Mountain Wheels: High-mileage Hyundai Sonata hybrid offers a big Prius alternative
Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.
That was, in a way, a blessing amid the total craziness we see on our pandemic highways, especially on the Front Range.
Actually getting to drive the lengthened, aggressively aerodynamic and totally saloon-styled sedan (as the British might say) was a pleasant experience. It offers quite the interesting proposition, as a nearly full-sized family sedan that gets mileage pretty close to a Toyota Prius, and is not expensive whatsoever. The Limited model I drove had a $35,300 base price and seemed impossible to get less than 55 mpg, like pretty much all the time (its EPA rating is 51 highway mpg, but that seemed almost too low). I guess if you still want a weird-looking Prius to demonstrate to people you are driving a hybrid, go for it.
My Sonata even sported a cool — but kind of gimmicky — solar panel on the roof, said to offer a couple of miles’ worth of daily battery recharge while it sits in the sun. The better news is that its driving and functionality was almost entirely seamless (the same cannot be said for a hybrid Volvo XC90 I just had and will review in the coming months).
Power is not explosive by any means, with 192 combined horsepower from a 2.0-liter gasoline direct injection four-cylinder, a 39-kilowatt electric motor and a 270-volt lithium-ion battery system, but it seemed perfectly adequate for highway travels. An electronic active shifting control system connected to that electric motor really helps smooth out the power handoffs.
Given that it has an actual six-speed automatic transmission, not a slushy CVT, the motoring feels even more authentic. There’s even a slightly hilarious sport mode, which brings up bright red gauges and produces slightly buzzier action; I took a long and totally unplanned travel on some gravel mountain roads between Sedalia and Deckers and found it to be reasonably fun to cruise around corners in a slow and steady fashion.
What is most obvious — besides Sonata’s large and plush cabin, its ample rear legroom and its super gigantic trunk — was the elements of actual style that have gone into its hybrid form. (Front seat legroom and headroom are the largest of any vehicle in this class.)
Imagine a $35,300 version of the Aston Martin DBS mixed with up-front looks straight out of an Audi TT S — including lit-up chrome effects that spill off of the lamps and up and over the hood toward the window pillars, as well as gigantic LED lights around the headlamps.
Aerodynamic touches are everywhere, which might explain the 55 mpg, including a big diffuser up front, very pronounced body aero almost like a WRX STI and a big character line at about knee level, plus attractive aerodynamic wheels.
In the back is the most striking bit of all: an integrated spoiler/brake light combination with a cool Mustang/Charger-styled wall of lamps. The tail is really kind of the coolest part of the car.
My test model was an understated Portofino Gray, but even that had a little sparkle to it and further added to the odd mashup of size, style and real-world mileage.
In the cabin, it’s an equally well-executed mix of understated style and technology. An extra-wide navigation screen splits into three segments or seems to scroll forever and ever between pages (dial up the nature sounds if you’d like a really green driving experience). You’ll take a bit to get used to its totally dark-at-park haptic controls, but maybe better appreciate the two instrument bezels that include an integrated digital rear-view mirror, somewhat better integrated than Honda’s similar technology. Displays are also fully switchable and weather information just magically appears on the home screen every time you drive.
One variant of the hybrid, the Blue model, is also said to get up to 686 miles of driving range on a tank of gas.
Andy Stonehouse’s column Mountain Wheels publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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