Review of: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid 4dr Sdn Ultimate
2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid: How I spent three bucks on gas
By Jil McIntosh
Jul. 6, 2016
Back around 1980, I used to love driving my 1969 Chevelle from my home in Toronto down to Buffalo, New York for that city’s famous chicken wings. My trip was about 175 kilometres, and at the price of gas back then, it cost me about three bucks to get there.
So I had a pang of nostalgia after a week with the Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV), a version of the all-new Sonata Hybrid and the company’s first plug-in hybrid model. When I filled the car with gas, the pump stopped at $3.04.
Now, there’s more to that number than just the weight of my right foot, of course. My plan was to plug the car in as often as I could, to see if it could drive on electricity as much as possible. It did, and more on that later.
The Sonata Hybrid comes in three trim lines, starting at $29,649 and rising to the Ultimate trim level for $37,499. The PHEV comes only in top-level trim and is $43,999. That blow can be softened somewhat with available “green” incentives, but only if you live in one of three provinces. For purchase (there are lease incentives as well), you’ll get back $2,500 in British Columbia and $4,000 in Quebec. I live in very generous Ontario, where I’d get a whopping $8,460 knocked off the price.
Pros & Cons
- + Transmission shift quality
- + Interior design
- + Highway driving range
- - Rear seat access
- - Artificial driving feel
- - Road noise
To my eye, the car is a handsome beast from any angle. Like the regular hybrid, it builds on the conventional Sonata with a larger grille and some tweaks to the front and rear fascias.
Along with the plug-in hybrid badge on the trunk, the giveaway for the PHEV is a filler-style door on the front fender, emblazoned with “Blue Drive” that’s now the umbrella name for the company’s “green” technologies. Behind it is the connection for the charging cord, included with the car and capable of handling 120 or 240 volts.
The car’s design is nicely proportioned, with a longer nose and shorter rear overhang, and the rake to the roof adds to the overall impression. That said, tall passengers need to be careful when getting into the back seat, because it’s very easy to bang one’s head on that steeply-sloped door opening.
The cabin is equally inviting, with comfortable leather seats that are both heated and ventilated in front, and heated in the rear row. Both front seats have eight-way power adjustment.
The controls are intuitive and most of the functions are controlled by buttons, which I prefer to paging through computer screens. The climate control has a driver-only feature for the fan which directs most of the airflow in that direction, the idea being that there’s no point wasting electricity to aggressively warm or cool an empty passenger seat.
The centre stack is dominated by an infotainment touchscreen that handles the navigation, stereo and communications, and also the hybrid information. In the instrument cluster, the dial normally handed over to the tachometer is instead filled with information on hybrid driving, including whether you’re using battery power or charging it back with regenerative braking.
The batteries reside in the trunk and behind the rear seat. The regular Sonata Hybrid has 380 litres of trunk space, but because of its extra battery requirement, the PHEV only offers 280 litres. It was still enough to bring home a week’s worth of grocery shopping, especially since you get a tire repair kit rather than a spare tire. The battery placement also means you can’t fold the rear seat for extra trunk space when carrying longer items. The car has Hyundai’s “smart trunk,” which pops open automatically if you stand beside it for a few seconds with the key in your pocket.
Being fitted with the top trim level, the PHEV comes with all the goodies: rearview camera, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, navigation, premium audio, and satellite radio. Its safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and assist, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and automatic high-beam headlights.
The plug-in system has some pretty cool technology of its own. Using a button on the centre console, you can put the car into hybrid mode even if it’s fully charged. This lets you run it as a conventional hybrid in situations where you’d normally get better fuel economy, such as on the highway, and then save the stored charge for electric-only operation when you get off and into stop-and-go traffic. Regenerative braking adds to the electric-only ability, although it’s highly unlikely you’ll build up enough to get the full range unless you plug it in again. The battery is lithium polymer, lighter and more energy-dense than nickel-metal hydride or lithium ion.
The Sonata PHEV uses a 2.0-litre, direct-injection Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine that makes 154 horsepower and 140 lb.-ft. of torque. When it’s running in conjunction with its electric motor, the combination can produce up to 202 horses at 6,000 r.p.m. Rather than use a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) as most hybrids are equipped, Hyundai hooks its engine to a six-speed automatic with an electric motor in place of a torque converter. It gives the car less of a “hybrid feel” on acceleration, which I really like.
It takes about three hours to charge the battery on 240 volts, but I used my regular 120-volt household outlet, which took about nine hours from fully depleted. (I did take advantage of a free 240-charger at a mall, which I found through a feature on the navigation system that lists public chargers nearby.)
When fully charged, and under ideal driving conditions, the car is advertised as getting about 43 kilometres on electricity alone. With a light foot and the air conditioning off, I did a 44-kilometre trip without the gas engine kicking in and with an estimated three kilometres of battery left, most of it on the highway at 106 km/h (the specs say it can go to 120 km/h on electricity alone). During my time with the car, I mostly ran numerous shorter errands, and faithfully plugged it in after each one. As a result, the Sonata PHEV worked essentially as an electric car for me.
Of course, “your mileage may vary,” as they say, and that’s the point behind the car. If you don’t plug it in, you can still go anywhere you want as long as there’s gas in the tank.
The Sonata PHEV is officially rated at 6.1 L/100 km in the city and 5.7 on the highway, along with a combined rating of 2.4 Le/100 km (the electric equivalent of gas fuel economy). By faithfully plugging in my Sonata after each trip, my overall figure was 1.0 L/100 km.
Handling-wise, the Sonata PHEV gets the job done, but there are some other competitors that are closer to the top of the game. The steering feels a bit vague on-centre and there’s not much in the way of feedback. The ride is smooth over good roads, but the suspension is noisy over bumps and it transmits the nastier ones into the cabin, and there’s some wheel hop over expansion joints on the highway. Don’t expect to tackle the twisties with sport-sedan-style flair, whether on gas or electricity.
As with any “green” technology, the value of the vehicle depends on the individual: whether you’re buying it to save money at the pumps, or if it’s because you simply like driving this type of car and its potential range of almost 1,000 kilometres.
The value also depends on where you live. My province’s rebate brings the car down to $35,539, which puts it at $1,960 more than the top-line Sonata Hybrid, but if your government doesn’t cut you back a cheque, you’re looking at a difference of $6,500. Natural Resources Canada estimates that it costs $853 a year to fuel the PHEV, versus $1,221 for the Sonata Hybrid. In theory, you’d have to hang on to it for more than 17 years to get back the difference in the purchase price via that $368-per-year disparity in the fuel costs.
Whether electrified vehicles ever really hit the big-time sales numbers remains to be seen. They’re obviously not for everyone—no vehicle is—but I enjoy the feeling of fuel-free driving. While all-electric cars work well for some, I like the “backup plan” of plug-in hybrids and range-extended vehicles, which will get you beyond the battery’s capacity on longer trips. Its midsize configuration also means more space for passengers and cargo, so while it’s not inner-city-sized like the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive or Mitsubishi i-MiEV, it can be more practical overall. Your plug-in habits and your wallet will ultimately make the decision, but overall, this Sonata PHEV is worth a look.