2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid SE
Thoroughly redesigned from the engine out
Hyundai completely made over its popular Sonata family sedan last year, but the Hybrid was left to soldier on in a somewhat dated uniform. As you’ll likely agree the wait has certainly been worth it, as the all-new 2016 Sonata Hybrid delivers even more appealing styling than the regular model.
The new model makes an altogether bolder statement with a much deeper looking grille smartly created by covering its bumper cap with the same matte black composite used for the rest of the insert slats, while surrounding the entire grille area with thick chrome edging, the Sonata Hybrid now looking more familial to the larger Genesis sedan and totally original when compared to other mid-sizers on the market (this said it’ll be interesting to see how Hyundai’s designers differentiate the Sonata’s styling and the overall design language of this lower-end mainstream volume brand from the new Genesis luxury brand that sees the old Genesis Sedan become the new G80 later this year). To each side, elegant LED DRL-infused headlamp clusters with revised lens graphics hover above a stunning set of totally unique LED fogs. I love the way the rear portions of the headlamps meld into the leading edge of the chrome beltline molding too, a design element shared across the entire Sonata line, the latter molding wrapping all the way around the side windows for a cohesive look.
Chrome embellishes the door handles and rocker trim too, while LED turn signal repeaters add some premium splash and an element of safety to the side mirror housings. The rear of the car gets a sportier look with a stylish deck lid spoiler and a larger matte black diffuser below the bumper incorporating rear reflectors and fogs, while the Sonata’s fabulous looking multi-angled taillights are made even more attractive thanks to restyled lenses and integrated LEDs. This base model’s 16-inch 10-spoke alloy rims on 205/65R16 all-seasons look a bit small on such a long, lean and rakish sedan, but this can be remedied by moving up the ranks where 17-inch alloys on 215/55R17 all-seasons help fill in the wheel arches.
Inside, the new Sonata Hybrid is a feast for the eyes, even in base SE trim. Depending on which of its seven exterior colors are chosen it gets an attractive two-tone black and gray or black and beige motif over an interior design that’s miles more appealing than the old version, my tester painted classic Starlight Silver while the available exterior palette also includes Pewter Gray, Diamond White Pearl, Eclipse Black, Graphite Blue Pearl (blue-gray), Seaport Mist (a green, blue, silver…your guess is as good as mine), and Venetian Red Pearl (a classy deep red metallic). The premium-level soft touch dash top and door uppers are done out in black, as are the harder lower console surfaces and lower door panels, while everything else is finished in a nice light either of the two lighter colors, mind gray. Patterned metallic inlays add a luxury touch with a bit of sport thrown in, while the center stack panel gets a brushed aluminum look. Everything exudes quality in appearance and feel, especially the switchgear that rivals premium brands in fit, damping and plastics quality.
The seat inserts of my tester were finished in an attractive wavy blue patterned cloth and are extremely comfortable, while even this base model’s feature set makes you feel like you’re driving a pricier car than its very reasonable $26,000 price point suggests (plus freight and dealer fees). Proximity-sensing passive keyless entry lets you inside while pushbutton ignition gets things started, the base Sonata Hybrid also boasting automatic projector headlamps, LED DRLs, LED taillights, powered heatable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, tilt and telescopic steering, while dual-zone automatic climate control keeps everyone aboard as comfortable as possible. Excellent front seat accommodations and a near limousine-like rear seating area will add to the smiles, the rear cushions firm yet comforting with very good lumbar support.
Back in the driver’s seat, a really nice 4.2-inch color TFT multi-information display sits between the primary dials, while a standard reverse camera gets fitted to the base model’s 5.0-inch color touchscreen infotainment system that also includes touch controls for the car’s six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio plus aux and USB ports. Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity is standard too, as is voice recognition, cruise control, and access to the aforementioned multi-information display, all a thumb’s reach away from a neat and tidy array of high-quality steering wheel controls.
Normally trunks aren’t new design highlights, but the Sonata Hybrid features a standard hands-free “Smart Trunk” that automatically opens when you, with proximity-sensing key fob in pocket, stand within three feet of the trunk for more than three seconds. What’s more, the new Sonata Hybrid’s trunk is the largest in the mid-size hybrid sedan class at 13.4 cubic feet, while optional 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks add significant cargo/passenger flexibility. My base model came with a large center pass-through just the same, likely enough for most peoples’ needs.
Some standard kit not yet mentioned includes seven airbags including a blocker for the driver’s knees, four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, traction control plus electronic stability control with vehicle stability management. Yes, that’s a lot of standard gear for a $26k mid-size HEV as nicely finished as the Sonata Hybrid.
Most probably wouldn’t have blinked an eye if Hyundai had merely carried forward its Blue Drive hybrid powertrain, a full-parallel hybrid drive system that was already more advanced than the majority of its rivals, but Hyundai has totally revised it from the internal combustion engine to the electrics. For starters they’ve lopped 400 cubic centimeters from the ICE’s displacement, now measuring 2.0 liters but still an Atkinson-cycle design incorporating D-CVVT and direct-injection technology. Its compression ratio is a lofty 13.5:1, which allows for higher thermal efficiency and therefore the ability to extract more mechanical energy from the air-fuel mixture, and while the engine itself isn’t a powerhouse at 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, when combined with the 51 horsepower (38 kW) electric motor it makes for greater output than the regular Sonata’s base engine at 193 net horsepower. This is down slightly from last year due to a slightly less powerful electric motor, but the new gasoline-electric combination has benefits that far outweigh a mere 6-net-horsepower loss.
For instance, it uses an updated 1.62-kWh (56-kW) lithium-ion-polymer battery (the same next-generation lithium-ion technology that powered the previous Sonata Hybrid’s electrified components) that looks like a giant smartphone battery and is therefore slim enough to -fit below the cargo floor, resulting in a flat loading compartment and the increased trunk capacity I noted before-a 10-percent gain incidentally.
Trunk size isn’t the only advantage to the new hybrid “light” upgrade, all-important fuel economy improves too. The new Sonata Hybrid receives a more efficient EPA rating of 40 mpg in the city, 44 on the highway and 42 combined in base trim, while the old 2015 model, with its larger 2.4-liter engine and bigger 47-kW battery, was only able to achieve 36 mpg city, 40 highway and 38 combined. That’s still not class-leading efficiency, but it’s very close. Additionally, the new Sonata Hybrid can complete an estimated range of more than 680 miles on a single 15-8-gallon tank of regular unleaded. Stopping less to fill up? Now that’s luxury.
And by the way, a major reason why the Sonata Hybrid enjoys such excellent highway economy is the restyled bodywork I went on at length detailing earlier in this review, its incredibly slippery shape capable of an ultra-low 0.24 coefficient of drag. All of this contributes to an impressive LEV 3 / ULEV125 emissions rating.
As with the previous Sonata Hybrid the gasoline-hybrid powertrain drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual mode, a combination that delivers sportier feel than most rivals, instead of the mushy rubber band experience many competitive CVTs offer. Highway passing power is impressive too, while the car rides comfortably, maintains a solid stance at highway speeds and takes to the corners with spirited agility. Like the regular Sonata, the Hybrid rolls on a fully-independent suspension with MacPherson struts, coil springs, dual-flow gas-charged dampers and a stabilizer bar up front, plus a four-link setup with coil springs, dual-flow gas-charged dampers and a stabilizer bar in the rear, while a nicely dialed in rack and pinion steering system points you in your chosen direction.
If you like what you’re hearing but want more gear you can upgrade to top-line Limited trim noted earlier, which for $30,100 plus freight adds the 17-inch alloys and 60/40 split-fold rear seats mentioned previously, plus HID headlamps, premium doorsill plates, woodgrain trim, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, leather upholstery, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and six-way powered front passenger seat, heatable front and rear outboard seats, ventilated front seats, driver’s side memory, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated universal remote garage door opener and compass, rear side window sunshades, and blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, while you can add on the $4,500 Ultimate package that ups the ante with high-gloss window surrounds, LED ambient lighting, an electromechanical parking brake, auto high beam assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, plus a larger eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and even clearer rearview camera, SiriusXM Travel Link, nine-speaker 400-watt Infinity audio with HD radio, a panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, lane departure warning and forward collision warning.
If you’re looking for a new family sedan and a hybrid seems like a good way to lower your monthly gas budget while doing something good for mother nature, there’s only one reason not to consider the new Sonata Hybrid very seriously: the new Sonata Hybrid Plug-in that starts at $34,600. I’m a ChargePoint card-carrying fan of PHEVs so I can’t wait to test this one out.
Hyundai clearly isn’t playing games with its all-new Blue Drive hybrid lineup. The company’s willingness to completely overhaul the Sonata Hybrid from the ground up, powertrain and all, plus add a plug-in version to a segment that its main rivals aren’t even selling into yet, shows they’re not merely putting up some eco window dressing to score some feel good enviro-friendly points, but rather that they’re extremely serious about making a difference.
The 2016 Sonata Hybrid takes most everything that was good about the first-generation Sonata Hybrid and moves it up a notch. Get ready to be impressed.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.