New & Used Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: In Depth
2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid - First Drive, May 2015Enlarge Photo
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The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid was the brand's first U.S.-sold hybrid when it arrived in 2011 as a version of the swoopy, sixth-generation Sonata. It is a gasoline-electric, full-hybrid, mid-size sedan that competes with the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Honda Accord Hybrid. Soon, a 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid will be introduced, with extended all-electric operation that takes on the Ford Fusion Energi and Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid.
When first introduced, the Sonata Hybrid showcased an all-new lithium polymer battery pack co-developed with LG Chem. While the earlier Hybrid models provided reasonably good EPA fuel economy ratings (36 mpg city, 40 highway), their drivability wasn’t as smooth or responsive as their mechanical arrangement promised.
Instead of the complex planetary-gear power-split configurations that are employed by some other mid-size hybrids like the Fusion Hybrid and Camry Hybrid, the Sonata Hybrid has a so-called Transmission Mounted Electric Device (TMED) hybrid architecture that uses a motor that spins with the transmission input shaft to provide boost during moderate or quick acceleration, regenerative braking when needed, and light acceleration and electric-only operation under some situations.
Other than that, Sonata Hybrid models very closely followed their gasoline-engine counterparts. As with all models in this generation, the exterior still looks bold and flamboyant, although the interior hasn’t aged well. Seats aren’t quite as good as some in this class, but the Sonata is a very roomy, comfortable-riding sedan overall; there’s plenty of trunk space, too, although the placement of the battery in these early models prevented flat-folding seats.
In the new version of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that was introduced for 2016, Hyundai made slight improvements to motor power and battery capacity, as well as major improvements to its control software for clutching the gasoline engine in and out. The gasoline engine changed, too, from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder in earlier models to a 2.0-liter four with direct injection and a long list of efficiency improvements. Fuel economy ratings were up—as high as 40 mpg city, 44 highway. Hyundai also, in Hybrids, moved the battery under the cargo floor to facilitate flat rear seatback folding.
Hyundai also introduced a new 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid that offered a much larger 9.8-kWh battery pack, a somewhat stronger motor system, and 24 miles of electric-only operation—as well as a Battery Charge mode that makes it unique among mass-market PHEVs in being able to restore its battery charge while driving (at a cost of lower gas mileage during that time). Recharge times otherwise were less than three hours on Level 2 (240V) or up to nine hours on 110V (household AC).
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which goes on sale in July 2015, earns up to 40 mpg city, 44 highway.