Test Drive: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited 

I like to call the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid the “underdog” because in a Prius-dominated hybrid world, you seldom hear about Hyundai’s green technologies. I was really curious about giving this Korean a try after a few colleagues commented that it was actually a really good hybrid. I thought I’d integrate the “The Sonata Hybrid is Amazing” group, like the Mensa of hybrid enthusiasts, with their own secret handshake and Sonata hybrid appreciation sessions. Except I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the Sonata Hybrid is a good car. Just not that great a hybrid.

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid comes standard with a 2.0L direct injection four-cylinder engine, teamed with a 38 kW lithium-ion polymer battery, for a combined output of 193 horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque. Unlike most hybrids on the market offered with a go-to CVT, the Hyundai is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. The result is a hybrid sedan that drives and sounds like a standard car and let me tell you that in this case, a few trips into the realm of the Sport mode are entirely worth it.

Contrarily to other hybrids that normally display lower consumption numbers in the city, the Sonata does better on the highway like pretty much any other model on the market. With an MSRP of a little over $33k and considering the fuel economy numbers I witnessed, hovering around 7.7L/100km mostly in the city, I’d opt for the 2.4L or 2.0L turbo version and call it a day. The Sonata Hybrid is not worth the extra money. Remove the Blue Drive tag and the extra $5,000 from the equation and the car is actually really decent.

Design-wise, some will agree, some won’t, but I am willing to take a stand in affirming that I find this new design pretty sexy. This second-generation hybrid rolled out in mid-2015 with a more sophisticated and European-looking design. The goofy looking, cross-eyed headlights and front grille have stayed back in 2014. In comes a more refined and elegant treatment of the lines, with the wide open hexagonal grille and cat-eye headlamps. From entry-level, almost cheap-looking midsize sedan, the Sonata seems to have been elevated to higher purposes, sticking to a starting price way below the $30k mark and offering all the goodies a Korean model has to offer.

Same applies to the inside of the sedan. For its second generation, the Sonata Hybrid has received an equally upgraded and sophisticated cockpit. The trim sits at the top of its category with two-tone leather and wood inserts. The new control panel is easy on the eyes with its 8-inch touchscreen display and easily accessible climate controls. The Hyundai engineers thought the steering wheel needed a few more command knobs, which I guess remains an improvement over the button galore of the former model’s. The sedan offers comfortable seating for five and yes, even the passengers at the back won’t find to complain; my 5ft8-self confirmed it for you.

Hyundai’s infotainment system has not made the hot lists for being among the best systems in the industry. Some of its features are very straight forward and easy to use, others take a little session of figuring-out. Hyundai also promises that later this year, the system will receive an upgrade for increased smartphone compatibility thanks to the Apple Carplay and Android Auto apps.

To be fair, besides what I think is a bit of a hybrid debacle, the Sonata actually drives really well. The handling is surprisingly good and provides enough feedback to be engaging. The steering has just enough weight to make you feel like the car will obey your every command, from the slightest tilt to the full on u-ey. Who would have thought driving the Sonata Hybrid could actually be an experience? Another brownie point I have to give the Sonata is the smooth transition between electric and combustion engines. Besides the light on the dashboard that shows when you’re in full EV mode, you can barely feel the 2.0L gas engine turn on, taking over when you show too much enthusiasm for the electric one to handle.

So to get back to what I said earlier: the Hyundai Sonata is not a bad car. Pricing is fair, equipment is rich as you can expect in a Korean vehicle, and the handling is positively impressive. However, save yourself a few bucks and drop your hybrid ambitions if the model has stolen your heart; this car won’t get you the fuel economy numbers you are hoping for. As for me, I guess I’ll have to find another elite group to join.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Base Price: $29,649.00
Price as tested: $33,799.00 (Limited)
Freight: $1,795.00
Configuration: front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.0L 4-cylinder with 38 kW electric engine/6-speed automatic
Power/torque: 193hp/202 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): regular (60 L)
Combined fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 5.8 L/100 km
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 7.6 L/100 km
Warranties: 5-years/100,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Honda Accord Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, Mazda6, Ford Fusion Hybrid

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