Hyundai Sonata Gets New Interior Look, Technology Including Digital Key

Digital keys can be shared, with specific time limits specified for each. Someday access can be isolated to select areas of the vehicle, such as the trunk for receipt of delivered goods.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

April 23, 2019

4 Min Read
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Holding phone within centimeter of door handle unlocks car.

NEW YORK – Hyundai has given its midsize sedan a heavily changed interior to go along with its thoroughly redesigned exterior and includes new technology that looks to improve the user experience.

Upon entering the new ’20 Sonata, on sale in October in the U.S., you see a stark difference in the amount of switchgear vs. the outgoing model. Simply put, there isn’t much.

“(We’re) trying not to over-complicate it,” Mike Evanoff, Sonata product planner, tells Wards of the limited number of buttons and knobs in the car. “We’re just trying to make (the interior) clean and simple.”

Large-36016-2020HyundaiSonata (1).jpg

Large-36016-2020HyundaiSonata (1)

He says designers worked to make the center stack area compact and pushed-down, “so you don’t get this massive feeling.” Due to the more compact center stack, slim vents, seen last year in the Le Fil Rouge concept car, are used in the Sonata.

Evanoff says he thought it would be a challenge to get the proper airflow and limited noise buyers desire from the slimmer HVAC vents, but says they have the typical performance characteristics of traditionally sized cabin vents even though they’re smaller than usual.

The new Sonata has a choice of 8-in. (20-cm) or 10.25-in. (26-cm) touchscreens, with the latter Hyundai’s highest-resolution screen and shared with the Nexo hydrogen fuel-cell CUV as well as the upcoming Palisade large CUV.

“It’s really responsive and quick (and) it’s very customizable in how you set it up,” C.J. Eckman, assistant manager-IoT and connected-car product for Hyundai Motor America, tells Wards, adding the screen can be personalized via movable widgets.

The car’s new 12.3-in. (31-cm) digital gauge cluster is all-new, going beyond the Palisade’s partial digital display and being fully digital, allowing for snazzy startup graphics that heighten UX, as Wards witnessed here at the New York auto show.

Also heightening UX will be ambient lighting offered in a top trim level, Evanoff says.

But it is Sonata’s new digital key feature that aims to change user experience the most, allowing owners to leave their keyfob at home.

The feature, an app a Sonata owner downloads on their Android phone and working in combination with Bluetooth Low Energy (a weaker connection than audio streaming) and Near Field Communication (what Apple Pay and hotel key cards use) technology on the vehicle, allows the owner to lock, unlock and start their car without a physical key.

“I know personally, I really don’t like carrying a keyfob, so being able to do everything a keyfob can do, without having to have one more thing in your pocket, just makes life a lot easier,” says Eckman.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) enables remote commands on the phone from about 33 ft. (10 m) away, including locking and unlocking the car, turning the engine on and sounding the alarm. Eckman explains the car doesn’t unlock automatically with that range so a nefarious individual couldn’t jump in before the owner.

Each front-door handle has a Near Field Communication (NFC) antenna built in, so a Sonata owner with the app can hold their phone within a centimeter of the door handle and the door will unlock, even without the app open on the phone.

To be able to start the car, a driver will need to place their phone on the Qi wireless charge pad, which has an NFC chip.

Four phones, with two profiles each, can use digital keys. This enables a parent to control their teenager’s use of the vehicle, as digital keys can be shared with a time limit attached.

“I can set a setting that says you can have the car, but only for 48 hours. After that the key comes back to me,” Eckman says.

Eventually it will be possible to give those with shared digital keys access only to certain areas of the vehicle, such as allowing a food-delivery service access to just the trunk.

“You’re not in the car, but they just walk up, open the trunk, throw (a pizza) in there, but they could never drive the car, or get into the cabin of the vehicle – they can only get in the trunk,” Eckman says.

Each profile can store unique vehicle settings, such as preferred seat position and radio station presets.

“Whoever’s phone is placed (in the Qi charge pad) is the one everything gets set to,” Eckman says.

The digital key feature, because it requires the Qi pad, will be standard on top trim levels and available as an option on midlevel grades, Evanoff says.

For those who still want a physical key, rest assured, as he says a keyfob still comes with the purchase of a new Sonata, as does a Tesla-like NFC card that can be kept in one’s wallet for access in case a phone is lost.

“I don’t think people are quite ready to walk away from physical keys altogether, depending on the buyer,” Evanoff says.

Digital keys are made possible by a standard issued last year by the Car Connectivity Consortium, reports Engadget. In addition to Hyundai, Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen are part of the group, as are suppliers Alpine, LG, Panasonic and Samsung.

Hyundai says the app for now is compatible only with Android phones, but the automaker is part of the group working with Apple to expand NFC and BLE usage in vehicles.

Eckman says digital key will spread to other Hyundai models in the future.

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