By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek
Like other successful midsize sedans, Hyundai’s stylish Sonata has a hybrid counterpart. For 2013, the Hybrid gets an upgraded electric motor and a smaller and lighter battery. Hyundai says this results in improved fuel efficiency. Also new is the Limited trim level, which was the model we drove.
Appearance: The Hyundai badges and a prominent logo on the trunk lid announce it’s a hybrid. It also has styling features unique to the hybrid, such as a blacked-out hexagonal grille instead of the regular Sonata’s horizontal chrome slats. The look is more like Hyundai’s Elantra or Genesis Coupe. The hybrid shares the “Fluidic Sculpture” design philosophy that was a breath of fresh air in the midsize sedan market when this generation Sonata was introduced as a 2011 model. This design philosophy translates into a curvaceous car with front-to-back body creases and an elegant roof line. The car’s solar-control windows are large, which helps reduce blind spots. Both the upswept headlamps and taillights get LED accents.
Performance: The Sonata Hybrid has Hyundai’s Blue Drive technology, which puts out a combined 199 horsepower from the electric motor and a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder gas engine (159 horses). The transition from EV mode to gas is barely detectable. The 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic also is a smooth operator. For those who play the mileage game, there are lots of on-screen monitors to show how the Blue Drive system is working. Lyra finds those driver aids distracting. The Sonata’s estimated mileage is 36 city and 40 highway, which is okay for a hybrid, but should make you ask: Is it worth the extra cost when the four-cylinder Sonata gets 24/35? Hyundai made its lithium-polymer battery pack 5 pounds lighter and smaller. The trunk space increased slightly by 2?1/2 cubic feet to a good-for-a-hybrid 12.1 cubic feet. Also, to reduce weight, there’s no spare tire (you get a tire repair kit instead). The regenerative brakes are not as jarring as some hybrids we’ve driven. The low-rolling resistance tires help with mileage, but unfortunately take away some from a sure-footed ride. But overall, the road feel is composed.
Interior: Our tester was loaded with features, including such amenities as an upgraded audio system, panoramic sunroof ($1,000 option), front and rear heated leather seats, a 7-inch navigation screen and a rearview camera. The cabin is laid out sensibly and it’s roomy, except for rear headroom because of the sloping roof. The driver gets a welcome eight-way power seat with lumbar support. Most of the car’s controls are ergonomic, and we liked the crisp, if slightly cluttered, electroluminescent gauges. The standard features include Bluetooth, but Lyra found that the audio streaming stopped working on a drive to Miami.
The bottom line: The car has many strengths of the regular Sonata, including the starting price, but it’s for those who just have to have a hybrid.