On the Road Review: Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited



As Bob approaches me with the latest review vehicle from the press fleet, the only audible sound is the crunching of the grit under the tires as the car comes to a stop on the paved lot. That’s how silent the new Sonata Hybrid is.

Hybrid-powered cars, as well as the current BEV — battery electric vehicles — share this trait, silent operation. Even when the gas engine runs in hybrid-powered vehicles, it is often quieter than conventional motors. Plus, the torque of the electric motors, aiding the gas engine, increases peak output as well as efficiency.

From the first moments behind the wheel of the stylish Sonata Hybrid, it was very easy to make comparisons to Toyota’s Avalon sedan — another recent visitor. The Hyundai is dimensionally between the Avalon and the Camry, delivering the large open cabin feel of both, the long wheelbase ride stability of each, as well as the space efficiency that buyers seek in these “big” cars.

The Sonata, however, stretches the paradigm. It starts out as 165-pounds lighter than the Camry, a whopping 400 pounds lighter than the Avalon, while being the same width, height and just 1 inch longer between the wheels than the Camry, 112 inches, and 1 inch shorter than the Avalon. This translates into large trunk space plus large rear seats. 

Pulling out of Augusta with the Sonata, I point the Hyundai east across Route 3 to Belfast and up Route 1 toward home. Running at my usual pace, the Sonata Hybrid reported over 57 mpg for the first 110 miles of use. That number stayed consistent for the next few days, a mix of errands, quick hops to town and back, something similar to how regular commuters might use their car. Each day, the trip computer reported 55-57 mpg, far exceeding the EPA’s projected fuel economy estimates of 45/51/47 mpg. 

And each trip generated more comparisons to the big Avalon, a credit to the benchmark of the Avalon/Camry series, but a good yardstick of how this Hyundai measures up. It does very well indeed. 

As typical with all recent Hyundais, the controls are easy to access. The screens are convenient, too, although the Sonata lacked some fluidity that most recent Hyundais featured, and I remain unconvinced that push-button shifters are a step ahead of conventional levers and column controls. The Sonata’s push-button automatic, a six-speed unit here, is more intuitive to operate than some, slow to react like most, plus the housing consumes space on the console that is exactly where my right leg wants to rest. If this arrangement had been padded, or somehow softer, you might not even be reading about it now.

A trademark of the brand is big value, and the Sonata Hybrid delivers in spades. While the 2.0-liter gas engine and 39kW electric motor produce a combined 192 hp, about 20 hp less than the Toyota combine, its marked increase in efficiency warrants at least a lengthy consumer look. A solar panel roof plus notable (often audible) regenerative brakes help restore electric power to the 270V lithium-ion polymer battery. Smart Cruise dynamics, with automatic stop/start too, plus blind spot detection, blind spot camera monitors (a great feature that every car should have), forward collision assist, rear cross traffic alerts, parking collision avoidance system and around-view monitors, are all standard. Heated and cooled leather seating with memory, heated steering wheel, navigation, LED lights all around, a really nice 12-speaker Bose audio system as well as rear window shades and three-years of complimentary maintenance help this Sonata stand out from the pack.

And not just because it costs only $36,464 in Limited trim (base Sonata sedans start at $23,600) — about the same price as a base Avalon sedan. If the Sonata didn’t drive well, ride well and deliver great fuel economy with all of these features, the price wouldn’t matter. Because it does do very well and is very comfortable, the price gap becomes sort of surreal. 

The last day of the Sonata’s stay started as we rolled out of the driveway at 6 a.m. on a sunny mid-May morning headed south to a business meeting in Massachusetts. The pace south was, shall we say, very quick, and we made great time. Four and a half hours later, the Sonata Hybrid rolled into our destination, reporting 45 mpg for our high-speed slog, both of us very fresh from the supportive seats and quiet cabin and ready for the long day ahead.

This is why you buy large sedans, and the Sonata Hybrid makes a solid case for being the best choice.

Next week: Cadillac Escalade Platinum

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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