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[cc] 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Road Test Review - First Drive

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Published on Oct 17, 2010

Adam Barrera at highmileage.org evaluates the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid sedan and places it in the context of its competition. Let me know what you think -- start a conversation with me on Twitter. http://twitter.com/highmileage


In a market saturated with low-denominator midsize sedans that try
just hard enough to earn buyers' attention, Hyundai has taken a
radical tack with the wildly styled Sonata Hybrid.

Manufacturers obsessed with selling vehicles in bulk tend toward
conservative exterior designs.
Hyundai, on the other hand, has retained bravery.
Even the base Sonata wears daring sheetmetal strakes and a swooping
rear roofline.
The Hybrid's unique front air dam allows for an aerodynamically tight
grille-less hood design.
Blue logos and clear taillamps seem to be staples of hybrid differentiation.

It also seems as if every hybrid must have a gimmicky display to
reassure owners that they are,
indeed, helping the planet.
Four different screens in the navitainment system can be used to
monitor the driver's behavior, the flow of energy to and from the
wheels, and fuel economy statistics.
Only the last two screens provide useful information at a glance.
An Eco Guide needle swings to indicate live fuel consumption.
A traditional tachometer would be more useful, but, unfortunately,
there's not even an option to monitor engine speed through the driver
information center.

This Blue Drive button on the steering wheel seems to have no effect
other than turning the driver information center blue.
One screen 'grades' drivers' habits via an Eco Score,
which never exceeded nine during this test.

No matter. In heavy Chicago traffic, the Sonata returned an average of
40 miles per gallon
by aggressively cutting fuel during deceleration
and staying in EV mode until the battery pack reached less than half-capacity.
At freeway speeds, the Sonata often cycles into pure EV mode.
Hyundai says their hybrid will enter EV mode at speeds of up to 62
miles per hour,
but this pre-production car entered EV mode when coasting down from
speeds of over 70 mph.

On the road, powertrain transitions are seamless.
At parking lot speeds and at idle, however, the Sonata whirs, pops and
buzzes in a cacophony that, again, probably serves to remind its
drivers that they are indeed inside a hybrid. Imperceptibility was
once the goal of any hybrid vehicle.
Now that driving a hybrid is a social statement,
certain types of aural feedback may possess an important sort of novelty.

Otherwise, the hybrid shares the base Sonata's quirks and assets.
The steering wheel is admirably designed with a sense of motion,
but curiously, the leather wrap doesn't cover the touch points at 9 and 3.
The same dynamism is captured in the design of the center stack,
but the navitainment system cannot split radio and map data.
Hyundai's famous premium leather grain is perforated to stay
comfortable during long roadtrips.

The battery pack does annex some trunk space,
which leaves a very narrow pass-through slot to accommodate long cargo.
However, passenger volume remains unchanged from the standard model.

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid makes sense for midsize sedan buyers
who spend lots of time in bumper-to-bumper city traffic.
However, like most other hybrids, high-speed commuters may find that the
conventional non-hybrid Sonata delivers similar highway fuel
efficiency -- at less cost.

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