By Alex Kramer
- Seamless gas-electric hybrid system
- Smooth shifting 6 speed automatic transmission
- Eye-catching exterior design
- Spacious interior with lots of features
- Less than sporty handling
- Automatic transmission robs a few MPGs
- Drab interior gray color
It seems like almost every major car company has at least one hybrid model on the road these days, and why not, with gas prices still clinging to almost $4 a gallon. Although a bit late to the party, Hyundai finally has its own hybrid sedan with the new Sonata Hybrid.
The attractively styled and compellingly priced Sonata has elbowed its way into the competitive mid-size sedan market and convinced more than a few Camry and Accord buyers to jump ship over the past year. Will this new Hybrid version make an equally large impression on prospective car buyers? After driving the Sonata Hybrid for five days, we can definitely say this is another excellent option for mileage conscious car buyers.
A New Kind of Hybrid
By now, hybrid cars are no longer a novelty and with the maturation of this technology come expectations that the system work seamlessly. On this front, the Sonata Hybrid is a definite success. The 2.4L gas engine, electric motor and next-generation lithium polymer battery all work together smoothly to propel the car forward. You can barely tell when the engine turns on or off, especially when driving at a relaxed pace around town.
Unlike most other hybrids, the Sonata Hybrid utilizes a regular 6 speed automatic transmission, rather than a CVT, or continuously variable transmission. Although you can tell when the car shifts gears, the shifts are very smooth and allow for the car to accelerate more like a normal sedan, which is a nice change of pace from the high rpm droning you often experience with a CVT. Feeling the car shift gears gently while cruising silently under electric power is also quite cool.
To help maximize fuel efficiency, the Sonata Hybrid defaults to “Blue Drive” when you start the car, which is basically an Eco mode that restricts throttle response to help discourage the driver from using the gas too aggressively. Although it does help keep the speed slow, the feeling is quite artificial and we often switched it off.
Like other hybrids, the display panels also offer some visual aids to help maximize efficient driving, although these are on the goofy side for our taste. In particular, one display setting shows an image of the car with leaves being ejected from the rear. The more efficient you drive, the more leaves are blown out the back, which makes the Sonata Hybrid look like a glorified lawnmower.
The EPA grants the Sonata Hybrid a 35 city, 40 highway rating. Our test confirmed that these are potentially realistic figures; we averaged around 35 mpg during mixed driving. To get close to the 40 mpg mark would take some deliberate hypermiling, though, and we have a hunch that the use of a conventional automatic does hurt fuel efficiency a bit, since the engine can’t always be in its optimal rpm range.