On a recent business trip to Dallas I needed a rental car (usually I Uber, but Dallas area is just too huge for that to be reasonable) – I got to the Hertz 5 Star row and lo and behold, I see a Sonata Hybrid right in front. Between the fact I’ve never driven one and I knew the car had Android Auto to help me navigate the Dallas sprawl, picking it was an easy choice.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Sonata is a family sedan about the same size as the Accord and Camry.
What struck me as most amazing about this vehicle is how little you notice the hybrid aspects. I’ve driven a variety of hybrids and most make their hybrid nature very clear during operation with strange sounds and odd looks (Prius), engine running loudly to recharge batteries (Malibu), etc. The Sonata exhibited none of these traits, the car sounds and drives like a conventional family sedan. This is because frankly the drivetrain isn’t that different – the engine connects to a 6 speed transmission like any normal car, they just added an electric motor in the mix.
Similarly with the exterior of the car you’d be hard pressed to notice any difference from the regular sedan aside from the “blue drive” logo.
At the end of three days I drove about 240 miles and spent just shy of $14 on gas. The car showed an average fuel economy of 42.5mpg despite driving around in 95 degree heat with the AC blasting doing 70-80 on the highways (and some city driving of course).
In the end I realized the brilliance of Hyundai’s hybrid design. The Sonata isn’t the most efficient hybrid family sedan (the Accord Hybrid takes the cake) but it lists for $4k less than the Accord Hybrid and lacks the “science project” feel of so many hybrids.
At the same time it’s hard to recommend the Sonata Hybrid over the Sonata Eco. The Sonata Eco has a 1.6L turbo engine and a few weight and drag reducing tricks – no electrification. It lists for $3000 less than the hybrid but only costs $250 more per year to fuel according to the fueleconomy.gov estimate. The choice of Eco vs Hybrid really depends on your assumptions about future fuel costs, actual dealership pricing, and if you’re more cheap or more eco-friendly.
Despite the cost issue Hyundai has made a tremendous car. By making a hybrid that exceeds at being a normal car, Hyundai might get a fuel efficient car in the driveway of more than just eco-nerds.