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2017 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid Review By Seve Purdy

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Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

Here’s a good alternative for motorists wanting to get by without buying gasoline for long periods of time but still be able to take a long trip whenever the whim hits. It’s a plug-in, gas-electric hybrid good for 25 miles on just battery power and better-than-most range on electric and gasoline. If your daily driving needs are 25 miles or less you’ll never need any gasoline. You just plug it in overnight and you’re ready for your next 25.

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in our driveway is the “Limited,” top-of-the-line trim. It truly glowed in the evening light under our canopy of trees on a summer evening with the “Diamond White Pearl” paint, as striking as any white I’ve seen on a car. Sonata’s contemporary exterior design is enlivened with this color. Sonata’s modern design includes variety of strong character lines, a modestly athletic stance and sleek profile. Up front large, lower cheek indentations house LED DRLs that surround a bold, trapezoidal grille with lower vents blocked – hinting at its hybrid identity. The C-pillar slopes directly to the tail resulting in the coupe-like profile popular today with upscale sedans. The rear view is mostly non-descript and if it weren’t for the Circle-H in the trunk lid, most people would struggle to identify it. The design details are not just all for looks either as they come up with a coefficient of drag is just 0.24, a race car-like number.

The cabin looks and feels up-to-date and comfortable, a nice place to spend time. Ingress and egress were easy for this big guy, and that’s not always the case with mid-size sedans. Seats were firm but generous and comfortable. Instruments and controls are laid out thoughtfully and executed with high-qualtiy, if not luxurious, materials. Fit, finish and functionality are above reproach. It’s a pleasure to see this lack of gimmickry - knobs where knobs ought to be, buttons where they are most functional and a layout that makes good sense. As one who lives with a different car each week, I found it easy to acclimate. Keeping everything up to date Hyundai now offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support managed on a 7-inch touch screen (8-inch comes with an optional premium sound package) with large, easy-to-read icons and reasonably simple navigation.

Rear seat room does not appear to have been limited by the battery beneath and behind the seat. But, trunk space is compromised with only 9.9 cubic-feet for our stuff.

The mixed and complex powertrain is a charmer consisting of a substantial 9.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, a 50 kW permanent magnet synchronous electric motor/generator, efficient 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, Atkinson cycle, gasoline, direct injected engine and a smooth, sophisticated 6-speed automatic transmission. Altogether they altogether make a good 202 horsepower. With an EPA estimate of 45 mpg on the highway or up to 99 mpg-e (a complicated formula that predicts a certain level of battery use). These numbers compare well with the competition. If you’ve used up all your electrons on a trip and you’re just on the gasoline engine, the EPA suggests you can expect close to 40 mpg.

That’s better than the Volt and even most other mid-size, conventionally-powered sedans as well. Transitions from electric to gasoline are entirely seamless.

Hyundai claims a 27-mile range on just electric power when the batteries are full. The gauge on our test car usually told me to expect 23 miles after a full charge, though once it said 25 miles, though by the time I was out of my 80-foot-long driveway it said 23 miles again. Why quibble over a couple of miles. When I drained the batteries and plugged in to my 110 garage outlet it took something over 10 hours to fully recharge. That time goes down cexponentially with higher voltage charging systems.

Performance and handling will not disappoint any but the most demanding driver. The Hyundai engineers found a nice balance between firmness and comfort. Steering is light and variable with decent feedback. Brisk acceleration is accomplished with the two power sources working well together. Very little exterior noise interferes with the serenity inside.

Hyundai offers two trim levels of the more common Sonata “parallel” hybrids, and two of the “plug-in” variety. About $8,000 separates the comparable trim levels and about $4,000 separates the conventional SE from the parallel hybrid. The base SE version of the regular hybrid starts at $26,000 and our Limited Plug-In starts at $38,600. With a few minor options on the bottom line our sticker shows just under 40-grand being well equipped with heated and ventilated leather seats, dual-zone HVAC, 17-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, rear side window shades, and lots more.

Hyundai’s new car warranty covers the whole car for 5 years or 60,000 miles, the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles and the batteries get a lifetime warranty for the original owner.

Few of our daily trips are less than 25 miles, so if we opted for this plug-in Sonata we’d still be using gasoline. That would not be the case with many people, particularly suburbanites. Even with our rural existence it would still be an admirably efficient car for us. The catch is – and we should all pay attention to this factor – the extra power system is costly and seldom comes with a reasonable payoff period. If your goal is to save money on fuel you many find that the extra cost up front will not be amortized during the time you’ll own the car. If you’d like to just minimize your immediate carbon footprint, though, it might make more sense.

Notwithstanding these economic calculations, the Sonata is as nice a mid-size, mainstream sedan as you’ll find on the market and it consistently garners top scores on the J.D. Power Initial Quality Surveys.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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