2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

NRCan Fuel Consumption Estimate: 5.5/4.6 L/100 km city/highway
US EPA Fuel Consumption Estimate: 6.7/5.9/6.4 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Observed Real-World Consumption: 7.2 L/100 km (400+ km city/highway)

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

As mentioned earlier, we wanted to bring one example of a hybrid that you might not even recognize as a hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid fits that bill, with Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design philosophy shaping its sleek sheet metal. On the other hand, Hyundai’s value philosophy means it is also affordable at $28,999 with power seats, Bluetooth, proximity entry and push-button start, dual-zone auto climate control, leather seats, and a stylish interior to go along with its daring looks.

A Premium package takes the price up to $33,999, adding luxury-brand fare like heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, backup camera, navigation system with high-res touchscreen and voice activation to go along with the seven-speaker Infinity premium sound system. Destination fees and A/C tax take the as-tested price to $35,664. However, I found headroom in the front seats limited with the sunroof, and the seat did awful things to my back—I just could not find a comfortable position.

The battery itself is constructed of a Lithium polymer, capable of 34 kW of power output with 5.3 Amp-hours of storage capacity. The 30-kW electric motor is rated at 40 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, that torque is conveniently available from 0–1400 rpm.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

What advantages does Lithium construction offer? Higher energy density, which means it takes less battery to store an equivalent amount of energy, therefore taking up less space and using less weight than Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. The Sonata Hybrid’s battery weighs 43.5 kg to the Prius’ 53.3 kg. Other advantages of Lithium-ion batteries are that they operate better in low temperatures, can use more of their capacity, and have more rapid charge times, which is a big issue with fully electric vehicles, but also offers benefits for hybrids. The downsides? They are currently more expensive to produce and may not be as durable over time as NiMH, especially in hot climates.

Despite the high-tech battery, if there was one car that disappointed, both in its efficiency and as an overall driving experience, it was the Sonata Hybrid. Hyundai has received its fair share of flak recently over surprisingly high real-world fuel consumption, and this Sonata Hybrid is no exception. While 7.2 L/100 km is impressive for a heavily featured mid-size sedan (and almost beat a Scion iQ we drove to 7.1 L/100 km recently—mostly highway driving, too), it is so far off the NRCan estimate of 5.5/4.6/5.1 L/100 km city/highway/combined, that it is a bit of a head scratcher. But perhaps more telling is that the Toyota Camry Hybrid, its chief competitor among hybrid family sedans, achieved a 5.7 L/100 km in similar use recently, and not nearly as far removed from its 4.7/5.1 NRCan estimate.

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

A shame, too, because many prospective customers that will be drawn to its sophisticated looks, luxurious interior, and long list of standard features will be able to ignore its clunky ride and uneven driving experience. We, however, could not. Whether taking off in electric vehicle (EV) mode on battery power alone, or engaging the engine from a heavy-footed start, the Sonata had uneven power delivery to go along with its unsorted ride and loose, uneven steering. Quite possibly the six-speed automatic was confused by the dual power sources.

However, once at speed, most of the hesitancy smoothed out, and the Lithium-ion battery was eager to take over full responsibility for moving this 1,641-kg sedan along. Come to think of it, the electric bits also did a great job moving the car from a stop without waking up the 166-hp 2.4L gas engine until the battery was near drained, and one doesn’t have to baby the throttle in order to keep it in EV mode. Just put your foot down moderately, as most of us normally do, and you’ll easily lurch up to 40–50 km/h in EV mode.

In the end, it’s a car you’ll pick for style and content, and to gain power while saving gas over other Sonata models, rather than to beat any fuel consumption records.

Price: 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Base price: $28,999
Options: $5,000 (Premium Package: heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, navigation system with high-res touchscreen and voice activation, backup camera, seven-speaker Infinity premium sound system, 17-inch wheels)
Destination: $1,565
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $35,664

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