2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review

Mild changes make for a major upgrade

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review

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.

FAST FACTS

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.

RESEARCH: Find more detailed specs on the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 

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.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 40

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

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 12

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

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 26Again, 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

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 15

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

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 35

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.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 38Those 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.

THE VERDICT

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 18

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.

  • yymm

    I have bought a 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited with all the options and I love it. Last time I drove it for more than 350 miles (70% high way 30% in city) and I got about 41.7 MPG. But most of the time I drive it 70% city and 30% highway and I get around 36-37 MPG.

  • Tom

    We bought the 2012 Sonata hybrid last year. It is a nice looking, fun driving car that gets good mileage. Two issues I have with it are, 1. If I am slowly accelerating for just a few yards and know that in about 3 seconds I’ll be stopping, slowing or coasting, it annoys me that just then the gas engine cranks up runs for a few seconds then shuts off again. If I had some control over holding off starting the engine it would be nice and we would get better mileage. 2. No memory seats!!!! WTF.

  • Jerry Marshall

    i have the 2012 hybrid, bought it in February if i had known the 2013 would be out so soon after i bought mine i would have waited. that said, i love my car and get over 40 mpg and over 600 miles per tank so i’m not complaining too much. hopefully Hyundai will release a software update for the 2011-2012 hybrids to fix some of the issues that have been fixed in the 2013

  • bloggin

    It seems the Sonata Hybrid is getting a liittle better. But the comparsion with the 2013 Fusion Hybrid is a bit off.

    It would help if the one testing the vehicles, would make sure the conditions are valid for testing and the comparisons between vehicles being tested.

    First of all they test the Fusion Hybrid in January, the dead of winter and snow plied on the roadways. This is an issue because we all know cold temperatures below 40 can hold up to 5mpg, no matter what hybrid you drive.

    Then we know that the Ford hybrid drivetrain has a break in period of 6k miles that can hold 5mpg.

    So the Fusion ‘failing miserably’ at 39mpg, would be more like 49 in the Spring now that it is April and 70+ outside.

    Which is easily validated, since current Fusion Hybrid owners are now reporting mpg 47+ into the 50s.

    Also, price wise, the new Fusion Hybrid S is coming for 2014 in July which should start at $25,200 or $450 less than the Sonata Hybrid, or $940 less than the Camry Hybrid, and the Fusion Hybrid outsold both in April.

  • loverealcars

    Rented one this weekend. If you love driving, this ugly car is not for you. Plus the queer startup/shutdown music is irritating. Give me a European car with a manual gearbox any day. Dump this Korean appliance off a cliff.

  • QKodiak

    loverealcars: I think you are reading the wrong article. Besides, Porsche, Ferrari, and Mclaren chose the hybrid setup for their new hypercars. They are very real!

    This car is way better than a Prius and I like its swoopy styling. When I tested it, I was surprised by the torque when it launched out of a corner! Compared to the Hyundai, the Camry Hybrid is positively boring inside and out. I really liked the looks of the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the interior was very good! However when I drove it, I was disappointed with the acceleration. It was sufficient, but it never felt urgent.

    The Prius is slow and boring and ugly. However, it is smooth, feels roomy, gets really good mileage, and has a lot of cargo space. It doesn’t have enough sound insulation so road and wind noise can be a problem at high speeds.

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