WHAT IT IS: To start out with, I’m a big fan of the new Sonata. My wife and I own one of the previous-generation Sonatas, and it’s been a truly wonderful car. The new Sonata has a bevy of improvements and the equipment that they are able to deliver for the price (paired with manufacturer incentives) almost can’t be beat when you factor in the 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Now on to the new one! My test model was a Hybrid Limited, which is currently the most expensive Sonata you can buy at $35,300. It’s powered by a 150-horsepower and 139 lb.-ft. of torque four-cylinder engine that is paired with a 51-horsepower electric motor. You really feel the extra electric jolt when you accelerate from a stop, but it’s mostly there to help provide a little help when you are lightly accelerating to save gas. And saving gas is one thing that the hybrid does in spades, with a 45 MPG city and 51 MPG highway rating. However, I drove the Sonata to Dallas and back and saw my highway MPG rating drop closer to 40 while doing 75 MPH. Still really good, but don’t expect 50+ unless you drive closer to 60.
You can buy the hybrid in three different trims: Blue ($27,750), SEL ($29,900) and Limited ($35,300). All provide the same engine and the differences come from optional equipment. Hyundai is averse to offering options a la carte, so you usually have to change trim levels to get more goodies. Of the three, the one to buy is probably the Limited. The big $5,400 jump between the SEL and the Limited adds leather and ventilated seats, a 10.25-inch infotainment system (versus 8-inch), Surround View Monitor, heated steering wheel, a 12.3-inch LCD gauge cluster, and Hyundai’s full suite of technology-assisting features including Highway Drive Assist.
Highway Drive Assist (HDA), when activated, combines the Lane Following Assist and Smart Cruise Control to keep you in the center of the lane while also maintaining a safe distance behind the car in front of you. It only works well if the lanes are well-painted (duh), but actually drops the stress from driving on the highway quite a bit. You do have to keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention while driving, but it eases the mental strain of having to make a bunch of micro adjustments to stay exactly in your lane.
The other special feature that only the Limited trim gets you is a solar roof. Instead of a sunroof, you get a sun-capturing roof. The solar cells charge the hybrid battery system, which allows you to drive without the gas engine turned on at low speeds. Hyundai says that you can add somewhere between 2 and 4 miles of electric-only range per day, but this feels very gimmicky.
The car itself was a great road trip car. Full-size adults are comfortable in the back seat and it rides smoothly on the highway. I think the upgraded Limited interior is really nice, but it’s certainly a full peg beneath entry-level cars from luxury manufacturers like Lexus or Audi.
MPG: 45 city/51 highway
Price: $35,300 as tested
Upsides: Great technology, fuel economy
Downsides: Ugly steering wheel.
Wrap-up: I know everyone wants a compact crossover or a full-blown SUV, but cars like the Sonata deliver driving and passenger experiences that you have to spend way more to get from a crossover. The Sonata Hybrid Limited certainly is going to have a limited market with a $35,000 price tag, but it is shockingly competent and does anything you ask of it. It’s a car I would happily spend 100,000 miles in, and that is what car shopping comes down to.