The 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It sneaks up on you with its cool styling, sleek lines and responsive throttle, but lurking somewhere beneath it all is an uber-efficient hybrid engine.
I questioned which of the gas-only Sonata's positive features would be sacrificed in the hybrid model, but I was wrong to be concerned. Gone are the days of expensive, dorky, underpowered, quirky-driving hybrids. Watch out, Prius!
The Sonata is a five-seat hybrid sedan with tons of space that you can drive every day, improving upon the mileage of the gas-powered Sonata while enjoying all the benefits of a Hyundai. In fact, after a couple of days I completely forgot this was a hybrid — until I noticed that a number of days had passed with many miles under my belt and no urgent need to visit the gas station. That has to feel great as an owner of this car. For 2013, consumers can expect slightly improved fuel economy for a slightly lower starting price. Compare it with last year's model here. If you're in the market for a hybrid sedan, you may also want to look into the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Check them out side by side here.
Exterior & Styling
Even though the Sonata's general styling hasn't changed since a redesign for 2011, it still manages to look fresh and modern compared with other hybrid sedans on the market.
The Limited trim on the 2013 model swaps the standard 16-inch steel wheels for larger 17-inch alloy rims. These give the Sonata Hybrid Limited a more aggressive look than other hybrids on the market. Swooping LED-accented headlights, LED taillights and low, cat-eye-shaped fog lights add to the modern appeal.
Subtle hybrid badging and a Hyundai logo modified with a blue background are classy touches. The kids declared this car "cool," with my 9-year-old excitingly pronouncing that we finally got to test-drive a "sports car."
As with regular Sonatas, access in and out of the Hybrid Limited is easy, with ample leg and headroom when entering and exiting the car. This was applicable for me (at 5-foot-3) and for my 6-foot-2 husband. Typically, if it's easy for him to get in and out, I feel like I'm climbing a mountain on every entry and exit.
The kids also had no problem getting in and out of the car. The doors felt and sounded solid when opened and closed (or on occasion slammed, as kids have a tendency to do when in a hurry), yet they didn't require significant effort or associated "grunting" to pull shut, even from my youngest.
How It Drives
It seems every time I get into a hybrid or EV there's a slight trepidation in my body and a little questioning voice lurking in the back of my head, wondering just how quirky this one will feel to drive. I am excited and happy to report that the new 2013 Sonata Hybrid did nothing but impress.
Admittedly, the regenerative brakes seem a little sensitive at first, especially when compared with my own personal old-school, gas-powered 2004 Mercedes C-Class. However, this touchy feeling was short-lived, as I quickly modified my braking style to be ever so much gentler.
The Sonata Hybrid is very drivable and accelerates comfortably and smoothly, even while getting up to speed onto the highway at 6,500 feet above sea level with my whole family in the car. For 2013, the Sonata Hybrid got an upgraded, 47-kilowatt, lithium-polymer battery pack that's lighter than the old one (91 pounds versus 96 pounds in the 2012 model). It supplies a more powerful electric motor that's rated 47 horsepower, up from 40 hp. The combined 199 hp generated by the gas and electric motors in tandem is a bit lower than last year's 206 hp, but the torque, which is what really gets the car moving, is up an impressive 40 pounds-feet to 235 pounds-feet.
Hyundai also improved the engine stop-start function, which results in a very smooth and almost unnoticeable transition from electric to gas. This is a high point, since other hybrid cars can give you quite a startle when the gas engine roars to life.
Given my increasing expectations for Hyundai vehicles, I would have liked to have had a quieter ride in the Sonata Hybrid. The amount of road noise was acceptable considering the competitors and the sedan's price, but I would select a sound-deadening upgrade if it were available.
The EPA-estimated gas mileage for the base Sonata Hybrid is 36/40/38 mpg city/highway/combined, an improvement of 2 mpg combined over the 2012 model and 10 mpg combined over the most-efficient gas-only Sonata, which gets an estimated 24/35/28 mpg. Because it outweighs the base hybrid by more than 100 pounds, the Sonata Hybrid Limited has a 37 mpg combined estimate.
In the land of hybrid sedan efficiency, the Sonata is beat blind by the Toyota Camry Hybrid (43/39/41 mpg), the Honda Civic Hybrid (44/44/44 mpg) and the Ford Fusion Hybrid (47/47/47 mpg).
The interior of the Sonata Hybrid is very similar to the regular Sonata. While I was not a huge fan of the large variety of materials and colors in my test car (do we really need so many different tones of gray, silver, charcoal and black?), the materials themselves and the quality fit and finish felt pricier than you'd expect given the car's price tag.
The standard leather seats in the Limited looked good and felt great. It was easy for me to find a comfortable driving position, and the same applied to my tall husband, who had plenty of headroom.
I was disappointed, however, that there was no memory function on the seat to save my settings, not even as an option. The last thing I want to do every time I get into the car after my husband is readjust the seats. With all the thoughtful features Hyundai puts in its cars, this oversight is the one thing that annoys the heck out of me. The Ford Fusion Hybrid has a standard driver memory setting in its Titanium trim and optional in the SE trim. Neither the Honda Civic Hybrid nor the Toyota Camry Hybrid has an available driver's seat memory function, either.
There were lots of cupholders and little compartments to hold my family's many devices and must-haves. Extra storage space is very valuable for a mom with little kids, as it keeps the knickknacks and clutter off the floor, close at hand and safely contained.
The rear seats had plenty of space, 34.6 inches of legroom, to be exact, and were comfortable for my three girls (ages 9, 11 and 13) even when squished in side by side like sardines. While this felt like enough space for my petite girls, families with gangly legged teens might want to focus their attention toward the extra legroom in the Civic Hybrid (36.2 inches), the Fusion Hybrid (38.3 inches) or the Camry Hybrid (38.9 inches).
My backseat testers appreciated the fact that they had a separate air vent so they could control the airflow to the backseat themselves without bothering me to do it for them. The fold-down center armrest in the back was also very popular when only two of them were in the car. It had a storage bin as well as cupholders, which made the younger ones feel very grownup, but, more important, kept drinks from spilling in the car.
A double moonroof, part of a $1,000 Panoramic Sunroof Package, only added to the driving pleasure for both front and backseat passengers.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Hyundai seems to have found a healthy balance between electronic controls, touch-screens and good old-fashioned knobs and buttons. I appreciate being able to quickly look over, or simply feel with my hand, to find a knob or button to adjust volume, airflow or temperature. Taking my eyes off the road to look down and click through several menu screens just to adjust the temperature, as I must in some cars, just won't work when I'm transporting my precious cargo around.
The airflow controls in the Sonata look suspiciously like those in Volvos, which I happen to love. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all.
While the gauges and controls were the same as in the regular Sonata — clear to see and easy to read and understand — the 4.2-inch electronic, color trip-computer screen between gauges has the option of displaying the vehicle's hybrid functionality. To me, it was a little gimmicky and distracting. I know it's a hybrid, I know how it works; I don't need a little graphic showing me when it's charging and when it's not. I should really have just switched away from this screen, because I kept finding myself entranced by the cute little graphics.
The backup camera that's standard on the Limited (but unavailable on the base hybrid) displayed on the navigation screen and was the perfect size for great visibility during daytime driving. However, the large, bright screen interfered with my night vision. Despite setting it to adjust automatically to a night mode, it was still too bright for me. It took a couple of clicks through menu screens to turn off the screen altogether. This is something I find myself doing more and more when driving at night in order to preserve my night vision. I've gotten to the point where I really appreciate vehicles with a one-touch off button.
The touch-screen controls worked well, and connecting via Bluetooth to my iPhone was seamless and easy.
Cargo & Storage
If cargo space is a huge priority, a hybrid sedan probably isn't going to work for you. The Sonata Hybrid has just 12.1 cubic feet of cargo volume due to the space the battery pack takes up in the trunk. Compare this with the regular Sonata's 16.4-cubic-foot trunk. With the hybrid version, you also lose the ability to fold the rear seatbacks to expand the trunk if needed.
The trunk sill was not too high, and even the little ones could reach to close the lid.
The 2013 Sonata earned status as a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; the Sonata Hybrid hasn't been tested, but IIHS says the Sonata's results apply. The gas-powered Sonata received the institute's highest rating of good in all tests except the new small-overlap frontal crash test, in which the Sonata rated just marginal.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Sonata Hybrid an overall safety rating of five out of five stars. This combines its four-star frontal crash-test result, five-star side crash test and five-star rollover-resistance rating.
The Sonata Hybrid Limited's standard backup camera is displayed on a 7-inch touch-screen navigation display. (A backup camera is an optional upgrade on SE and Limited trim gas-powered Sonatas.) What the Sonata Hybrid is missing is other active safety options such as blind spot monitors, forward collision warning and lane departure warning, all of which are available on Sonata Hybrid competitors.
Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system is standard in both the Sonata Hybrid and Sonata Hybrid Limited and includes a 90-day free trial. While this system incorporates entertainment and service aspects, it's the safety and peace of mind that I really appreciate. It includes automatic collision notification and assistance as well as SOS emergency assistance. With a daughter approaching driving age in the next few years, I'm also particularly excited about Blue Link's speed alert, curfew alert and geofence alerts. These allow parents to preset speed, driving times and driving location limits and then be notified via text, email or phone if their teen driver breeches any of these.
The rear seat belt buckles are on floppy bases, which resulted in the little ones having a slightly harder time buckling their belts without getting frustrated. Once they were buckled, however, they seemed to be comfortable, and I didn't hear any complaints relating to chafing or pressure points.
The lower Latch child-safety seat anchors are located in the two outboard seats, buried within the seat bight. See our complete Car Seat Check for the Sonata here.
See all the standard safety features listed here.
Value in Its Class
Some people might hesitate to jump onto the hybrid bandwagon for fear of issues with the more intricate hybrid parts. Hyundai has one of the best warranties in the marketplace, generally speaking. On the Sonata Hybrid, this includes a 120-month/100,000-mile hybrid electrical components warranty.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid all have slightly less coverage: 96/100,000 for hybrid electrical components.