The new-for-2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is Hyundai's first foray into the world of hybrids, and reviews indicate it is a success by all measures: Sharp and distinctive looks, a modern interior and ample power are some of the best attributes, according to reviewers, not to mention excellent fuel economy and a reasonable base price for a car of its type. As with most hybrid cars, the Sonata Hybrid has its own unusual features within its drivetrain that set it apart from the competition, in this case all for the better. Its closest competitor, the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (Base MSRP: $28,600), is on par with the Sonata Hybrid and delivers slightly better fuel economy. Overall though, the Sonata Hybrid does nearly everything as well, has distinctive looks and, more importantly, carries a base price that's more than $2,500 less. For some hybrid shoppers this could translate into a hybrid car that can more easily save them money in terms of price, fuel economy and ownership costs.
Despite its low entry price, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid offers some unusual features under the hood, resulting in "an advanced powertrain that is more powerful than every non-luxury hybrid," according to Edmunds.com. The full hybrid setup is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 34-kilowatt electric motor that produce a combined 209 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor lies between the engine and the transmission, obviating the need for a fuel-efficiency sapping torque converter in this unusual setup. Furthermore, electric power is delivered by a high-tech lithium-ion battery pack that weighs less, and supposedly lasts longer, than the typical nickel-metal hydride batteries that most other hybrids use, including the best hybrid overall, the 2011 Toyota Prius (Base MSRP: $21,650 to $28,790). This configuration allows the Sonata Hybrid to be propelled by electric power alone at highway speeds, when conditions are right. Reviewers have only praise for the hybrid drivetrain; Autoblog.com says the Sonata Hybrid "rewards with a surprisingly normal driving experience," and that the "transitions between internal combustion power and electric go-go are some of the most seamless in the industry". Motor Trend says that the power from the engine makes the Sonata Hybrid "competitively quick."
The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid's sole transmission is a traditional six-speed automatic; most hybrids use some form of continuously variable transmission (CVT). Reviewers universally like the inclusion of a traditional automatic, and Cars.com reviewer David Thomas says the six-speed automatic was why he enjoyed driving the car so much, noting that "shifts are crisp and acceleration is strong."
The Sonata Hybrid gets excellent fuel economy ratings for its size. The EPA estimates that it will deliver 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway/37 mpg combined. The only midsize car that eclipses the Sonata Hybrid's overall rating is the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid, though it isn't by much and the Sonata Hybrid gets better highway fuel economy. On the other hand, the Sonata Hybrid gets significantly better estimated fuel economy than the 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid (Base MSRP: $26,675) and 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid (Base MSRP: $26,800). If seating five is important, the only other hybrids that do better are the smaller 2011 Honda Insight ( Base MSRP: $18,200 to $21,490), the (Base MSRP: $21,650 to $28,790), and the brand-new 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid (Base MSRP: $24,050).
The exterior and interior impress nearly all reviewers, as do the available features. The exterior styling is edgy and modern like the regular Sonata but also includes unusual styling cues to differentiate itself from its gasoline-only powered siblings. The New York Times calls it a "swoopy, sleek, streamlined looker," compared with other midsize offerings. Critics say they like the ergonomically friendly and attractive interior: Autoblog.com explains that drivers will find "comfortable thrones, attractive dash, and heaps of soft-touch goodies layered over almost every surface." Standard equipment includes niceties such as dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker CD audio system, satellite radio, iPod input, Bluetooth compatibility and keyless entry. Optional equipment includes features like a 7-inch GPS touchscreen navigation system, heated front and rear seats, a backup camera and a 400-watt Infinity sound system with subwoofer. Reviewers universally say the Sonata Hybrid's interior fit and finish is well above average.
The hybrid batteries do impinge upon the Sonata Hybrid's cargo capacity when compared with the nonhybrid version. The base Sonata has a 16.4 cubic foot trunk, while the Sonata Hybrid's is reduced to 10.7 cubic feet. The Sonata Hybrid's closest rival, the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid, has around 1 cubic foot more trunk space than the Hyundai.
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata range performs very well in safety tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). IIHS names the Sonata a Top Safety Pick, indicating that it got the highest possible rating in all crash and roof strength tests. NHTSA gives the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid a perfect 5 star out of 5 rating for overall safety. Side crash protection and rollover resistance both get the 5 star rating, and the front crash protection is given a 4 star rating. Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, and front, front-side and side-curtain airbags.
Hyundai provides its impressive warranty coverage to the Sonata Hybrid too, which means basic coverage for 5 years/60,000 miles and powertrain coverage for 10 years/100,000 miles.
Reviewers say the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid sits near the top of its class in nearly all respects, and most acknowledge that Hyundai has raised the bar for midsize hybrid sedans in general. Edmunds.com calls the Sonata Hybrid "one of the most appealing hybrid choices," and Motor Trend says that it's a "well thought-out, well executed, and progressive hybrid." Nearly all experts agree that it's a great package in terms of quality, performance, and value.
This complete road test of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid leaves the reviewer impressed with everything it has to offer: excellent fuel economy, unusual style, comfortable passenger accommodations and a long warranty. Reviewer James Riswick says the Sonata Hybrid "should quickly become one of the most appealing hybrid choices."
Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Test Drive, James Riswick
This review stops short of calling the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid the best of midsize sedan hybrids, saying that a true comparison would be necessary to determine that. Given the praise in this review though, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is definitely a contender for best in its class – low price, good fuel economy and styling with futuristic cues.
Review: Second Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Zach Bowman, Oct. 18, 2010
3. Inside Line
This first drive review gives a nice explanation of the technology that Hyundai has employed in the hybrid powertrain. Also, the reviewer points out that the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid uses a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, which adds a more traditional feel to the driving experience.
Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid First Drive, Jason Kavanagh, July 19, 2010
4. Motor Trend
Overall, the reviewer here considers the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid to be "a well thought-out, well executed, and progressive hybrid," pointing out that it's the first hybrid in its class to use a Lithium-ion battery pack and a conventional automatic transmission. The 40 mpg highway fuel economy rating is cited as a boon for consumers who plan to travel mostly on the highway.
Review: First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Ron Kiino, July 19, 2010
5. The Truth About Cars
This reviewer likes the Sonata Hybrid overall, but in the end he thinks that it makes little sense as a value proposition (and mentions that he feels this away about most hybrids). His reasoning is that the hybrid system does well on the highway, but not as well in the city, and that gasoline powered Sonatas get good highway fuel economy to begin with.
Review: Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Michael Karesh, Dec. 1, 2010
This article from Popular Mechanics has plenty of details on the Sonata Hybrid's powertrain technology, particularly the Li-ion batteries. It drives well too, according to the reviewer, and he calls it "the most spirited midsize hybrid we've driven." Depending on the price point, this early review says that it "could become the leader of the pack."
Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Test Drive, John Stewart, July 19, 2010
7. Car and Driver
The article's subtitle says it all: "With this new gasoline-electric Sonata, underdog Hyundai starts looking like the favorite." Technology, performance and price all suggest that the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid "will be a first-rate effort," this reviewer says of his prototype drive.
Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid -- Prototype Drive, Michael Austin, July 2010
8. The New York Times
This test drive covers not only the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, but also the gasoline-powered versions. Reviewer John Pearley Huffman singles out the traditional six-speed automatic transmission in the hybrid model as its most interesting and welcome feature, as it provides smooth shifts and mimics the nonhybrid version's driving style. He also likes the "stunning" 40 mpg highway fuel economy rating.
Review: Crowd-Pleasing Composition in 3 Movements, John Pearley Huffman, Jan. 28, 2011
ConsumerReports.org hasn't tested the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid specifically, but they have tested the gasoline powered Sonata. Many of the driving impressions, other than the powertrain ones, should be relevant. ConsumerReports.org ranks the gasoline-powered Hyundai Sonata against other sedans on many different criteria.
Review: Sedans, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is "impressive in almost every way," according to Cars.com. Its funky looks and cutting-edge battery technology make it one of the best, if not the best, midsize hybrid around. Thomas also points out that the Sonata Hybrid is one of only two cars available that gets an IIHS Top Safety Pick designation and NHTSA 5 star overall crash protection rating.
Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, David Thomas, Oct. 19, 2010
11. Road & Track
This reviewer covers both the 2.0T Hyundai Sonata and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Like others, he likes the six-speed automatic transmission in the Sonata Hybrid and finds it more suited towards enthusiastic driving. The Sonata Hybrid in his opinion has "a more sporty response to your right foot," when compared with other hybrids with CVT automatic transmissions and torque converters.
Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T and Sonata Hybrid – Driving Impressions, Dennis Simanaitis, Oct. 15, 2010
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid gets very good fuel economy, with a combined rating of 37 mpg from the EPA; the Sonata Hybrid is most efficient in highway driving, delivering an estimated 40 mpg in that type of driving. The 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (Base MSRP: $28,600) gets slightly higher fuel economy, but it costs more.
Review: 2011 Hybrid Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
13. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid gets an impressive near-perfect score in the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's crash testing. Under the new, more stringent criteria, the Hyundai gets a perfect 5 star out of 5 rating in overall safety. Side crash protection and rollover resistance both get the 5 star rating as well, and the front crash protection is given a slightly lower 4 star rating.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
14. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid gets the Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This means it gets the highest possible rating for frontal offset, side, rear and roof strength tests.
Review: Midsize Moderately Priced Cars, Editors of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety