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2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
It's a shock to the system
By Malcolm Gunn
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata is singing a sweet song these days. Not only has the automaker's anchor-leg sedan been flying out of dealer showrooms since its early-2010 launch, but the impending late fall introduction of a gasoline-electric hybrid version provides you with a viable option that's not actually a Toyota or Ford.
But is it as good?
The Sonata Hybrid has plenty going for it in addition to its fuel-sipping power supply. The styling, though reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class sedan, still seems pretty daring compared to the rest of the mid-size crop. The Hybrid features a distinctive gaping grille that differentiates itself from the mainstream gasoline-powered Sonatas, although that feature doesn't necessarily improve on the original shape. However from certain angles it actually looks sporty.
There is no such tinkering with the Sonata's roomy interior design and appointments that provide a warm and inviting environment. However, there's a display screen between the odometer and tachometer that indicates the state of affairs of the Hybrid's vital components and gives "Eco Level" points to encourage efficient driving.
But that's where the similarities between the standard and Hybrid Sonata end. Under the hood is what Hyundai refers to as its "Hybrid Blue Drive" architecture that functions on electric or gas power - or in varying combination - depending on vehicle speed, road conditions and what the driver is doing to the accelerator pedal. The system consists of a 169-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine connected to a 30-kilowatt (40-horsepower) electric motor for a net output of 209 horsepower.
The Hybrid Blue Drive's other critical ingredient is the use of a 270-volt lithium-polymer battery. Hyundai claims that it's lighter, more durable and delivers more power than both nickel-metal hydride (currently featured in most hybrid applications) and lithium-ion batteries that are being installed in the much ballyhooed 2011 Chevrolet Volt and the upcoming Nissan Leaf electric cars.
The Sonata's battery comes with an eight-year/160,000-kilometre warranty, which is comforting insurance for any first-ever technology.
The system operates in conjunction with a special six-speed automatic transmission that functions without a traditional fluid-coupling torque converter, again a departure from most hybrids that use continuously variable (CVT) transmissions. The top three gear ratios have been specially designed so that the engine runs at the lowest-possible engine speed to help save fuel.
As well, all of the usual tricks of the hybrid trade are integral to the Sonata Hybrid, such as low-rolling-resistance tires and regenerative braking that helps to recharge the batteries. An integrated starter-generator shuts off and instantly restarts the gas engine when the vehicle is stopped in traffic and the electrically operated power steering and air conditioning cuts engine drag.
An examination of the Hyundai-supplied data would appear to confirm the Hybrid Blue Drive's effectiveness. The Sonata is capable of about 100 km-h on electric power alone, compared to 75 km-h for the Ford Fusion and 65 for the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima Hybrid. Additionally, Hyundai estimates the Sonata Hybrid's overall city/highway fuel economy should top both Camry and Altima, although it might not beat the Fusion's 4.6 l/100 km city rating.
As for content, the Sonata Hybrid covers all of your basic comfort needs right from the get-go. But for full-load status, a premium Package adds a panoramic sunroof, touch-screen navigation, leather seat covers, backup camera, 17-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard) and a premium sound system.
Official pricing has yet to be announced, but somewhere in the low-$30,000 range (including destination charges) seems quite likely. That would definitely make the car competitive within its peer group and leave environmentally conscious Sonata lovers whistling a happy tune.
What you should know: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan
Engines (hp): 2.4-litre DOHC I4 with 30-kilowatt electric motor (209, net)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: A vehicle that saves gas and catapults Hyundai in a new league of top technology players. A cost-conscious alternative to Toyota and Ford, which currently dominate the segment.
Points: Leading battery/electric technology; Distinctive styling, even beyond the normal Sonata; Six-speed automatic transmission a definite selling point; Lightest of all direct competitors by up to 140 kilograms; Eight-year/160,000-kilometre battery warranty; Attractive estimated price tag, advanced technology could lift Hyundai atop the hybrid ladder.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 4.8/5.2 (est.)
Base price (incl. destination): $32,000 (est.)
Toyota Camry Hybrid
Base price: $32,900
Hyundai's marketing guns are concentrated on this popular fuel saver.
Nissan Altima Hybrid
Base price: $34,900
Cruiser-class model is nicely styled, features healthy turbo power.
Ford Fusion Hybrid
Base price: $35,550
Fuel-efficient Toyota-based technology, but only limited availability.
Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!
Posted January 7, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM