Mountain Wheels: Hyundai Sonata Hybrid adds space, fuel economy
The big test for any mid-sized sedan nowadays is that magic 40 MPG threshold, minus any of your favorite presidential candidates’ secret desires to overturn the CAFE mileage standards looming on the horizon.
And given that vehicles like the Ford Fusion can, under the right circumstances, exact that from their own 2.0-liter gasoline engines, the mileage has got to be a lot higher than that for the value proposition for a hybrid version of a mid-sized machine to add up.
This leaves the 2016 version of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in slightly precipitous waters, though it’s still a wonderful and ever-improving machine. Updates for this year’s model brought almost a 10-percent increase to overall mileage, though highway numbers officially top out at 43 MPG.
Still very classy with lots of European-inspired gloss and also boasting the best interior volume of its seemingly dozens of competitors — 106 cubic feet, plus 13.3 cubic feet in the trunk, expanded because the battery pack now fits entirely underneath the floor — Sonata Hybrid is mostly notable in that it delivers the mileage and an impressively expansive range of standard options for just $30,100, in my Limited test model.
But the mileage does make you wonder a little, given that there’s still a battery and electric motor and a range of potential complications involved, above and beyond your standard gasoline engine.
Let’s focus instead on what they changed for 2016, and see if that adds up to a potential draw for those of you still hell-bent on joining the hybrid club. Under the hood, the Sonata Hybrid gets an upgraded 38-kW electric motor and clutch. Combined with the 2.0-liter gasoline direct injected four-cylinder engine, the net output is 193 horsepower.
The extra trunk space is a credit to a higher-capacity lithium-polymer battery, a good sign that this particular part of hybrid technology is evolving quickly.
On top of that, the 2016 gets an array of visual changes, most notably a larger grille and more airflow-efficient front and rear bumpers, and even some airflow improvements to the “eco spoke” alloy wheels.
How does that all feel on the road? I guess that depends on how you plan to use the Sonata Hybrid. I opted for one particular test — setting the cruise at 75 MPH out on the Front Range’s 470 almost-beltway loop, and seeing what happened.
In a less all-out setting, the Sonata’s electrically boosted properties mean lots of off-the-line power, or the ability to be absolutely and silently all-electric during your initial around-town voyages.
On the highway, it was a little more challenging, as the electric motor and gasoline engine did a sometimes indelicate dance of keeping the vehicle at speed, especially with the predictive radar-infused cruise. I turned it off and used my right foot to produce smoother throttle quality; the net result was numbers close to 45 MPG.
Sonata Hybrid can and will, without hills or strong headwinds, cruise along happily in all-electric mode at up to 75 MPH. This did not happen much for me.
But unlike hybrids from the bad old days, there’s a general feeling of smoothness and overall power in this car, despite the impressive but not especially jaw-dropping final numbers. An urban commuter might be more impressed by the 39 MPG city rating.
Where the electrified Sonata does get a leg up on its competitors is the way it’s finished, looking and feeling as classy as a European import, in many ways. A $4,500 Ultimate Package add-on in mine got the entire laundry list: a gigantic panoramic sunroof, full lane departure/forward collision/predictive cruise control and a navigation system plus a 400-watt Infinity stereo system. Hey, there’s even the hands-free, kick-your-foot-to-open-the-trunk function.
The warning systems now include a rear cross-traffic warning, and the stereo’s been programmed so you can record as much as 22 minutes of Sirius XM satellite radio feed, should you need to do so.
Sonata Hybrid remains poised and comfortable, with well-bolstered, heated and ventilated leather seating, BMW-inspired wood grain-ish trim and clean and classy instrumentation.
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