Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid - Road Test

Has Hyundai built a hybrid for everybody?

Whether we like it or not, the kind of car you drive can say a lot about you, even if those things aren’t true. If you drive a minivan, the world around you is immediately left under the impression that you and your significant other breed with Catholic proficiency while owners of pickup trucks are oft mistaken for rednecks and those for whom the radio dial has never left the local country station. Then there are hybrids. Thanks to the Prius, if you drive a hybrid, the entire world believes you eat granola, recycle everything, get your news from MSNBC and can’t wait to get that ‘Bernie – 2016’ bumper sticker. But like every other product for sale in our world, hybrids get sold to everybody so is the new Sonata Hybrid one for the masses?

This most recent Sonata is the company’s sixth generation in the United States but only the second round for the hybrid. Not as flamboyant or beautiful as the outgoing generation, the latest Sonata is more sedately styled thanks to conservative tastes in the Korean home market but it is still easily recognizable as a Hyundai. The 2016 Sonata Hybrid was released early to fleets and rental car companies with a plug-in version coming before the end of the year. This is how the keys to Graphite Blue SE crossed my palms during a 36 hour whirlwind trip to Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding. Armed with a full tank of gas and a driving range of 600 miles claimed by the trip computer, we loaded up the Sonata Hybrid with three people and their luggage and headed south towards Long Beach from LAX in the thick of LA’s notorious rush hour traffic.

My first two hours with Sonata Hybrid, or HSH as its fans and owners like to call it were spent on California Highway 1 where it runs along Sepulveda Boulevard right out of LAX and turns into the Pacific Coast Highway somewhere near Manhattan Beach. Progress was slow for the first 10 miles or so with an average speed of only 15 mph and use of the air conditioning under the beating California sun but despite this, the Sonata was turning in a highly respectably 39 MPG and spent most stops and low-speed crawls in EV mode. Once free of the traffic and with a lucky run of green lights, the HSH began to come into its own as I learned how to get it to do my bidding, staying in EV mode as long as possible when starting from a stop, coasting to red lights from a distance and trying to stay moving at all costs. I find this driving behavior obnoxious in normal cars but when you’re behind the wheel of a hybrid, it suddenly feels like a game and for the right minds, it can actually be fun. Maybe all those Prius drivers I get stuck behind aren’t as crazy as I once thought. By the time we hit the 105 freeway, the HSH was happily returning a stout 40.7 MPG despite an average speed of only 16.

Over the next day and a half, I spent 170 miles in the HSH running around Long Beach with a quick trip up to Pasadena to visit a friend. Most of my freeway driving was done at night so traffic was minimal, allowing the Sonata to stretch its legs and run free. I spent my time on the streets of Long Beach inadvertently irritating other drivers by starting out slowly enough to keep the green ‘EV’ light glowing on the dash and only once during my time with the car did my average fuel mileage drop below 40. Performance is decent although I refrained from punching it more than once or twice. I can say that in Sport mode and with your foot down, the HSH has more than enough oomph to chirp the tires on a full-throttle start. For the most part, electric-to-gas transitions are seamless and imperceptible but the HSH I drove would occasionally botch the transition with a rather noticeable jolt combined with a 'thud' that I chalked up to the speed (around 35 mph) at which the transition occurred. The Sonata rides comfortably enough with bumps being soaked up by a fully independent suspension and road noise is fairly well isolated. The chunky A-pillars do create some wind roar at freeway speeds, though, a fault that can be remedied by turning up the radio just a bit. Trunk space is impressive for a hybrid, swallowing up three suitcases, two backpacks and a laptop bag with room to spare.

Inside, the HSH offers more than enough space for four adults with five being acceptable for short periods provided they’re close friends and everybody took a shower that morning. The front seats in the example I drove are decently comfortable but the backrests are a little too soft for my tastes and I believe that adjustable lumbar support would do wonders to improve the situation here. Driver controls are clear and easy to understand for the most part but the automatic climate control panel is packed a dozen or so buttons that are all the same size and require an extended gaze to determine what’s what, a fault the steering wheel controls must also contend with. The touch-screen radio sounded merely average but often seemed unwilling to cooperate on first prod, instead requiring a firm and direct poke to achieve the desired result. Hard buttons for the presets would be greatly appreciated, as well but the Bluetooth connectivity was easy to use and easy to hear and be heard. Gauges are clear, easy to read and well laid out with one display offering a breakdown of your driving style in percentages and highlighting in real time how you’re driving. I managed to maintain 63% economical, 36% normal and 1% aggressive over my time with the HSH. One other neat feature that drivers unwilling to spring for the higher-end Limited model and its active blind spot monitoring are sure to appreciate is a built-in convex spot mirror on the driver’s side. Even with mirrors properly adjusted, it’s still a handy thing to have and is definitely helpful to keep an eye across multiple lanes of LA’s massive freeways.

Build quality was good overall but some minor parts of the interior felt cheap, mainly the Bluelink manual-dim mirror which seemed so thin and brittle that I suspect it will be broken within a year or so. Additionally, the range of available paint colors is so bland that I almost fell asleep looking at it although this seems to be an industry fault at this point in time so I’ll spare Hyundai the shame of being the sole party guilty of this sin.

All in all, the 2016 Sonata Hybrid is a good car but nothing groundbreaking or exceptional. The 41.4-MPG average I received over the course of the weekend is impressive for most but merely average for the hybrid crowd and certainly far from touching Prius territory. I believe the Fusion Hybrid to be better looking, the Camry Hybrid more established and Accord Plug-In more efficient for around-town use but for someone who must have a hybrid but doesn’t want to buy American or Japanese, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Good: Handy driver’s side blind spot mirror, smooth and quiet ride, decent performance all-around, good interior and trunk space, neat driving style monitor.

The Bad: Bland color pallet, occasionally rough EV to gas transitions, some cheap interior pieces, not as pretty as its older sister.

What It’s All About: Does most things well but few things exceptionally. It provides the rewards of a hybrid without the stigma.

Others Like It: Ford Fusion Hybrid / Energi, Honda Accord Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid


Available Trim Levels: SE, Limited
Price Range: $26,835 - $35,435*
Vehicle Tested: Sonata Hyrbid SE; no options or accessories
Price as Tested: $26,835
Engine: 2.0 liter I-4 (154 hp / 140 lb. ft. torque) with 38kw electric motor (151 lb. ft. torque)
Transmissions / Drive: 6-speed automatic with manual shift function / front wheel drive
Wheelbase: 110.4"
Overall Length: 191.1"
Overall Width: 73.4" (excluding mirrors)
Overall Height: 57.9"
Curb Weight: 3,497 lbs.**
Fuel Capacity: 15.9 gallons
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 40 mpg city / 44 mpg highway / 42 mpg mixed **
Seating Capacity: 5
Location of Final Assembly: Asan, South Korea
Basic: 5 years / 60,000 miles
Powertrain: 10 years / 100,000 miles
Corrosion: 7 years / unlimited miles
Hybrid System Components: 10 years / 100,000 miles
Hybrid Battery: Lifetime Warranty***

*Prices shown reflect manufacturer's suggested retail price at the time of publication. Top end of price range is for vehicle equipped with all available factory-installed options and does not include tax, title, registration fees or any accessories. Final prices may be higher.
** Figure is representative of test vehicle.
*** Applicable only to original owner.

1 comment:

Martin said...

The biggest problem that I had at the dealership was picking between the sedan and the hatchback. I have zero need for a hatchback, but my neighbor got me thinking that in the next few years things could change and having that extra space could really come in handy. My advice for anyone still on the fence, picture yourself in a few years so you can make a better informed decision.