The race for the most fuel-efficient sedan is on. With Hyundai’s 2020 Sonata Hybrid, the Korean brand is challenging the best from Japan in a fuel-efficiency battle. But Hyundai didn’t stop there, it packed the Sonata with premium materials, a ton of tech, and great packaging to deliver a spacious interior. And did we mention how upscale it looks?
You might not be able to visually distinguish the hybrid from the gasser, but the electrified model adds a slightly different front bumper and grille, as well as unique wheels and rear spoiler to help with the aerodynamics. Besides those minor differences, Hyundai positioned the Sonata Hybrid in the no-compromise zone, building on the already well-received gas-only Sonata but with more power and requiring fewer stops at the gas station. Would this be enough to attract more buyers into the brand?
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: How Efficient Is It?
The 2020 Sonata Hybrid is available as a regular hybrid (no plug-in) in three different trims: Blue, SEL, and Premium. With smaller wheels and tires and less equipment, the Blue model is the most fuel-efficient of the three, delivering 50/54/52 mpg in city/highway/combined. Those are impressive numbers and rival the Toyota Camry Hybrid LE for the most fuel-efficient sedan (51/53/52 mpg) honors. The Sonata’s SEL and Premium trims deliver slightly lower fuel economy ratings than the Blue, but with 45/51/47 mpg, they’re still quite compelling and are in line with Honda Accord Hybrid (48/47/48 mpg) and the Camry SE and XLE Hybrid (44/47/46 mpg).
In terms of range, the EPA estimates the Blue trim can drive for 686 miles before stopping for gas, tying with the Camry Hybrid LE.
All Limited models are equipped with a solar roof that improves range by two miles every sunny day, according to Hyundai. In our Nocturne Black Sonata, the solar roof hid itself quite well, but those who get other colors will appear to have a contrasting black roof.
How Does It Drive?
Hyundai made plenty of changes to ensure the new generation of the Sonata Hybrid would drive better. In the past, we’ve complained about how loud the previous-gen’s powertrain was, so the Korean brand made substantial changes to make it quieter and more fuel-efficient, which technical director Frank Markus addressed on the First Look. All models are still powered by the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but Hyundai slightly reduced its power to 150 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor carries over with no changes, meaning it still delivers 51 hp and 151 lb-ft and working with a smaller 1.62 kWh lithium-ion battery, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid delivers a combined output of 192 hp—just 1 horsepower less the outgoing model.
Whether you drive on the freeway or city streets, the Sonata Hybrid is quiet and decently powered. The loud roar that we’ve complained about in the previous generation is gone, as the 2020 Sonata takes a more subtle approach while still delivering a zippy ride. Even when you’re merging on the freeway or need to pass, the powertrain feels more refined than in the past, and it sounds similar to an internal combustion engine. I wouldn’t call it sporty, but it feels modest in terms of power.
Once you get up to speed, there’s little wind or tire noise coming into the cabin. The ride is calm and serene, with the suspension doing a good job of tackling the road imperfections.
The Sonata Hybrid offers four different driving modes—Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Custom. Eco and Comfort are pretty similar, but Eco is a little more restrictive on engine and transmission response. Sport, however, turns things up the notch, changing the acceleration mapping and steering response for a more dynamic drive. It’s actually engaging to drive, as you get exceptional feedback from the steering. Depending on the mode you choose, the steering can be light or sportier, but either way, you’ll get plenty of response on what’s happening at the wheels.
In the corners, the Sonata Hybrid’s six-speed automatic transmission holds gears precisely, but at parking lot speeds there’s a bit of head-toss.
Two things I didn’t like as much were the brakes and the parking sensors. The brakes are too grabby, and it took a long time to get used to them. Even when pressed lightly, the initial bite is too aggressive. And almost every time I came to a full stop at a stoplight, the parking sensors would beep as if something was approaching the front of the car, even when there was nothing there.
How’s The Interior?
Almost everywhere you touch, there are soft plastics or remarkable leather surfaces. From the seats to the door panels to the steering wheel, Hyundai equipped the Sonata Hybrid Limited with premium materials. Just like the exterior promises, the interior feels like a luxury car. Whether you talk about the 10.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system or the automatic climate control buttons, interior designers focused on the details to make the cabin of the Sonata a pleasant place to spend time in.
Compared to the Accord and Camry, the Sonata doesn’t have as much legroom in the rear. But that’s OK, because it’s still quite spacious. Those seated in the back have 34.8 inches of legroom and 37.8 inches of headroom—just as much as in the gas Sonata. Even in the cargo area, the Sonata Hybrid has a ton of room—16.0 cubic feet to be precise—and that’s pretty good even when you compare it to the gas model’s 16.3.
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