It was only a matter of time for the giant automaker Hyundai to produce a better Sonata Hybrid. Their first attempt was more like a "market-chaser" than a well thought out effort for a company that is obsessed with improvements. Examples like Acura's ZDX or BMW's SUV/sedan X6 prove great companies chasing a profitable market trend can produce not such great vehicles. This is the case with Hyundai's 2014-15 Sonata Hybrid. This is not a bad car and it can be bought today at a good price. The first-generation hybrid is just not up to market standards.
However, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid are quantifiably better vehicles. After a drive along San Diego's coastline, I can attest to the luxury feel of Hyundai's latest Sonata upgrade. Even under an emergency stop from 70 to 0 mph, the Sonata PHEV performed exceptionally well and avoided an accident. Great ABS 4-wheel disc brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).
Prices have not been released yet but the content of the Plug-in Hybrid is impressive. The 2016 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid includes a hands-free "Smart Trunk" which opens automatically if you stand next to the car with the key in your pocket or purse. The electronic parking brake comes with an automatic vehicle hold feature for uphill starts. Also included are some luxury features like a driver seat memory, heated steering wheel, LED interior lights, and leather A/C ventilated front seats.
The new Smart Cruise Control can bring the car to a full stop when in heavy traffic. My test drive revealed a smooth and natural braking and acceleration cruise system that makes rush hour traffic a less stressful affair. When the Sonata is fully stopped, the driver then has to take over the brake and accelerator pedals - as it should be. For the commute, Hyundai has also simplified their 8.0-inch navigation system and added downloadable apps, HD radio and an available and excellent sounding Infinity premium audio system.
2016 Sonata Plug-in Hybrids come standard with iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks, SiriusXM satellite radio and Bluetooth phone connectivity with phonebook transfer and voice-recognition. Standard safety features include seven airbags with a new driver's knee airbag, Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Management, Traction Control, and rearview camera. Straight from Hyundai's luxury cars, Sonata Hybrids get forward collision and lane departure warning systems.
The Blind Spot Detection system is standard and better calibrated than the last Sonata I drove. This camera and sensor was still reading cars within 30 feet of my test Sonata, a fairly large gap for changing lanes in Southern California. Hyundai claims that their "Lane Change Assist system determines the closing speed of any vehicle in the adjacent lane to determine if the lane change is safe. If the system determines the vehicle in the other lane is closing too quickly, it sounds an audible alarm to warn the driver that the lane change is unsafe." That engineer needs to spend more time on the LA freeways and less time in the lab. But I digress.
The 2016 Sonata Hybrids are much better cars to drive. The first real improvement in the handling dynamics are felt through the steering wheel. Previous electronic power steering systems on Hyundai vehicles have been numb. Freeway driving took more work due to a lack of a neutral or on-center position, in addition to the vague feedback when steering around corners. We believe Hyundai has finally gotten the steering software correct and calibrated the steering just about perfectly.
This is not the only electronically controlled pump which saves engine horsepower. Hyundai Hybrids now use an electric oil pump for the engine and the transmission. They also have introduced an electric water pump- maximizing the cooling of the engine and transmission while saving more horsepower which can be sent to the front wheel drive.
This sedan is very refined with a quiet ride that is supple over rough pavement, even with 17 inch low-roll resistant tires. The lighter drivetrain components, along with the increased high-strength steel, mean that Hyundai engineers were able to revise the suspension now attached to a much stiffer platform. Structural rigidity is up by 50% and it can be felt from the driver seat.
The hybrid gas and electric transfers of power are smooth and quiet. I was pleasantly surprised how seamless this new drivetrain is compared to the last generation Sonata Hybrid. Moving along in heavy traffic on the Los Angeles freeways, the 2.0 liter direct-injection engine started and stopped on demand without any drama, and interfaced with the 50 kW electric motor without even a bump.
The new Sonata Plug-in Hybrid utilizes a 9.8 kWh lithium polymer battery pack- which is nearly five times larger than the Sonata Hybrid's battery pack. This means that the Plug-in Hybrid range is approximately 24 miles of all-electric driving before the hybrid system kicks in. Currently, this is farther than any other midsize PHEV sedan.
Sonata PHEV's Nu engine produces 154 horsepower and 140 lb. ft. of torque. The Sonata Hybrid is not a sports sedan but there is plenty of juice for everyday driving. According to Hyundai, they were looking for a balance between fuel-efficiency and enjoyable driving, and I think they go pretty close on this goal.
Sonata PHEV has EPA estimates of 93 MPGe combined, running in EV mode. In charge sustaining mode, the Sonata PHEV is expected to return 40 mpg combined based on internal testing. Recharge time ranges from three hours at a 240V Level-Two charging station to less than nine hours using a standard 120V outlet. A high voltage commercial charging station will get the job done in under 20 minutes!
Gratefully, the combined 202 horsepower from the gas engine and electric motor is passed through an electric drive system and into an updated 6-speed transmission. There is no Constant Variable Transmission (CVT) here! This provides a very satisfying driving experience that is controlled and yet responsive. There is also a driver-controlled setting for the allocation of battery use and charging. This allows for EV, Hybrid, or combined driving.
The Eco mode has an annoying hesitation when stabbing the accelerator pedal. Then the power comes on and the sedan moves out. The lead Hyundai engineer explained that this minimizes the "driver inconsistencies" which adversely affect fuel mileage. A computer determines that the driver needs hard acceleration and is not inadvertently fluttering the pedal. This idiosyncrasy is not an issue in other modes. When running in Normal or Sport mode, the reaction from the engine/motor is instantaneous for quick acceleration in traffic situations. Zero to sixty miles-per-hour times were not available at the time of publication.
Keeping up with Gen-X trends, the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle can be controlled remotely via an exclusive Blue Link smartphone app. This app gives owners access to real-time data from their Sonata PHEV and perform commands like starting the engine on cold or hot days. One can lock or unlock doors, search navigation for points of interest using Google, and monitor and manage the car's charging schedule. Owners can plan charging based on different electric rates at various times. For example, in Southern California, charging could be set to start at 10:00 p.m. when rates drop so the car is ready to drive at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. Additional "Connected Car Services" include vehicle diagnostics/status, existing battery level, real-time electric ranges, and a host of charging status information.
The most important consideration in buying a hybrid vehicle is the life of the battery pack. This concerns owners who will have to pay thousands of dollars for a replacement- negating all the money saved with better fuel economy. Hyundai has addressed this upfront with a Lifetime Battery Pack warranty. Furthermore, the 10 year/100,000 powertrain warranty on the rest of the drivetrain is also included.
In summary, the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle could be a great value. The Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will be available in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont this Fall (2015). Sonata Plug-in Hybrid buyers will be eligible for a $2,500 fixed federal tax credit and another tax credit based on battery capacity for additional thousands. There is also a clean vehicle rebate in California is an additional $1,500. For California freeway folks like me, the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is also eligible for California's Green Clean Air Vehicle Decals that allow access to the carpool lanes.
2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle already is a very nice sedan to drive with responsive handling. It is quiet and comfortable on the road. It has excellent brakes and improved mileage. It is a much better vehicle, and Hyundai got it to market in just 2 short years after the first Sonata Hybrid.