Green cars. All too often they have over promised and under delivered. Hyundai was one of the culprits with its first-generation Sonata Hybrid. At launch the car carried EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 35 city/40 highway/37 combined mpg. Unfortunately, most real-world drivers couldn’t achieve those figures, and the ratings were eventually adjusted to 34 city/39 highway/36 combined mpg.
2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid Review
Hyundai has released a second-generation Sonata Hybrid, but it has taken the technology one step further. The new Plug-in Hybrid offers extended electric-only propulsion as well as the promise of hybrid-worthy fuel economy ratings. I traveled to Huntington Beach, California, to drive the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in and to see if it lives up to its blue-sky promise.
Best-in-Class All-Electric Range
And Hyundai is promising a lot, claiming the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will deliver a best-in-class 24 miles of all-electric range, a 93 MPGe rating, and a gasoline fuel economy rating of 40 mpg in combined highway/city driving.
The hybrid powertrain starts with a direct-injected 151-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. A 50kW (67 horsepower) electric motor sits between the engine and transmission and brings total system output to 202 horsepower. A disengagement clutch allows the motor to power the vehicle alone without dragging the engine along for the ride. The system stores its energy in a lithium-polymer battery that resides in the trunk above the rear axle. The 9.8 kWh battery is the strongest in class (besting the Ford Fusion Energi‘s 7.6 kWh battery and the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid‘s 6.7 kWh battery), the size accounting for the Sonata Plug-in’s 24 miles of range compared to 21 for the Ford and 13 for the Honda.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
I paired up with another journalist, and our test drive consisted of two stints of mostly highway driving, which is inherently very efficient. In the first 28.7-mile leg, we ran the car in EV (electric) mode for 14 miles and used up a commensurate 14 miles of range. We then switched to Hybrid mode and finished with a recorded 68.9 mpg. During the next 48.9-mile leg, we used up the remaining 10 miles of electric range (again over 10 actual miles) and finished the trip at 54.7 mpg. Another journalist team reset their trip odometer when the electric range ran out and reported 41 mpg in Hybrid mode.
Those numbers indicate that the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will live up to its mpg claims, but how well does it perform? Well, in Electric mode, it’s a dog. With only 67 horsepower to pull almost 4,000 pounds, the lack of electric power requires the gasoline engine to kick in during aggressive acceleration. The problem is the size of the motor — the competitors have much larger motors, 88 kW (116 horsepower) in the Fusion Energi and 124 kW (166 horsepower) in the Accord Plug-in Hybrid.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
Even with the engine and motor working together, the car is slow. Hyundai didn’t provide any performance times, but 0 to 60 mph takes in excess of 10 seconds, which would indicate the 202 horsepower figure is optimistic. Nevertheless, it has enough power to keep up with traffic (just make sure you have plenty of room when attempting to pass). On a positive note, the 6-speed CVT transmission provides a natural, stepped feel during acceleration. The CVTs in some competitors feel about as precise as Dali’s melting stopwatch.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Hunting
Bottom line, it appears that the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid will deliver on the promise it makes to green-minded buyers. By compromising the driving dynamics, it should be capable of 24 miles on an electrical charge, and 40 mpg of gasoline consumption appears realistic. Those who prefer a bit more zest along with their fuel economy, however, are better served by offerings from Ford or Honda.