2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited
How do you make a very good thing better? In the auto sector’s mid-size sedan segment just add a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain and start collecting the kudos.
It’s obviously not so easy or every manufacturer would have done it, not to mention the many that tried and had limited to zero success would’ve instead been reaping rewards instead of lamenting losses. Wisely, Hyundai started slower than some of its rivals, its first attempt at a Sonata Hybrid arriving in February of 2011. The car did fairly well as far as HEVs go, Hyundai’s advanced Blue Drive powertrain boasting preferred full-hybrid technology with an EV mode that let owners drive around at low speeds under full-electric power, this possible due to a powerful electric motor supported by a more advanced lithium polymer battery instead of the antiquated nickel-metal hydride units its closest rivals were using. At least as importantly as this advanced tech and the impressive fuel economy that went with it, this first-generation version rated at 36 mpg city, 40 highway and 38 combined, the Sonata Hybrid looked better than the regular Sonata thanks to a deeper more premium grille design and some other nice details that dressed up exterior and interior styling. It could be argued that the same holds true for the all-new 2016 model.
At least I like the new Sonata Hybrid’s styling more than the regular Sonata, once again mostly because its grille is bigger, bolder and a bit more unique. The car’s nicely detailed combination projector headlamps are craftily designed with unique graphics, a highlight of all Sonatas being a strip of metallic brightwork up top that visually blends into chrome beltline mouldings that stretch to the rear quarter windows before wrapping up and around the greenhouse and then back down the A-pillars to meet up close to where they started. Back up front, an attractive set of LED driving lights look sharp within chrome bezeled faux brake vents just below those headlights, while both base Hybrid SE plus Hybrid Limited models incorporate similar chromed bodyside mouldings to the conventionally powered Sonata Limited with its top-line Ultimate package.
Unique to the Hybrid Limited, however, are aerodynamically flat stylized five-spoke 17-inch silver alloys with gray painted pockets on 215/55R17 rubber, which suit the car’s sporty yet elegant design well. The trunk lid on all Hybrid models gets a small but noticeable spoiler whereas the bumper is capped off with a matte black diffuser style valance, while in between both are apostrophe-shaped taillights infused with LEDs for a highly-complex, sophisticated look, especially alluring at night. It’s a good looking car, bold up front and understated in back while suitably inoffensive all-round, and as it turns out the changes weren’t only about pulling eyeballs, proven by the Hybrid’s industry-leading 0.24 coefficient of drag.
All the better to enjoy the drive, which is set up for quiet comfort first and foremost, although it’s plenty capable through the curves. I tested it to make sure, first adjusting its standard Drive Mode Select system to Sport, which firmed up steering effort, quickened throttle response and allowed the Shiftronic manual mode-enhanced six-speed automatic to delay shifts so as to let the engine rev higher, and headed to a regular haunt that meanders along a lazy local river, providing plenty of long sweeping corners and tighter more complex curves that combine with less than ideal pavement to really test a car’s ability at managing extremes while keeping driver and occupants comfortably at ease. The Sonata Hybrid is no Genesis Coupe, of course, but it held its own through the more aggressive sections, hardly hinting at the broken pavement and crumbling edges bordering the road’s perimeter, the manually actuated six-speed autobox delivering much better response than the segment’s usual listless CVT, while the car really came into its own when the convoluted ribbon of tarmac straightened for higher speed cruising. The Sonata Hybrid is wonderfully stable on the highway too, tracking effortlessly and always comfortable, an ideal road trip companion.
Power comes from a full-parallel hybrid drive system that allows it to run on internal combustion power, solely on electric motive force or a combination of both. While similar to the old powertrain the 2016 model features a new upgraded combination of electrified-ICE propulsion, with an Atkinson-cycle version of Hyundai’s aptly named “Nu” 16-valve, DOHC 2.0-liter D-CVVT direct injected four-cylinder incorporating an extremely high 13.5:1 compression ratio and capable of 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque on its own, although the car’s electric motor adds another 38 kW (51 horsepower) and 151 lb-ft of torque for 193 net horsepower and an a-yet undisclosed net torque rating that puts plenty of near instantaneous twist down to the front wheels. It uses a new 1.62-kWh (56-kW) lithium-ion-polymer battery that’s slim enough to fit under the cargo floor allowing for a flat loading compartment and 10 percent increased trunk capacity of 13.3 cubic feet, not to mention 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks in Limited trim for enhanced cargo/passenger flexibility, these last items very unique amongst hybrid sedans.
I don’t normally start talking trunk usability before mentioning anything about the interior, but hybrids can quickly turn me around. As it is, the Sonata Hybrid Limited offers up a particularly luxurious cabin that includes a padded and stitched leather-like shroud over the primary gauge package, a soft-touch dash top overall, the latter folding over the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger with the same pliable plastic sweeping down each side of the center stack to the two-thirds point, where the main controls end. Hyundai finishes the front and back door uppers in the same soft synthetic as well, while padded and stitched leatherette inserts, part of the Limited upgrade, sit atop a similar treatment for the door pulls and armrests, everything looking and feeling very upscale. These were done out in a two-tone effect in my test car, the non-black surfaces finished in beige including the leather upholstery with perforated inserts, a nice match to the Graphite Blue paint outside.
Even the faux woodgrain that divided the two interior colors looks authentic and surprisingly quite rich, while it actually feels pretty real on the door panels. Tap it on the dash and you’ll quickly be reminded that this Sonata is no Jaguar. Still, the colorful electroluminescent primary gauges are much clearer than anything from Coventry, this Hybrid’s dials filled with HEV-specific features such as Charge, Eco and EV info along with an HEV battery life meter on the left side, plus a speedometer with a fuel gauge on the right side, the center housing a crystal clear 4.2-inch TFT LCD multi-information display defaulting to the usual hybrid energy flow schematics unless you flick a button featuring a pages-style graphic on the right hand steering wheel spoke to change it to compass, radio info, service instructions, user settings including driving assist, which opens up to rear cross traffic assist on or off, plus a coasting guide where you can add sound prompts; “Door” that lets you set up auto lock to engage on speed, shift or not at all, auto unlock when you turn off the ignition or shift into park or not at all, double press unlock on/off, and smart trunk on/off; “Lights” with three, five or seven flashes for the one-touch signals (I’ve never seen that before) or not at all, headlamp delay on/off, and welcome lights; “Sound” that lets you stop the blind spot detection system’s audible prompts; “Convenience” that allows you to automate the steering position; “Service Interval” that lets you preset an interval by mileage or months; and an “Other Features” prompt where you can automatically reset the average fuel economy to read “0” after ignition, after refueling or not at all, and the option of a gear position pop-up display, or not. Is that enough detail for you? Techies will enjoy this car, although it’s all easy to figure out so anybody can feel like a brainiac.
The center stack gets an equally feature-filled infotainment system with colors and graphics similarly rich, the controls of which are housed in a narrow strip of knobs and buttons just below, or once you’re within a given function, just by pressing the touchscreen. It gets radio functions including satellite, media, phone, navigation with an excellent mapping system (if equipped, which mine was), plus an info screen displaying hybrid details such as average fuel economy, a rather simplistic eco driving graph, and an energy flow graphic. There’s a quick guide too, showing you how to use the touchscreen, Bluetooth, navigation, the home screen and voice recognition; a SiriusXM Data section that gets you traffic, stocks and sports updates, plus a section showing various voice commands. Lastly, a Set Up button on the dash accesses navigation, sound, display, phone, voice recognition, clock, language and keyboard, screen saver and system info settings as well as preferences. Again, it’s all easy to figure out and implement.
The Hybrid Limited’s optional audio system is superb, by the way, no matter what type of music you’re listening to. Its bass tones were rich enough for dance tracks and highs clear and crisp enough to get the most out of classical or jazz, all of which was available via satellite radio or Bluetooth streaming. Of course, newer ’90s and classic rock sounded great too, as did new wave and reggae. I tried it all, including talk, while enjoying the comfort of standard dual-zone auto HVAC. I liked this system more than usual thanks to a useful “Driver Only” button that allows wind in the face for one and nada for the other, while the Limited’s three-way heated seats and heatable steering wheel made the car feel warm quickly.
That power-adjustable driver’s seat was extremely comfortable and made even better due to powered lumbar that adjusted to exactly the right position to soothe an aching back, while those in the rear offered loads of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom plus adjustable two-way seat heaters as well. Additionally, rear vents allowed directional heat or air, front seat back pockets provided storage for reading material, side window sunshades provided freedom from glare, and the optional panoramic sunroof overhead made everything feel more spacious.
As you might expect many of features mentioned come as part of the Limited upgrade, specifically the 17-inch alloys, HID headlamps, leather upholstery, leatherette instrument panel hood and door panel stitching, leatherette door inserts, driver’s side memory, heatable and ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, and rear sunshades, while items not yet discussed include etched aluminum premium doorsill plates, an auto-dimming electrochromic rearview mirror with a HomeLink garage door opener and a digital compass, blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, plus more, all for $30,100 plus freight and dealer fees.
My tester came with even more thanks the previously noted Ultimate package, which for $4,500 adds auto high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, high-gloss window surrounds, LED interior lighting, a larger eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and even clearer rearview camera, upgraded audio, HD radio, SiriusXM Travel Link, a panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, etcetera.
I’m guessing you didn’t notice the little black rubber button on my test car’s chromed door handles, this unlocking the Sonata Hybrid’s standard power locks without the need to fumble for a key, a proximity-sensing system that also includes a hands-free “Smart Trunk” that automatically opens when you, with key fob in pocket, stand within three feet of the rear bumper for more than three seconds, which together with a pushbutton ignition system is a lot of kit that’s usually not part of a base mid-size model’s standard feature set, especially one only costing $26,000 plus freight. These get pulled up to Limited trim, as do the automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated into the heatable and powered side mirrors’ housings, LED taillights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 4.2-inch color TFT LCD multi-info display, cruise control, dual-zone auto climate control, rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, and AM/FM/CD/MP3/iPod audio with satellite radio and USB/aux plugs.
As I said in the beginning of this review, the way to make a good mid-size sedan even better is to add a hybrid drivetrain, and with the new 2016 Sonata Hybrid it’s an altogether more impressive near-luxury car that will no doubt be impactful to those shopping in this class, as will its very compelling price point. Altogether, Hyundai delivers style, performance, a premium-trimmed cabin and an awe-inspiring load of standard and available features, all capped off with an EPA fuel economy rating of 40 mpg city, 44 highway and 42 combined for the base car and 39 city, 43 highway and 41 combined for Limited trim. And yes, these are even better numbers than the last Sonata Hybrid. A lot better! So is the car. I recommend that you experience the 2016 Sonata Hybrid for yourself.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.