truth didn’t need embellishing like that.
“The instrument panel in the Sonata is a model of simplicity and clarity. It has a large, easy to read speedometer and tachometer together with gauges for fuel and water temperature. The GLS model also has an oil pressure gauge and volt meter”
So the more you pay, the better equipped you are to see what’s going wrong with your car, but I daresay it wasn’t sold like that.
Sonata sold well across the US and Canada, not by virtue of particular excellence but through being not noteably more awful than anything else on the market, It looked good enough, drove well enough and was built nicely enough to make a strong case for itself, especially when the attractive pricing was taken into account. Mr Ribchester, my Design and Technology teacher at secondary school, himself a Canadian, had one of these. He was a practical, no-nonsense kind of chap and this was exactly the right kind of conveyance for him. Most weeks he could be found in the workshop, stripping down his power antenna to coax it into life for the nth time.
“Swift, sure, safe. The Sonata is a turning-point in motor car technology”
Moot point. But, then again, compared to the old Stellar, they’re dead right.
(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Hyundai. Look at this and then look at the Equus. Mind-blowing.)

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  1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    The 1989 Hyundai Sonata, The car that says "I needed the car so that I could make the money to pay for it." Now with functions similar to cars you've heard of!
    Hyundai, like Sunday, but maybe more like Monday.

  2. GTXcellent Avatar

    This whole ad just conjures up Clark Griswold commenting "Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?"
    Real digital clock Hyundai? Oh, nothing but the best

    1. Devin Avatar

      To be fair if you buy a new Toyota they have a pretty much identical digital clock in there for some reason. So Hyundai was on the bleeding edge of clocks.

      1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
        PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

        <img src=""&gt;
        I remember the fight I had with a plumber buying three stripped out Tacomas for his business in 2002. He was so annoyed that the digital clock was a pre-selected option on all of them with the cab he wanted. It was like a $15-30 option.

        1. Maxichamp Avatar

          What is that, a 2012 Lexus IS250?

  3. peugeotdude505 Avatar

    Why did they stop putting the "Metal" buttons on car stereos? That's for Judas Priest, right?

  4. Maymar Avatar

    My parents had a '90. It was…it was a car. I've heard the styling described as "knockoff Honda Accord," and that's not far off the entire car's mission. That said, in North America, the V6 was an option from the start, 5 years before Honda offered it. We had the four-cylinder and stick though. Probably not actually quick, but it seemed to haul itself around fine (we towed a tent trailer all over Southern Ontario and New England).
    Really distinctive plastic gassing though – it was totalled 20 years ago (right around this time in '95), and I can still remember that smell.

  5. Sjalabais Avatar

    This is one of my favourite series of All. The. Internet. But look what Hemmings did in their blog the other day:
    I guess you inspire.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Often imitated, never bettered…
      Is anybody in the Hooniverse a lawyer?

      1. Rover_1 Avatar

        Are you trying to force some sort of admission?

          1. Rover_1 Avatar

            Hah, very good !!

    2. Devin Avatar

      That looks like someone at Mercury was trying very hard to embarrass some models.

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    I knew someone that owned one of those first-gen Sonatas. It was absolutely pathetic.

  7. Rover_1 Avatar

    A case study of technological and build quality improvement = better brand positioning.
    From Ital restylings of Marinas and Cortinas with Mitsubishi motors to today.
    No different from what Audi have achieved in terms of product. Perception of brand positioning lags behind.
    But in another ten to fifteen years?
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