Five years ago we would never have believed this: Hyundai's sixth-generation Sonata, launched in South Africa this week, is aimed directly at the established players in the premium compact segment.
And some of the German and Swedish players may be about to feel a chilly breeze down their corporate necks.
Far-fetched as it must have seemed, that was the design brief when work started in 2005 on what was then code-named the YF sedan.
And this is the result: a new, clean-running 2.4-litre engine mated to a six-speed auto transmission that's not only smaller, lighter and less complex than the five-speeder it replaces, but also noticeably smoother in operation.
It runs on lightweight, independent suspension all round and it's wrapped in the must radical expression we've seen thus far of Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design language, already making waves internationally in the form of the ix35 crossover and Genesis coupé.
Hyundai marketing director, Stanley Anderson, said: "The new Sonata follows the ix35 in driving the Hyundai brand upmarket without compromising our reputation for great value.
"The stunning lines of this car can compete with many more established players in this segment and, once you get under the skin, you realise that it's not just a gorgeous face but a comprehensive and very attractive new player in the premium sedan segment."
The Sonata is long, light and low, with a high beltline and low roofline for a sleek profile and a signature Hyundai chromed trim down the entire length of the vehicle. It starts at the headlights and extends outwards, while a large grille suggests a deep-breathing engine.
The interior uses premium materials to mirror the fluidity of the body with a flow-through centre console and instrument panel. The cabin is significantly bigger than that of its predecessor but natural edges and pleasant textures give the impression of the interior elements wrapping themselves comfortable around the occupants.
There's also a fashionable glass roof, optional on the GLS, standard on the upmarket Executive model; the resultant "greenhouse effect" is kept under control by powerful aircon - manual for the Sonata and automatic on the Executive.
THETA II PETROL ENGINE
The 2.4-litre, four-cylinder mill is smaller and lighter than the engine it replaces, with straighter inlet tracts for better breathing and a wider torque spread, with less engine inertia for lower internal losses.
Hyundai quotes 131kW and 228Nm while burning 8.2 litres/100km and emitting just 195g/km of CO2.
It's mated to a new six-speed auto transmission with manual sequential option by either gear lever or paddles (on the Executive model). The transmission has an unusual flat torque-converter that helps keep bulk (and thus weight) down, while three planetary-gear sets and four pinion differentials makes it both smooth and durable, says the maker.
Hyundai has even built in a hydraulic pressure control system that compensates for minute manufacturing variations from one solenoid valve to the next (which can cause fluctuations in the smoothness of the shift movement).
There is an adjustment screw on each of the transmission's eight hydraulic valves, each of which is "tuned" at the factory to ensure consistent hydraulic pressure at any shift point and thus smoother shifts.
This transmission, first seen on the ix35, is 12 kg lighter and 40.6mm shorter than the five-speed unit it replaces and uses a simpler system with 62 fewer parts, benefitting longevity, cost and vehicle weight.
It's also completely maintenance-free, according to Hyundai and doesn't even have a dipstick since it's filled at the factory with an automatic transmission fluid designed for the life of the vehicle, thus reducing maintenance costs.
To help you get the lowest fuel consumption out of your Sonata an LED information screen on the fascia called the Eco Coach tells you exactly when to change gears, using three coloured LEDs "to aid you in achieving the ideal fuel-economy possible at all times".
On a more practical note, a monitoring circuit constantly checks the battery's charge level and disconnects a clutch between engine and the alternator when the battery is fully charged to lighten the load on the engine.
The new Sonata has independent suspension all round with Macpherson struts in front and a sophisticated multi-link set-up at rear, made of aluminium to reduce unsprung weight.
Their movement is modulated by gas-charged, amplitude selective dampers - special shock absorbers that vary in stiffness or compliance depending on road conditions and dynamic requirements - with stabiliser bars to ensure agile steering response and reduce body roll during hard cornering.
Digital driver aids include a stability control programme with brake assist and hill hold, while passive safety is provided by six crash bags and hot-stamped, ultra high-strength steel in the crash structure for the most rigid vehicle possible in the event of an unavoidable collision.
2.4 GLS a/t - R279 900
2.4 GLS Executive a/t - R299 900
The new Sonata comes with Hyundai's five-year or 150 000km warranty, a five-year or 90 000km service plan and five years' road side assistance. Service intervals are 15 000km.