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Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 

 

Frontal styling, less glitzy than that of the conventional models, is unique to the hybrid

Car tested 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Body style Four-door sedan
Engine 2.4L-4 (166 horsepower gas engine, 206 horsepower combined)
Transmission Six-speed automatic
Base price $29,999.
Price as tested $29,999.

Market Fact
The Kia Optima hybrid shares the Sonata's platform and running gear.

History
This Sonata is Hyundai's first hybrid and the first full hybrid to the market powered by lithium
-polymer batteries.

Key Competitors
Kia Optima hybrid and Toyota Camry hybrid.

Aerodynamic side skirts and bumpers give the hybrid a certain "low-rider" allure. Alloy
wheels are designed to cheat the wind as well

Performance
Unless the driver seeks a spirited getaway, the Sonata hybrid launches from a stop under
electric power accompanied by much more characterful "electrical" noises than made
by other hybrids. Once it reaches roughly 25 kilometres per hour, the gasoline engine
comes on stream to help the car gather speed until driver attains his or her intended velocity,
at which time the car resumes full electric operation for a time. The APA's test car would slip into
into full electric mode even at highway cruising speeds. The transitions from one operating
mode to the next take place very smoothly, but a slight hesitation can be felt at around-town speeds
when gentle acceleration is called for. The Sonata hybrid generally wafts along with impressive
serenity and is a very relaxed cruiser. When maximum performance is called for, the
gasoline engine and electric motor run in tandem to provide brisk acceleration, accompanied
by a shrill soundtrack from the gasoline engine at high revs. 

Other full hybrids (vehicles that can move solely under electric power) employ continuously-
variable transmissions to get power to the road; the Sonata uses a conventional six-speed
automatic. This transmission removes a level of "weirdness" felt by many hybrid drivers,
which is often caused not by the high-tech hybrid technology, but the operation of the CVT.
Unlike the U.S. built Sonata, which has a suspension system tuned to impart a feeling of agility,
at the expense of ride comfort, the Korean-built hybrid exhibits the smooth ride
characteristics that were once a Hyundai hallmark. That said, handling, while 
predictable, is unenthusiastic, and the car feels ponderous on the road. Dull dynamics
are not helped by steering that lacks feel, and requires uneven levels of effort while turning
under different conditions. 

The Sonata's brakes can shed speed quickly, but the regenerative braking (which captures
braking energy and sends it back to the batteries), is grabby and unpleasant to use.

Visibility is better than the small side windows and low seating position
would lead you to expect.

The electric air-conditioning compressor, which operates when the gasoline engine is stopped,
works very well. Excellent audio system. The Bluetooth function is easy to set up, but would
not maintain a connection with all cell phones.

The Sonata hybrid employs numerous aerodynamic tweaks, including a new front
with active grille shutters, new  rear fascia, deeper side skirts (below the door
openings), and low-drag alloy wheels, which combine to reduce the co-efficient of
drag from the good 0.28 achieved by the conventional model to a remarkable 0.25
for the hybrid.

Interior
The driver is faced by two crisply -marked gauges. The one on the left  contains fuel
and engine temperature read-outs, as well as an Eco meter that indicates how
economically the car is being driven in gasoline mode, or that the gasoline engine
is off when operating in full-electric mode. A speedometer and odometer occupy the
right pod. Between the two sits an electric battery-charge readout as well as a graphic
panel that has several possible displays, including a welcome screen that is  visible
while an annoyingly cheesy start-up tune plays each time the car is started. The dash
centre-stack looks formidable on first glance but is in reality quickly mastered and easy to
deal with. The cabin features abundant soft-touch surfaces, convincing faux alloy
touches and some piano black accents, but it doesn't look particularly luxurious.

The front seat cushions are a bit shorter than expected in a car this big, but the seats
prove comfortable enough. Rear passengers enjoy plenty of legroom, and the seat itself is
sufficiently comfortable despite a less-than-ideal backrest shape.  

With a large storage bin in the centre console, big door bins, a lidded bin at the base of the
dash centre-stack and a small glovebox, the Sonata offers abundant nooks and crannies to
store the detritus of modern motoring. 

The lithium-polymer battery pack takes up a chunk of trunk space, and you lose the versatility
of folding rear seats, but enough trunk remains for the annual family vacation if you pack carefully. 

Crisply-marked gauges flank a digital readout with battery charge indicator and various
trip computer functions. The theme tune that emanates from the readout on start up
becomes tiresome very quickly

 

 Dramatic dash architecture stocked with logical controls

  

Though the lithium-polymer battery pack takes up some space, the trunk is still roomy

Reliability
New hybrid vehicle, not rated. The conventional Sonata is rated above average. Five year/100,000
km bumper to bumper warranty, with eight years/160,000 km on the entire hybrid system.   

Pricing
The base hybrid is comprehensively equipped and the Premium package contains over $6000.
worth of equipment for $4500. 

Safety
The Sonata hybrid is equipped with frontal, seat-mounted side and side-curtain airbags. The
Sonata was rated Good in the IIHS frontal, side and rear impact tests and Good for the roof
strength test. Standard ABS and ESC.

Aerodynamic rear fascia different from that of the conventional models

Market Comparisons
The chief competitors for the Sonata hybrid are the hybrid versions of the Kia Optima and the
Toyota Camry, which, like the Sonata, are mainstream sedans equipped with hybrid powertrains.
The base Sonata hybrid is priced nearly $5000 higher than a base 2012 Camry hybrid, with the
gap shrinking to around $1500 for fully-optioned cars. The MSRPs of the Optima Hybrid
and Sonata hybrid are so close that price will not be a factor in a purchase decision. Monthly
finance payments (60 months with $0. down), for the base Sonata hybrid are roughly $15.
per month less than they are for the equivalent Optima. Leasing is not offered on the Hyundai.