If I was to ask you to name a midsize hybrid sedan, what would you say? Most likely it would be the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, or even the Honda Accord Hybrid. But one that might not reach the lips of many people would be the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The first-generation model was a bit out there in terms of looks with a front end that seemed more at home in a carnival fun house. But the Sonata Hybrid was different for another reason. Unlike most hybrids which used a CVT, the Sonata Hybrid used a conventional six-speed automatic.
The first-generation model wasn’t well received because of the odd looks, an unrefined powertrain, and lackluster fuel economy. So Hyundai went back to drawing board to fix the wrongs. The end result was shown last year in the form of the second-generation Sonata Hybrid.
First up is the powertrain. Hyundai is using a new 2.0L direct-injected four-cylinder producing 154 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a 38kW electric motor delivering 51 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Total output of the system stands at 193 horsepower, about 6 horsepower less than the last-generation Sonata Hybrid. A 1.62 kWh lithium-polymer battery sits underneath the trunk. Hyundai is still using a six-speed automatic. .
Compared to the last Hyundai/Kia hybrid we drove (the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid), the Sonata Hybrid is a substantial improvement. The hybrid powertrain is much smoother when transitioning from electric-only to hybrid power. The only indications that you have swapped is a slight hum coming from the engine and the ‘EV Mode’ indication in the instrument cluster being off. Performance is par for the class; you are able to keep up with traffic, but there will be times where you’ll be putting your foot almost to the floor to make a pass or merging into traffic. One feature I do like is how the EV mode will work up to highway speeds. For a few miles at a time on the highway, I found the Sonata Hybrid was only being powered by the battery alone.
The six-speed automatic is the weak link in this hybrid powertrain. It may remove the constant drone that CVTs have, but what you end up is a transmission that doesn’t fully mesh with the powertrain. The transmission holds onto gears much longer than it should and it stumbles somewhat during the transition from EV to hybrid. I don’t know if a little bit more time in development would solve these issues or if Hyundai should look into another transmission type.
The EPA says the Sonata Hybrid will return 39 City/43 Highway/41 Combined in terms of fuel economy. Unfortunately, I only got 32 MPG during the week I had the Sonata. This was primarily due to the extremely cold temperatures we were dealing with in the Detroit area. With temperatures reaching a high of 15 to 20 degrees during the day and dropping to below zero at the night, the Sonata Hybrid’s engine was constantly running to provide a charge for the battery and keeping the vehicle warm. If it was warmer, I think the vehicle could achieve those numbers.
The Sonata Hybrid’s suspension does an excellent job of providing a smooth ride, even over some of the pothole-ridden roads Michigan is known for. Noise isolation is possibly the best in class with no hint of wind noise and a slight hum coming from the low-rolling resistance tires. Much like the standard Sonata, the Hybrid isn’t the most exciting car to drive with light steering. But around corners, the hybrid does feel secure and doesn’t show much body lean.
The body features some minor changes such as new front fascia (larger grille and new bumper), taillights, rear diffuser, and a distinguishing design for the 17-inch alloy wheels. The changes do make the Sonata Hybrid more efficient in terms of aerodynamics (0.24 cd vs. 0.27 for the standard Sonata). It also gives the Sonata Hybrid some personality that is missing in the current model lineup
Hyundai has made a number of fixes and improvements for the second-generation Sonata Hybrid, and for the most part, they do make it more fulfilling as a hybrid sedan. The Sonata Hybrid also has Hyundai’s value argument. This particular Sonata Hybrid came with as-tested price of $35,765. But for that price-tag, it came with radar cruise control with stop/start capability, forward collision warning, automatic high beams, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, 400W audio system, and a panoramic sunroof. But the only thing that Hyundai still needs to work is the transmission. The automatic is an interesting choice, but it doesn’t quite mesh with the powertrain.
If Hyundai can work out the bugs in the transmission, then they will have a possible class leader. But for now, the Sonata Hybrid is currently playing follow the leader.
Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Sonata Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Model: Sonata Hybrid
Engine: 2.0L GDI 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve with DCVVT, 38kW Electric Motor
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM: 154 @ 6,000 (Gas); 51 @ 1,770-2,000 (Electric); 193 @ 6,000 (Total)
Torque @ RPM: 140 @ 5,000 (Gas); 151 @ 0-1,770 (Electric)
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 39/43/41
Curb Weight: 3,560 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Asan, South Korea
Base Price: $30,100
As Tested Price: $35,765 (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge)
Ultimate Package - $4,500
All-Weather Floor Mats - $130.00
Carpeted Floor Mats/Trunk Mat/Trunk Net - $125.00
Wheel Locks - $55.00
First-Aid Kit - $30.00