The name Sonata derives from the musical term for a composition featuring one or more solo instruments.
The first-generation Sonata (Y2) was part of Hyundai's expansion in North America after the success of the Excel. (The original Sonata (Y1) debuted in South Korea in November 1985 with an 2.0 engine on the body of Stellar, which was not successful and is almost forgotten.) It was introduced in South Korea on June 1, 1987. It was then introduced in Canada in September 1987 as a 1988 model, and in 1988, as a 1989 model in the United States. The exterior was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign. The vehicle received a mid-term facelift in 1992. It replaced the Stellar as Hyundai's large family car. Sonatas were built in Asan, Korea, and in Bromont, Quebec.
The Sonata was designed by Hyundai and featured Mitsubishi's engineering, including its 2.4L 110hp (82kW) Sirius I4 engine as used in American-market models. A 3.0L V6 based on the Mitsubishi 6G72 arrived in 1990. The U.S. model received the 2.0L engine for the 1992, replacing the original 2.4L engine.