For years Toyota has been the benchmark for gas-electric vehicles. Utter the word “hybrid” and the Prius immediately comes to mind. Toyota’s impressive technology has also migrated successfully to several other models in its stable.
|1. Despite a more powerful battery, Sonata Hybrid has less power than last years model, but more mid-range torque at 199-hp and 235 lb-ft of torque.
2. The Sonata Hybrid is rated at 36 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined.
3. Costing $25,650 Limited models cost $30,550 and include leather seating, navigation and a premium audio system.
Other automakers, however, seem to stumble and fail when attempting to reach up to Toyota’s example; the Ford Fusion fails miserably in achieving its claimed 47 mpg rating in daily driving, and last year’s Sonata Hybrid lacked refinement.
But it seems like Hyundai isn’t easily deterred, as the new 2013 model features serious under-the-hood upgrades and modifications that make it more than just a rival to the Toyota hybrids, but a rival for the lead in its segment.
MORE ELECTRIC, LESS FUEL
Those comparing numbers from 2012 to 2013 will see an interesting difference. Power is down seven hp, yet torque is up 40 lb-ft. That’s not a typo: the Sonata Hybrid has beefier electric components with its electric motor now putting out 35 kW (from 30 kW in 2012) and the hybrid battery is also upgraded to a maximum output of 47kWs (from 34 kW.) From there, Hyundai tuned the whole powertrain to rely less on its gas motor, and provide more mid-range torque.
It’s no marketing gobbledy-gook, as the Sonata is now rated at a combined 38 mpg. While up just one mile per gallon over last year’s car, our testing proved this updated powertrain is even more efficient than that, getting about 42 mpg during a week of driving. By comparison, last year’s car failed to achieve its rating with an as-tested 34 mpg.
That 42 does, however, come with a catch; it was achieved with Hyundai’s efficient driving mode, called Blue drive. As the default driving mode, the car is vehemently against motoring in any manner other than slowly. Throttle response is dull, meaning from a stop the electric motor stays on longer, and saves you more gas. The transmission is eager to upshift and reluctant to release the higher gear in order to keep the drive serene and thrifty. It all works very well and managed to keep fuel economy around and above the coveted 40 mpg mark.
Fortunately, slow and calculated is not the only method of driving the Sonata Hybrid. Turn off Blue mode, and suddenly the car feels like a standard, yet torquier Sonata. It will still turn off the gas motor at a stop and while coasting, and can still manage solid fuel efficiency at 36 mpg, all while providing a more engaging driving feel.
NO CVT, NO PROBLEM
Where other hybrids use a quirky CVT to meld the electric and gas motors together, Hyundai insists on using a more traditional six-speed automatic. In the past, the transmission seemed easily confused, resulting in harsh shifts at inopportune times. For 2013, Hyundai looked over its transmission, and did everything it could to provide a smoother, less experimental feeling product.
COMPETITION: Read our review on the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Again, Hyundai’s effort here is evident, as the new Sonata Hybrid has a sense of refinement which is on par with Toyota’s Camry Hybrid. The transition from electric-to-gas, then back to electric is smooth, and hardly noticeable on the road. There’s very little shift-shock as the clutch engages the gas motor while the car is moving, and there’s better logic in how the hybrid system operates, with the car disengaging the gas motor often while coasting and braking.
One complaint is that while stopped, a shuddering sensation is still felt when the gas motor shuts off.
HANDLING ALL THERE
One key feature that the Sonata has over its Japanese rival comes with how it drives. The ride is communicative without being too stiff and uncomfortable. Additionally, there is far more steering feel here than what’s offered on the Camry, which is floaty and vague.
Braking on the Sonata Hybrid could use another look from Hyundai’s engineers. Like many other regenerative braking systems, they provide excellent initial bite that tapers off after prolonged or additional pedal pressure. It causes a bit of an inconsistent feel. Improvement in this area could really propel Hyundai above other hybrids on the market, and help to blur the lines between how hybrids and non-hybrids drive.
THE SUPERFICIAL STUFF
Again, this year’s Sonata Hybrid proves itself to be wonderful beyond its gritty technical bits. A unique, modern design distinguishes the Hybrid from its non-hybrid siblings. The features are there too. Costing $25,650, the Hybrid holds a $4,500 premium over non-hybrid Sonatas. That extra price gets you more than just the hybrid system, with more standard items like dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights, fog-lights, heated seats and some exclusive bling such as LED accents on the headlights.
Those looking for a fully loaded Sonata Hybrid will have to spring $30,550 which includes 17-inch alloys, a leather-rich interior, heated rear seats, navigation, backup camera and a premium audio system. Buyers can also buy a sunroof package which costs an extra $1,000.
In comparison, the Sonata Hybrid is $490 cheaper than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and features more head and legroom for folks in up front. If you’d like more space, Toyota’s option is more appealing with a substantial 4.3-inches of additional legroom for back-seat passengers and an additional cubic foot of cargo space.
By improving its powertrain, the Sonata Hybrid hits all its marks when it comes to a mid-sized, hybrid family sedan. It’s fuel friendly and affordable, while maintaining the standard Sonata’s solid driving dynamics and unique style.
Picking the best mid-sized hybrid sedan is no longer a choice between the best fuel economy (Camry Hybrid) and good looks (Fusion Hybrid). Hyundai’s updated Sonata Hybrid blends it all together for a photo-finish.