Words and Photos by Mark Elias."

It's been several years since Hyundai introduced the United States-built Sonata sedan to the North American marketplace. Successfully received from the beginning of this fourth-generation vehicle, Hyundai thought it was time for a mid-cycle tweak.

What Is It?

A decided move upmarket, the Sonata represented a commitment on the part of Hyundai Motors to increase the quality of their builds as well as the desirability of its products in the US market. In this refreshed version 2.0 of the Sonata, have they succeeded? Let's take a look.

What's It Up Against?

The Sonata joins the gang of twenties. That is to say the mid-$20 thousand price range. According to Hyundai, this includes the mid-sized Honda Accord, itself a benchmark of sorts, for this Sonata, followed by Nissan's Altima, Toyot's Camry, the Pontiac G6, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda 6 and Ford Fusion to name a few.

The EPA classifies the Sonata in the Large Car category. Hyundai thinks it's a mid-sizer. As a result the marketeers at the U.S. arm of the Korean industrial giant decided on the "class above" ad campaign to take advantage of the difference.

Any Big Breakthroughs?

New and improved for 2009, the Hyundai Theta-II inline 4-cylinder and Lambda V6 powerplants have seen an increase in power and fuel economy at the same time.

Overall, there are not many technological breakthroughs as much as there is increased content. An exception is the addition of a new center console to incorporate a revised audio system with touch-screen navigation. Add to the mix, the now expected iPod and USB flash drive connectivity.

How Does It Look?

Hyundai has refreshed the front fascia of the 2009 Sonata with a new more purposeful set of bumpers and a new grille, which also incorporate updated projector lens headlamps and fog lights. Chrome highlights set off the grille surround, along with accents imbedded into the bumpers. The overall look is satisfying, if still conservative, although most casual observers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference unless the 2008 and 2009 models were parked side by side.

And Inside?

A new, revamped interior moves Hyundai upward into premium territory to catch up with its competition. Borrowing from its big-brother crossover, the Veracruz, the Sonat's center stack now features larger cup holders and an available navigation system and XM Radio, as well as iPod connectivity. The driver can control either the iPod or USB flash drive through the redundant controls on the steering wheel. Dual-zone climate controls also appear for the first time in the Sonata. Upscale wood grain accents set the interior off, and create a perimeter of sorts around the doors and across the dashboard.

The new front seats with available leather facings provide good bolstering and allow for a fatigue-free drive. The rear bench seat area, with trunk access, displays amazing legroom but at a disadvantage for the seat. Meaning that to our eyes, it appears as though the actual area of gluteal-positioning is not deep enough.

Trunk space is plentiful, with the Sonat's 16.3 cubic feet cargo capacity holding an 8%-advantage over the Camry and a 16% bonus over the Accord.

But Does It Go?

With the two engines offered in the Sonata, there are several combinations available that run the gamut from economy to sport to premium. The new Theta-II 2.4-liter I-4 cylinder engine has undergone strength training in the off-season and features a 13-horsepower increase, to 175-hp, and 4 -lb-ft increase in torque to 168 lb-ft. Available with a five-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission, Hyundai is boasting class-leading EPA mileage estimates of 22 city / 32 hwy miles per gallon. With today's fuel prices, Hyundai estimates that their customers will favor the Theta-II four cylinder over the Lambda V6, by a margin of 75 to 25 percent.

The Lambda 3.3-liter V6 is newly refined to 249-horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque, up from 234 ponies and the 226 lb-ft found in the previous iteration. The new engine features variable-valve-timing and a new variable intake system for improved off the line and passing performance. Mileage checks in at 19 mpg city / and 29 mpg hwy. The V6 is also available only with a five-speed automatic Shiftronic slushbox.

Those preferring a sportier ride can select the Sonata SE sedan which features different spring rates than those available in the base GLS or premium-level Limited model Sonatas, as well as five-spoke alloys and a rear spoiler. The SE can also be ordered with the Lambda V6 engine.

In practical use, we found the new Sonata to be extremely good in handling and isolating road noise away from the cabin. Riding on 17-inch tires, it was quiet except for the roughest of road surfaces. The larger 3.3-liter V6 allowed for effortless passing on some of Alabam's back roads, and the Shiftronic gearbox added a measure of fun into the mix. Steering response was speed-sensitive and direct, with almost little-to-no-lateral play. If we needed to put on the binders, there was only the slightest amount of brake fade pulling the 3,494 pounds to a stop.

What we really enjoyed, though, was plowing (automatically) through the gears while driving the 3,327-pound Sonata Limited equipped with the 2.4 -liter four cylinder engine and the improved suspension. With stiffer spring rates and strut valving at both ends, along with front and rear stabilizer bars, the four-banger was a fun ride through the hills and twisties found on the roads near Hyundai's Montgomery, Alabama plant. It is here that the Sonata and Santa Fe are built for the North American market.

Why You Would Buy It?

Loaded with plenty of standard features, the SE and Limited trim levels have virtually no options, save for a navigation system -- chances are your local dealer has the exact configuration you want already on the lot. If a reasonably powerful V6 engine that gets 19 city / 29 hwy sounds appealing, take a closer look.

Oh, did we mention the 5-year / 60,000-mile vehicle warranty or the 10-year / 100,000 powertrain warranty? Yup, it's there, too.

Why You Wouldn't

You don't think you can live without an Accord or a Camry in the driveway. Maybe self-image precludes you from driving a Korean car. Or perhaps you're looking for something more aggressively styled -- in which case the Mazda6 or Nissan Altima might be on your shortlist.