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2014 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review By Steve Purdy


By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Among the first questions we ask when evaluating an electric, hybrid or other alternatively powered car are how much extra it costs, does it provide a performance advantage and what is the payback period for the investment. Some folks insist those are the wrong questions to ask because most buyers don’t run the numbers when they make the purchase decision, but perhaps they should. Maybe we should just ask how it makes the buyer feel about their environmental cred.

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This week’s test car, Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid, is one that makes marginal sense on a couple of levels. Its power and performance are roughly equivalent to the basic 2.4-liter, normally aspirated Sonata, it costs about five grand more and you gain nearly 30% in fuel economy. Considering all that, we ran the numbers using reasonable assumptions about fuel costs and miles driven to calculate a payback period of just about 11 years. Not many owners will keep a car that long, but you can at least feel better about your greenness at a fairly low cost.

In addition to all that, the Sonata is a very nice car. It fits well with its competition – Malibu, Fusion, Camry, Altima, Chrysler 200, Accord – and when compared feature-to-feature you’ll probably find a bit more for your money with the Sonata. You can’t have a V6, but you can have a plenty fast 2.0-liter turbo. The base engine for Sonata is a 2.4-liter unit with six-speed automatic that makes nearly the same power as the hybrid.

This front-wheel drive, mid-size Sonata seems to me to be a bit more ‘design-intensive’ than some of the others. The rakish, swoopy lines they call ‘Fluidic Sculpture 2.0’ get dressed up with the generous use of chrome accents across the nose, along the fender ridge from the headlight to the C-pillar, along the door bottoms and across the tail. Jewel-like designs for the headlight bezels, reflective inserts in the outside rearview mirrors, LED accent lighting and the beautifully styled 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels make this white car an eye-catcher.

All that swoopiness and lots of design details make for an amazing 0.25 coefficient of drag, which means less wind resistance and better fuel mileage.

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The inside is nearly as design intensive as the outside. More angular, swoopy shapes define a dual-cockpit space separated by an efficient but artful center stack. Stylized buttons in the shape of a person define airflow direction. (This feature is borrowed from Volvo.) A decent-size nav/audio/function screen tops the other simple controls. Radio tuning is controlled by directional buttons rather than by a more easily managed knob. USB port, auxiliary input and power outlet is in a cubby at the base of the center stack. Kudos to Hyundai for not hiding them inside the console where they are arm-breaking to get at.

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Interior volume is about the same as the others in this mid-size sedan class (See: All Sedans Ranked By Passenger Volume) though the low, coupe-like roofline restricts rear headroom substantially. Ingress and egress into the front seats are better than some in spite of the low roofline. Because this is a hybrid with the battery pack behind the rear seats trunk space is limited and rear seat backs do not fold down. An armrest folds out in the rear center with a couple of cup holders. A tiny pass through door will open to the trunk barely big enough to pass through a pair of skis.

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Keeping up with the digital times Sonata comes with Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system that allows us to use our smart phones as part of the car to do so many things we never knew we needed or wanted to do.

The hybrid powertrain in the Sonata consists of the 2.4-liter, normally aspirated 4-cylinder with a motor/generator attached to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. Regenerative braking helps feed the lithium-polymer battery pack and it in turn supplements the gasoline engine. The whole system makes 199 horsepower. The EPA rates the car at 36 mpg in the city, 40 on the highway and 38 mpg combined using regular fuel. Our experience this week was about 2/3rds highway driving. We managed 37-mpg for our tank and a half of fuel used. A 17.2-gallon fuel tank makes for a great cruising range.

Excellent driving dynamics characterize the Sonata Hybrid. Acceleration is very good an we can barely sense the transition from battery to gasoline engine power. The brakes feel a bit squirrely as the regenerative function kicks in but we soon get used to that. A well-balanced suspension provides a good ride and the programming of the electro-mechanical steering feels precise and predictable.

Hyundai’s new car warranty covers the whole car for 5 years or 60,000 miles and the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles. The battery pack has a “lifetime” warranty, defined as the original owner’s time with the car, excluding leases, commercial owners or owners outside the U.S.

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The Sonata Hybrid comes in just two trim levels. Ours is the top-level Limited, starting at $29,500. It comes with leather seating, steering wheel and shift knob, premium audio, 7-inch LCD touchscreen and auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass. The basic Sonata Hybrid starts at $26,000.

We’ve driven most, if not all, of the popular mid-size, main-stream sedans and the Sonata is one of our favorites. But, be assured, they are all good. If your priority is mileage, the Fusion Hybrid beats this one. If style is most important the Kia Optima might be a good choice. For a mild hybrid without a lot of extra cost the Malibu is good. Each one has its charm. You’ll not go wrong with any of them, but be sure to put the Sonata Hybrid on your shopping list.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved