Editor’s note: This review was written in August 2015 about the 2016 Sonata Hybrid. For 2017, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity and a 7-inch touchscreen are now standard. Little else of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the 2016 and 2017 model years.
Exterior & Styling
For the green-car fans who like to say it loud and proud, the Sonata Hybrid might be too understated. Aside from an extra badge, it’s not easy to distinguish it from the non-hybrid version. The same thing is true for other hybrid sedans, as opposed to dedicated hybrid models, which are typically hatchbacks. The Sonata Hybrid lacks clues like a wedgy profile (Toyota Prius) or a graphics package (Chevrolet Volt). Instead, it mirrors the sleek style of its non-hybrid counterpart with a couple of minor deviations.
The Sonata Hybrid wears the regular version’s upright, squared-off face, but builds on that with an oversized version of the hexagonal grille and an emphasis on aerodynamics; there are sleeker front and rear bumpers and more-sculpted front fenders. Standard LED daytime running lights and taillights add an element of style and luxury.
How It Drives
It’s quiet and comfortable both in the city and on the highway; the cabin is isolated from wind and road noise, and bumps are well-damped for a smooth ride.
Power from a stop is adequate, but that’s because Eco mode – which dulls the car’s acceleration response — automatically engages when the car is turned on. Disengage it via a button near the shifter for brisker takeoffs. Sport mode amps up the car’s responsiveness for extra-aggressive sprints (which seems counterproductive in a hybrid). Normal mode is in the middle, and that’s how I spent most of my drives.
The Sonata Hybrid can run on battery power alone at speeds up to 75 mph, and staying in EV mode was easy to do. Under light acceleration and during coasting, the car automatically goes into EV mode — indicated via a light on the dash — and the transition from hybrid mode to EV mode is seamless.
Fuel economy is up about 10 percent this year, to 39/43/41 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s excellent compared with the base, non-hybrid Sonata (25/38/30). If you consider the combined EPA rating, it also stands up well against the 2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid (44/41/42) and 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid (43/39/41), but falls well short of the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid (50/45/47). During 360 miles of mostly highway driving, I averaged 41.5 mpg. That’s below the car’s highway rating, but the sedan was loaded with people and luggage, and the air conditioning was used liberally.
Both around town and on the highway, the steering has a natural feel with good feedback. The regenerative brakes, however, are unsettling. The pedal is dull and spongy initially and requires more pressure than normal brakes, similar to the feel of other hybrids; this makes smooth stops difficult.
Hyundai excels at interiors, consistently delivering cabins that are both comfortable and handsome, with upscale materials and stylish designs. For the most part, the Sonata Hybrid hits those same high notes.
Cabin materials were appropriately upscale on my top Sonata Limited trim, with handsome imitation-wood trim, chrome appliques and perforated leather seats. Some parts of the cabin are padded, but the door panel armrest could be cushier. The front seats’ bottom cushions were comfortable, but the back cushions weren’t concave enough for my liking, inducing some upper-back fatigue during long drives.
It’s not all style over substance inside; there are plenty of creature comforts standard on the Limited model that front and rear occupants can appreciate, including heated and cooled seats along with a heated steering wheel in front, plus manual sunshades in the backseat. Everyone benefitted from the enormous, optional panoramic moonroof.
The backseat is plenty roomy for two adults on nicely padded, supportive outboard seats. A smaller adult would also be comfortable in the middle position for a short trip. Optional LED reading lights are a nice touch.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The controls are straightforward, with an optional large 8-inch touch-screen for the multimedia system, easy station tuning and volume knobs, and clearly marked climate buttons. My model did not have the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration system, both of which the Sonata was the first car to offer.
Pairing my phone with the standard Bluetooth system and launching Pandora to stream music was drama-free, and there was no learning curve to figure out the audio or optional navigation system … when they worked, that is. During my test weekend, I experienced a few glitches: Driving through rural Wisconsin, the map frequently placed me off the road, when I was very much driving on a road. Also, the radio display screen froze when I tried to change stations using the touch-screen. Not even shutting the car off and restarting the system could fix it. It eventually restarted several hours later.
Within the multimedia system, there are several menus that display how the hybrid system is operating, which is common in hybrids. The most helpful (and one I haven’t seen before) is in the driving style submenu; it breaks down how much aggressive/normal/efficient driving you’ve been doing into simple percentages.
Cargo & Storage
Small-item storage is good, with a narrow but deep center console bin, as well as a large cubby under the climate controls and a small one near the cupholders.
Trunk space is up a smidge for 2016, to 13.3 cubic feet, thanks to the battery’s new spot under the spare tire. It’s not bad compared with the regular Sonata’s 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space. The battery’s new placement also creates a flatter but higher trunk floor and allows the seats to fold in a 60/40 split in the Limited trim, a new feature that makes the sedan more versatile and is something the Honda Accord Hybrid doesn’t do. Historically, hybrid sedans have had small openings when they’ve had folding seats at all. The Sonata Hybrid’s large pass-through is the real deal.
I was able to easily load a portable crib, double umbrella stroller and several bags in the trunk. By the numbers, the Sonata Hybrid has the biggest trunk, with a bit more room than the Accord Hybrid (12.7), Fusion Hybrid (12.0) and Camry Hybrid (13.1).
The 2016 Sonata Hybrid has not yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, the non-hybrid model is an IIHS Top Safety Pick; it received an acceptable rating (out of a possible poor, marginal, acceptable or good) in the small overlap front test and good scores in all other tests. Its optional forward collision prevention system was rated basic.
A backup camera is standard across the lineup; blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert systems are standard on Limited models but unavailable on base models. Lane departure warning and forward collision warning systems are optional, but only on Limited models. Click here for a full list of safety features.
Exposed lower Latch anchors make installing child-safety seats a breeze; two fit in the Sonata Hybrid’s backseat. Click here for the Car Seat Check.
Value in Its Class
The base Hyundai Sonata Hybrid starts at $26,825 — quite a bit higher than base non-hybrid models ($21,975), but on the bottom of the scale compared with the Accord Hybrid ($30,125), Fusion Hybrid ($27,400) and Camry Hybrid ($27,625). All prices include destination.
The Hyundai Sonata took top honors in Cars.com’s $27,000 Midsize Sedan Challenge for its winning blend of comfort, refinement and value; midsize-sedan shoppers looking for all those qualities plus excellent fuel economy should add the Sonata Hybrid to their test-drive list.