Hyundai's Sonata Hybrid may be the star of the Sonata lineup as far as fuel economy, but the next best thing is the all-new 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco with higher gas mileage than the base Sonata. Though still a ways off from the all-new 2016 Sonata Hybrid's fuel economy, Hyundai added new engine and transmission tech to the Sonata Eco to boost its fuel economy 3 mpg in the city, 1 mpg on the highway and 3 mpg combined to 28/38/32 mpg city/highway/combined. A 2016 Sonata Hybrid is rated at 39/43/41 mpg or 40/44/42 mpg depending on the trim level.
The Eco's 178-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and Hyundai's first dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission are to thank for the additional fuel economy, replacing the non-turbocharged 2.4-liter and traditional six-speed automatic in the base SE trim level. We set out to see just how little fuel the new powertrain combo uses on a 185-mile road trip from Elkhart Lake, Wis.. to the Chicago suburb of Streamwood and then 30 miles into the city of Chicago.
The first 134.7 miles were exclusively at highway speeds of 60-70 mph where, driving solo, I observed a respectable 39.8 mpg while averaging 63 mph. It wasn't unheard of to see the instant mileage readout hover above 40 mpg. And then I spent 51 miles in a combination of bumper-to-bumper traffic and stoplight-to-stoplight suburban driving. The mileage still remained in respectable shape finishing the journey at 34.7 mpg after averaging 37 mph.
Perhaps most surprising is that the Eco's turbocharged 1.6-liter is no slouch even though it has 7 fewer horsepower than the base 2.4-liter engine. It's quite the opposite; an additional 17 pounds-feet of torque that's available at a low, low 1,500 rpm makes the Sonata Eco an unexpectedly spirited driver. Resist those urges to save fuel and the engine comes to life quickly when your right foot stays planted. The transmission, on the other hand, could use refining.
Jerky starts and hesitation from the dual-clutch are a consistent annoyance in heavy traffic, which is unfortunate because that's where the Eco sees its biggest improvement in EPA ratings. Those annoyances are alleviated after the car is rolling and the transmission provides crisper shifts and expected downshifts when passing.
The Sonata Eco starts at $24,100, including an $825 destination fee. That' $975 more than a similarly equipped Sonata SE with the optional Popular Equipment Package ($1,150) that adds automatic headlights, 10-way power driver's seat, 5-inch touch-screen, backup camera and the Blue Link telematics system, which are all standard on the Eco. The Sonata Eco comes with a few extras, too, including the chrome grille from the Limited, integrated turn signals from the Sonata Sport and chrome interior door handles also from the Sport.
The EPA expects the Sonata Eco to save $500 in fuel over five years compared with the base Sonata. While the Sonata Eco isn't a clear winner to make your money back — few eco-type packages are — the Sonata Eco manages to increase fuel economy without killing the driving experience. That's something few economy packages can claim.