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2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid  (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Turbo Review

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

by Marty Bernstein
Senior Editor-at-Large
Detroit Bureau

That great looking, award winning, hot selling mid-size sedan you see turning heads is one of two versions the 2011 Hyundai Sonata duo: the 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection model or the Sonata turbo for those who like to add a little pepper in their driving. And now there’s a third Sonata -- the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – which completes the trio.

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The Sonata Hybrid is the car for those who want to combine great design, amazing mileage in a vehicle that is environmentally and ecologically desirable. With an EPA rating of 35-mpg city, 40-mpg highway the Sonata Hybrid achieves a new level of highway fuel economy for a mid-size sedan. The company has said, “This is consistent with North American driving habits which average more than 50% of their driving mileage on highways.”

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Sonata Hybrid’s fuel economy is powered by the industry’s first application of third-generation lithium polymer batteries which are more space efficient, lighter weight and offer higher energy density than existing nickel-metal hydride and pending lithium-ion applications. I’ve held the new battery which is about the size of a #10 business envelope that’s filled with a few pages of junk mail and was amazed by its small size and the fact that only 72 of these batteries are used in the Sonata Hybrid.

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Batteries are vital components in all hybrids since they power the electric motor when the vehicle is in the electric mode, so I’m devoting more space to tech-talk than usual. Rather than interpret others I spoke with a Hyundai engineer during the preview of the Sonata Hybrid, who when asked, explained the new battery’s benefits in non-tech-terms, “These new batteries provide an excellent balance between power delivery, energy density and thermal stability. Thermal stability is critical to ensuring durability eliminating the need to replace the battery pack during the normal lifespan of the vehicle. That’s because electrodes in older lithium ion chemistries found in some hybrid vehicles expand and contract with the heating and cooling that occurs during charging and discharging. This thermal expansion causes cracks in the electrodes which ultimately reduces the cell's ability to hold a charge.”

Battery bottom line? Hyundai’s batteries have:

  • Much lower expansion rates and are thus able to go through tens of thousands of charge cycles even without having to use a heavier, liquid cooling system.

  • The Sonata's battery will hold its charge 25 percent longer than hybrids with nickel metal hydride batteries. As a result the battery is More likely to have usable energy in it when the car is started even if it has been sitting for several days.

  • This allows more electric starts and drive-aways, cutting both fuel consumption and emissions and allows the Sonata to provide electric driving boost more often and for longer periods of time.
  • Lithium polymer also has less of the self-discharge characteristic inherent in most rechargeable batteries.

Over the years I’ve driven so many hybrids I’ve lost count, but it must be noted the first hybrid, the Toyota Prius now 12 years old is still the market leader, but based on an extensive drive of the Sonata is a serious challenger. Not only is the Sonata a true mid-size sedan which means a lot more room, it looks like what it is – a stylish, aerodynamic statement of automotive design and architecture – not a bulbous shape small car and gets a better EPA efficiency and mileage rating.

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The Sonata hybrid shares the same "Fluidic Sculpture" design language with all other 2011 Sonatas but features a unique exterior. The combination of a re-shaped front and rear fascias with a deeper air dam, extended rocker panels and lower drag wheels allow the air to flow around the body with less resistance, but it retains the great Sonata design.

My recent test drive of the Sonata in California on two lane roads in congested beach communities and on the states vaunted freeways was impressive. Most hybrids have a perceptible, disconcerting lag as the vehicle transitions from electric mode to gasoline powered engine, but the Sonata Hybrid.


There was no lag, no audible sound either -- it was undetectable. And it drove and handled like the other Sonata’s in the Hyundai trio of midsize sedans with the cashmere soft six-speed automatic transmission.. It can be driven in zero emissions, fully electric drive mode at speeds up to 62 miles per hour (maybe a bit higher) or in blended gas-electric mode at any speed. When the car comes to a stop and the electrical load is low, the engine is shut down to completely eliminate idle fuel consumption and emissions.  

Keeping with Hyundai’s simplified approach to product packaging, the Sonata Hybrid comes in just two models from the factory – the very well-equipped Sonata Hybrid at $25,795, and the incredibly well-equipped, tech-feature-packed Premium version at $30,795. Coming to Hyundai dealers now to complete the triple treats of Sonata.