The good: If you find the Ford Fusion Hybrid or the Camry Hybrid to expensive, the Sonata Hybrid is a cheaper alternative. Very good acceleration for a Hybrid and a great warranty.
The bad: Lackluster MPG for a Hybrid, 35 city, 40 highway. Ordinary handling, unusual styling.
The ugly: Lots of hard, black plastic suck the life out of the interior.
The Hyundai Sonata hybrid has been available for 2 years now starting in 2010 as a 2011 model. It is not a car that is going to set the hybrid world on fire, but it is in every way a decent car — and that may be the problem. There is little about the Sonata to make you fall in love with it. In a word, the Sonata is boring. While the exterior styling is unique, the ride, the handling, the steering, everything else is in most respects, average. The interior has little style and lots of hard black plastic that ensures that what style there is, is lost in the black hole of plastic.
Without a doubt the most noticeable feature of the Sonata is its exterior styling. Hyundai refers to it as a “Fluidic sculpture design” and as my wife remarked, it does have a sort of water-in-motion look to it. From the side the exterior reminds me of a Volkswagen CC. However, the view from the front is a love it or hate it proposition. The front has an open mouth grill which, combined with the slit-like fog lights give the car an almost sinister appearance.
Driving the Sonata is a pleasant experience, very similar to the Ford Fusion hybrid, but the Sonata has a little bit softer ride and seems quieter. The visibility is very good and the handling precise, but not exceptional. The Sonata’s acceleration is its standout feature, especially when compared with other hybrids (with the exception of the 2012 Camry hybrid). The seats are comfortable and have 8 power adjustments including my personal favorite, lumbar support.
And then there is the mileage. Compared to the Toyota Camry hybrid (43 mpg city) or the Ford Fusion hybrid (41 mpg city) the Sonata lags behind at 35mpg city. The non-hybrid Sonata with a 4 cylinder engine has almost as much pep and gets 24 mpg city. Highway miles per gallon with the Sonata is rated at 40 for a combined city/highway rating of 37 miles per gallon using regular gas.
The Sonata features a lithium polymer battery pack which Hyundai claims is a first among non-plug-in hybrids. The Lithium Polymer battery pack offers superior power at a lighter weight than the traditional nickel-based batteries that other hybrids use but are also more expensive. Hyundai counters concerns regarding battery replacement with a non-transferable lifetime warranty on the battery pack.
Typical of Hyundai, the Sonata hybrid includes lot of extras at a pretty low base price. Starting at $25,850 the Sonata has as standard a USB input, Bluetooth, automatic dual zone climate control, smart key and power seats (with the aforementioned lumbar support). Features such as fog lights that are almost always options for other cars are standard on the Sonata hybrid. Also to Hyundai’s credit the Sonata ybrid, like all Hyundai’s, has a 5 year 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Last of all, the Sonata comes with a 3-year subscription to Blue Link, Hyundai’s answer to OnStar. It’s cheaper than OnStar, but unlike OnStar, Blue Link users will rarely interact with a live operator.
Sonata purchasers have the option of 2 trim packages, the Leather package and the Ultimate package. The Leather package (heated leather seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an auto dimming rear-view mirror with a compass and HomeLink®) adds $1500 to the base price and will likely be a popular option. The Ultimate package includes everything in the Leather package and adds dual sunroofs, 17 inch alloy wheels, a rear-view camera and a touchscreen navigation system for an additional $5,500. With the Ultimate package the Sonata tops $31,000 but still offers a lot for the money when compared with the more expensive Ford Fusion.
All things considered, if you like the exterior styling, don’t mind the interior (which is improved by the Leather package) the Sonata hybrid is a reasonable choice. It strengths are low price, best in class safety and strong acceleration; all backed with an industry leading warranty. The Sonata’s weaknesses are a dated interior combined with modest ride and handling. Other mid-size hybrids to consider are the Toyota Camry hybrid and the Kia Optima hybrid. If you are considering the Fusion, wait until next year when the new model comes out.
If you have any questions about the Sonata, feel free to leave a reply. I try to answer questions within 36-hours, often sooner.