Debuting alongside the new performance-oriented 2.0T model, Hyundai has just unveiled the Sonata Hybrid at the New York Auto Show with an impressive 37-mpg city and 39-mpg highway. To put those numbers in perspective, the current class leader (if you don’t count the Prius) is the Ford Fusion Hybrid with 41/36 mpg (city/highway). And thanks to several unique features, the Sonata Hybrid has a lot more going for it than just fuel economy.
Hyundai’s Blue Drive hybrid setup is a full parallel hybrid system, meaning it can operate on gasoline power, electric power or a combination of both. Combining Hyundai’s 2.4-liter Theta II 4-cylinder (which makes 169-hp and 156 ft-lbs of torque) with a 30 kW (151 ft-lb) electric motor and ground-breaking new lithium-polymer battery, the Sonata Hybrid makes a total of 209-hp and 195 ft-lbs of torque.
Rather than a CVT transmission (typical of hybrids), Hyundai chose to use a conventional six-speed automatic that has been adapted with an electric motor and oil pump rather than a torque converter. Not only does this retain the typical driving feel of an automatic, but, says Hyundai, it’s cheaper to produce – a savings that is passed on to the consumer. The top three gears of the transmission have been modified to be even longer, allowing the engine to rev lower and, therefore, save fuel.
Another impressive feature of the Blue Drive setup is that it allows for pure electric driving at speeds of up to 62-mph. This tops the already impressive 47-mph speed of the Fusion Hybrid. Hyundai claims the typical American driver operates their vehicle in “highway mode” 57 percent of the time, so this hightened “electric only” speed is what helps the car achieve its 39-mpg highway rating.
The lithium-polymer battery used is the first ever for an automaker, with significant advantages over the nickle-metal hybrid battery used in cars like the Prius, or even the lithium-ion unit used in the upcoming Chevy Volt. Compared to nickle-metal hydride batteries, a lithium-polymer unit can deliver the same power with 20 to 30 percent less weight, 40 percent less volume and 10 percent improved efficiency. They also hold their charge 1.25 times longer. Compared to the more advanced lithium-ion battery, Hyundai claims its system has a higher energy density, lower manufacturing cost and it can withstand more charging cycles. In total, Hyundai says the lithium-polymer battery is tested to run maintenance free for 10 years and 150,000 miles.
The lithium-polymer battery is also quite light, weighing just 95.9 lbs and due to its compact size doesn’t intrude as much on the cargo compartment – the battery being located behind the rear seats. As a result the Sonata Hybrid retains 10.7 cubic feet of cargo room, compared to the standard model’s 16.4 cu.ft-. rating. The battery’s weight, when combined with the Sonata’s overall light chassis, results in the lowest curb weight of any vehicle in the segment at 3,457 lbs. That’s 263 lbs less than the Fusion Hybrid.
Distinguishing the Hybrid model from the rest of the Sonata lineup is a unique front-end design, which Hyundai has estimated will get an impressive 0.25 drag coefficient – the same as the current Prius. The Sonata Hybrid will also stand out from its gasoline-powered siblings thanks to special paint.
Inside the Hybrid model will come with unique interior colors and seat fabrics and all models will get Hyundai’s new Hybrid Technology Display. Automobile information is displayed on either a standard 4.2-inch LCD screen between the odometer and tachometer or on an optional 7-inch navigation screen. Info included on the display will range from the driving mode, energy flow, battery power, average and instant fuel economy and an electric vehicle mode indicator. There’s even an Eco Level “scoring system” which works like Ford’s growing vines, although Hyundais system has a color changing sky to indicate eight different levels of fuel efficient driving.
The 2011 Sonata Hybrid is just the latest fuel efficient model from Hyundai, which is ranked by the EPA as the most fuel efficient automaker in North America and the only one with an average fleet fuel economy of over 30 mpg.
GALLERY: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
See more on the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid after the jump: