2017 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 16, 2017

The very pragmatic 2017 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid maintains all the virtues of conventional versions, plus high fuel economy, but stays a decent value for money in its sub-segment. The plug-in hybrid model delivers surprisingly decent performance and a way to go (somewhat) electric without range anxiety.

The 2017 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and its Plug-In Hybrid version, offer higher fuel economy in a four-door that competes in the heart of the mid-size sedan segment. It competes with hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry. The plug-in hybrid Sonata vies with the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius Prime. Updates for the 2017 model year include a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple Carplay, and a few new colors that will become available early in 2017. The Sonata Hybrid is offered in three trim levels—SE, Limited, and Limited with Ultimate—though the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid model, available at dealers only in certain states, comes in just two: base and Limited.

Also, see our 2017 Hyundai Sonata review

With cheap gas and a mass migration into crossover utility vehicles, remaining sedan shoppers now focus on efficiency or sportiness. That's why so many hybrids can be found in sedan format: they give practical cars higher fuel economy while retaining all the sedan virtues. We give the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid range a rating of 7.3, with their best rating, predictably, in fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Review continues below

Design: understated, or generic?

The redesigned 2015 Sonata stepped back from the daring, dramatic look of its predecessor. Exuberance was supplanted by a look best described as conservative, mature, and understated. Others may see it as generic, perhaps even invisible.The hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions have a few appearance changes, most subtle and made solely to improve aerodynamics. The most notable is a revised front end with a larger horizontal-bar grille and different headlamps. New taillight graphics, aerodynamic "Eco-spoke" alloy wheels, and aerodynamic sill covers round out the list.

The new interior is a model of functionality, however, and much better than the flamboyant, swoopy lines of the last generation, which aged quickly. It's far from flashy, but the instruments and controls are large, legible, and intuitive—which isn't always the case even in this most practical segment.

Performance: smooth

While they resemble their conventionally powered counterparts, hybrid mid-size sedans haven't always driven like them. That's changing, which is all to the good, and the 2017 Sonata Hybrid is closer to the rest of the range from behind the wheel. It avoids the detached "motorboating" feel of some hybrids as they’re driven harder, to keep up with fast-moving traffic or climb longer, steeper highway grades.

The powertrain pairs a 154-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 with a 38-kilowatt (51-hp) electric motor sited between the engine and an adaptation of Hyundai's own 6-speed automatic transmission. Maximum combined output is rated at 193 hp. Energy is stored in a 1.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, located under the trunk floor where the spare tire would otherwise sit. The motor provides added torque, helps recharge the battery when braking, and powers the sedan under light loads without the engine.

New software and controls make this Sonata Hybrid far smoother than previous generations. The stepped gears of the automatic give it a conventional driving feel, though it can be odd to feel the car shift when running solely on electric power. With the climate control on, you may be hard-pressed to detect when the engine cycles on and off—if you don’t know to watch the dash gauges.

The Sonata Hybrid is capable of accelerating on electric power at a gentle-to-moderate clip from a standing start all the way up to highway speeds. Hyundai says it tuned the system for efficiency on highways as well as cities, and the engine switches off for all-electric running at speeds as high as 75 mph.

Plug-in Hybrid: 27 miles of electric range

With its larger 9.8-kwh battery, the Plug-In Hybrid version weighs 3,800 pounds, about 270 pounds more than a comparable hybrid and 500 pounds higher than a base 2.4-liter Sonata. In an early first-drive opportunity, accelerating moderately and moving with occasionally fast traffic, we averaged 41 mpg in both a hybrid and a Plug-In Hybrid (once the latter's battery had depleted). All hybrid Sonatas have a smartphone app to monitor state of charge and other operating data, but the Plug-In Hybrid adds a dash-top light to show when the car is recharging. Charge times are less than 3 hours at a 240-volt, Level 2 charging station, and about 9 hours using a 120-volt wall socket.

EPA ratings for 2017 are best on the base Sonata Hybrid SE model, at 39 mpg city, 45 highway, 42 combined—falling to 38, 43, and 40 on higher-trim models. The 2017 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is rated at 27 miles of electric range, 39 mpg combined when running as a hybrid after the battery charge is depleted, and 99 MPGe in electric mode. (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, is a measure of how far a car can run electrically on the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)

Comfortable and usable

Front-seat space and comfort in the hybrid Sonata are generous, even for taller drivers, and Hyundai claims they offer best-in-class front-seat headroom and legroom. That’s true by the numbers, but there are caveats. This back seat feels vast and spacious by most accounts, but there's not an abundance of headroom in back for taller adults. And passengers who lean back in the rear seat will likely touch the roof with their heads. The panoramic sunroof on higher trims only exacerbates the problem.

Trunk space, on the other hand, is where both cars offer clear-cut advantages. Lift-over height is low, and the cargo floor is low and flat, giving many potential ways to arrange groceries, suitcases, or other cargo. The 60/40-split folding rear seat backs flip forward with just a light pull on clearly-marked releases inside the trunk, and even something as cumbersome as a surfboard fits inside—which is impossible in the Accord Hybrid. The plug-in Sonata has a ‘step’ at the front end of the trunk floor, and a small pass-through rather than the fully-folding rear seat back.

The Hybrid and Plug-In don’t use active-noise cancellation technology or other electronic wizardry, but they're super-quiet and well blanketed with traditional noise-abating measures galore. Ride quality is on the soft side—not a boon for handling—but occupants will find it well-damped and free of bouncing and road shocks.

Features

The 2017 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid comes in three trim levels. All versions, from the base SE upward, come standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity-key entry, a digital multi-information display between the instruments, 16-inch alloy wheels, and LED running lights. New this year is a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment/audio display with integrated rearview camera. Sonata Hybrid Limited models step up to 17-inch wheels, a leather interior, heated and ventilated power front seats, a heated steering wheel, HID xenon headlights, and a hands-free trunk release.

The top of the line Hybrid, the "Limited with Ultimate" package, adds a group of tech features, including adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, rear parking sensors, a built-in navigation system, and Infinity audio. There's also a panoramic sunroof. The Plug-In Hybrid offers two trim levels: a base model with navigation, 17-inch wheels, blind-spot monitors, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and Dimension audio, and then a Plug-In Hybrid Limited model with everything from that Hybrid Ultimate package except the panoramic sunroof.

All Sonata Hybrids include a long list of connectivity features: Bluetooth audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, a USB port with iPod compatibility, and an auxiliary input jack. The navigation system—on all models except the Hybrid SE—provides a split-screen mode, 22 seconds of audio buffer, HD Radio with Infinity premium sound, downloadable apps, and Pandora and SoundHound apps. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is Siri Eyes-Free compatibility.

The Sonata Hybrid is offered by all Hyundai dealers, but the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is carried only in California and nine other states that follow its emission laws (CT, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT)—although Hyundai says any dealer nationwide can order it on request.

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