2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is a Refined, Technologically Advanced Car
The best hybrids from Ford and Toyota are about to get some competition from Hyundai. We just had a chance to sample the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid and found that it’s a refined, technologically advanced piece of machinery.
Like the old Sonata Hybrid, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid sandwiches its electric motor between the engine and a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the old Sonata Hybrid, this one switches between gas and electric power almost imperceptibly. There’s no surge when gas power comes on.
The plug-in version has a 9.8-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery that Hyundai claims is good for about 24 miles of electric-only driving before the gas engine is needed. With its 50-kw electric motor the car can cruise at up to 75 mph in EV mode, which means it’s easy to drive on electric power without the engine jumping in every time you climb a hill or accelerate hard, something most other plug-in hybrids do. Because the hybrid battery is mounted behind the rear seats, though, the seatbacks can’t fold down to expand trunk space—a minor drawback.
The Plug-In allows drivers to switch among three driving modes: Hybrid, Electric, and Charge. When you start the car, it begins in Electric (EV) mode, using whatever battery charge is available before starting the engine to replenish and supplement the battery pack. Hybrid (HEV) mode preserves the charge in the battery for later use and lets the car operate in regular hybrid mode which means the engine kicks in more often.
The third mode, Charge, uses the engine to recharge the battery on the highway; this mode can be handy if you have cities on each end of your commute and need more battery power at your destination for city driving than would otherwise remain after you set off. Of course, using the engine to charge the battery unravels any efficiency gains you may have made by driving on electric power. The engine on the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is an extremely inefficient source of electricity, so you’d probably be better off just driving on gas power. Hyundai suggests only using Charge mode on the highway, when the engine might be running anyway.
Although Hyundai claims 24 miles of EV range, we found that by using a gentle foot we could eke out 33 miles on meandering country roads. Maximizing EV operation certainly makes the Sonata PHEV feel more like an electric vehicle than the Toyota Prius PHEV, which starts its engine much more often. Brake pedal feel also was refreshingly “normal.” In many other hybrids, the regenerative braking function is more abrupt and takes getting used to. Apart from any green-car considerations, we found this loaded Sonata to be a roomy, pleasant sedan that does many things well. If it fails to excite like a sports sedan, no one should expect that it would.
While the green EV square in the instrument cluster gave good feedback, even with multiple displays in the instrument cluster and on the dashboard, there is no ability to view all the information we wanted at the same time: Miles driven on electricity, miles remaining on the battery, and overall trip mileage. Even getting the first two simultaneously required using the efficiency display on the big center screen, which meant that we couldn’t see the navigation map or the radio display. We ended up spending a lot of time—and attention—toggling between various screens to see what was happening. That seems like an unnecessary distraction.
The Plug-In’s battery took about 2 hours and 45 minutes to charge about 9 kWh from empty on a 240-volt (Level 2) connector. On an ordinary household circuit, it needed more than seven hours.
Hyundai has not released pricing for the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid. The Hybrid goes on sale next month, with the Plug-In Hybrid arriving in the fall at California and Oregon dealerships. Eight northeastern states will follow, although buyers in any state can buy the Plug-in via special order.