Test Drive: 2013 Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology
2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Steven Bochenek

During the week that I had the Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology, things went a bit sideways. Two long drives out of town had to be canceled. Consequently, all my driving was in the city. About a third of that was on highways but not what any auto sales sheet means when it talks of fuel economy and ‘highway driving’. Rush-hour highway driving in the city is really just city driving but more dangerous.

The result was actually an excellent test for an urban vehicle!

There’s a lot happening in the hybrid world these days. Check any auto manufacturer’s website. Nearly all their homepages are championing hybrids and EVs. So you may be surprised to learn that hybrids made up less than 3 percent of total 2012 sales in the US and under 2 percent of total 2011 sales in Canada. While all that industry competition doesn’t seem to be boosting sales significantly, it is driving down prices.

The hybrid sedan category is especially crowded and, for the most part, the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid holds up well with its competitors. Especially in terms of price. But first let’s look at what sets it apart, starting with its looks.

Some hybrids are designed to be the modern equivalent of a hair shirt. Nothing flashy or sleek, just obvious penance you can wear to impress others with what a good ascetic you are. Hyundai eschews that dourness, creating interesting looking cars that are blessedly affordable, as exemplified in the 2013 Sonata Hybrid. Sleek, low and sporty, it pumps some iron into environmentalism.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology
2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology. Click image to enlarge

Outside, its lines flow and swoop. From every angle, it suggests movement. Yet its drag coefficient of .25 matches the Toyota Prius and actually trumps the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. This is attributed to, among other modifications, low-drag wheels, extended rocker panels, modified fascia in front and back and a slightly lower stance than the non-hybrid Sonata.

Inside, it’s also attractive but we’ll come back here later. Let’s go beneath the hood to see what else sets the Sonata Hybrid apart.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology
2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology
2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Technology. Click image to enlarge

Other mid-level hybrids have a continuously variable transmission versus the Sonata’s traditional six-speed for what Hyundai euphemistically calls ‘a traditional driving experience’. It’s been modified to also contain the electric motor, an 8.5-kW hybrid starter-generator and low-friction fuel pump to allow parallel and independent operating of the electric motor and combustion engine. The result is better efficiency of electricity at greater speeds. But the movement from electric power to gasoline is very noticeable – like an earlier generation Camry Hybrid, it doesn’t quite lurch, but you feel it.

However, where the Sonata Hybrid seems most noteworthy is in comparisons against its own 2012 iteration. After taking their lumps for so-so power and fuel efficiency, its engineers rethought the powertrain, wringing more from the electric system. The 2013 electric motor puts out 5 kW more for a total of 35. The lithium polymer battery ponies up 13 kW more for 47 but now weighs 2.1 kg less and uses less space. How much? Now there’s 40 L more space in the trunk, totaling 344. (The backseats still don’t fold down because, a hybrid standard, the lithium battery is using space in the trunk. Consequently that total 344 L of trunk storage space can’t increase.)

The electric motor’s paired with a 2.4L Atkinson-cycle engine. Overall, the system produces 40 lb-ft more torque, totaling 235.  Horsepower is 199, down 7 from 2012, but you notice and thrill to the torque, delivered almost instantly in electric mode.

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