It’s no surprise that I’m not the greatest fan of hybrid cars. I personally feel that rather than spend close to $30,000 on a car that’ll get marginally better fuel mileage than its conventional gasoline variant, it’d be more efficient to just buy something in the compact class that’s much cheaper to buy and operate to begin with. Plus, with the fuel economy numbers we’ve been seeing from modern compacts and midsizers, this doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for. With the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Hyundai as a manufacturer has just jumped onto the hybrid bandwagon and set out to best the two biggest competitors; the Camry Hybrid and the Fusion Hybrid.
At a combined rating of 5.1L/100km, the Sonata Hybrid is right in line with the others. However, my theory of hybrids is a little different. The numbers of all these cars are essentially the same; it’s how they drive that ends up being a deciding factor for me. Before driving the Sonata Hybrid, the Camry was a benchmark for me in the 4-door hybrid segment. It wasn’t very enthusiastic to drive, but it gets the job done by being an efficient commuter that’s effortless to operate on a day-to-day basis. Plus, with Michelin X-Ice snow tires, the Camry Hybrid I formerly owned was an absolute beast to drive any time of the year.
The interior of the current-generation Sonata is already a winner in my books. I like the way the controls are set up, and it’s a pleasant place to be. The quality is a huge step-up from what Hyundais of your younger years offered, and up to par with its competitors. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that the Sonata’s interior is much better built than both the current Camry as well as the outgoing Fusion. My tester was equipped with GPS navigation and a nice large touchscreen. It was simple to use and the GUI, while a little bit gimmicky (with the animation of the moving Sonata surrounded by leaves), is simple to use and does everything you need it to.
My key observations with the Sonata Hybrid however are in relation to how it drives. The one key benefit to it over the other hybrids is the use of a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission instead of that CVT nonsense that everyone else seems to love implementing so much. This means good passing power, a car that doesn’t sound god awful when you stomp on it, and best of all, the opportunity for the driver to modulate the gears at his or her own free will. Also, the EV (full electric) mode on the Sonata actually works at highway speeds. In most hybrids, in order to keep the car in this mode, you need to be so light on the throttle you’ll even infuriate beige Corolla drivers behind you while accelerating.
The issue with the Sonata Hybrid is that it’s absolutely awful to drive in the city. When you step on the accelerator, rather than just tapping into it lightly as you would expect, you need to put almost 30% pressure on the gas pedal to actually get anywhere. This is reminiscent of what is in my opinion the worst car currently for sale, the Smart ForTwo. This added effort to move the Sonata is actually so detrimental that it keeps it at the bottom of its class. Hybrids are meant to be simplistic city commuters that you can drive while sipping on your coffee or enjoying a nice classical sonata (pun intended). You just can’t do that with the Sonata. When the light goes green, you’ll tap the pedal to take off at a comfortable rate, but the car just won’t go anywhere. It’s nearly infuriating.
For those whose commute is nearly all highway, the Sonata seems to make sense. With its highway-friendly EV mode and phenomenal fuel economy numbers (observed 4.9L/100km on the highway; 7.3L/100km in the city), there are much more viable options as city commuters. As a highway car though, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Sonata Hybrid would be responsible for huge fuel savings as well as being cheap to maintain (until the battery system goes, right after your warranty expires).