The Sonata Hybrid enters its third model year as the economy champ of Hyundai's mid-size sedan line. It's one hybrid that manages to stand out not by virtue of its efficiency -- although it's quite good -- but by power and price. The hybrid setup yields the same horsepower as the base gasoline engine and costs a few thousand less than key competitors.
How did Hyundai pull this off? Instead of developing an all-new powertrain, the automaker used parts already on hand, namely the conventional model's 2.4-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission. The engine gets a boost from an electric motor juiced by a lightweight lithium-polymer battery pack.
The transmission has been modified for use with this system, but retains its six speeds, unlike the continuously variable units found on most hybrids. Total output is 199 horsepower, similar to Camry and a hair more than Fusion, and combined fuel economy reaches 37 mpg -- average for this class. The Sonata's transmission doesn't operate as smoothly as some, a tradeoff of using modified rather than unique mechanicals.
The rest of the car is stock Sonata, offering rather dramatic styling for this class, abundant standard features, a five-star crash rating and room for five adults. However, tall passengers might not be totally comfortable in the back as the sloping roofline cuts into headroom.
The only difference in the cabin is the addition of hybrid technology readings to the standard 4.2-inch color-display trip computer. As with all hybrids, the battery pack takes up trunk space, so there's only 10.7 cubic feet available for groceries and luggage, about what you would get in a compact sedan. The standard split-folding rear seatback is likely to get a lot of use.
All Sonatas benefit from useful standard equipment such as heated outside mirrors, a satellite radio, and Hyundai's BlueLink telematics system with turn-by-turn navigation and a speed governor for teen drivers. The Hybrid Limited receives the full luxury treatment, including leather, a sunroof and ride-biased suspension tuning.
Of particular interest to hybrid skeptics, Hyundai's outstanding warranty applies here too. All hybrid system components are covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles, and the battery pack carries a lifetime warranty.