by Ian Wright
Fresh on the back of a new generation that brings more style, functionality, and practicality to Hyundai's mid-size sedan, the South Korean automaker has delivered a new Hyundai Sonata hybrid version for those seeking better fuel economy. The hybrid drivetrain consists of a 2.0-liter gasoline engine working with an electric motor. The gas engine generates 150 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, and the electric motor contributes another 51 hp and 151 lb-ft, although the combined figure rests at just 192 hp. That drivetrain, along with excellent aerodynamics from the Sonata's sleek new design, brings a fuel economy estimate of 52 mpg from the EPA. That level of fuel economy puts the Sonata Hybrid firmly in Toyota Prius territory for fuel economy.
There's little difference style wise separating the Sonata Hybrid from the regular Sonata until you get to the Limited model. That boasts a slick-looking array of solar panels built into the roof for recharging the batteries. Inside, you'll find the same premium-level feel and level of features that are, thankfully, becoming typical of the segment. All in, the Sonata Hybrid may just have leapfrogged the competition, which comprises the likes of the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Honda Accord Hybrid.
The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is an all-new arrival this year, forming part of the more upmarket seventh-generation Sonata range. The much sharper styling is functional, too, with the Sonata Hybrid boasting a low drag coefficient of just 0.24 - a cross-hole grille features active air flaps and even the alloy wheels have a special aerodynamic design. The combination of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor produces a combined output of 192 horsepower; the 2.0L motor generates 139 lb-ft of torque on its own and the electric motor a further 151 lb-ft. The combination enables an EPA-estimated 52 mpg combined and a 686-mile range for the Blue trim. Also debuting with the Sonata Hybrid is Hyundai's Solar Roof System which can recharge the battery and prevent battery discharge when the car is switched off. A more premium look to the interior is matched by enhanced practicality, with Hyundai increasing the trunk size by 2.5 cubic feet relative to last year's Sonata Hybrid.
See trim levels and configurations:
The Sonata Hybrid shares the completely fresh styling with the rest of the Sonata range, which employs the brand's 'Sensuous Sportiness' design direction. Although not everyone will love the design, we must commend Hyundai for ending up with a unique look that sets this midsize sedan apart from more conservative rivals. The cross-hole grille with active air flaps is unique to the Sonata Hybrid, and all trim levels receive LED headlights (the integration of the LED DRLs with the chrome hood trim is brilliantly executed) and power-folding mirrors. The top trim features Hyundai's clever Solar Roof System which the manufacturer says increases the range by a couple of miles after six hours of charging. The base model has 16-inch alloy wheels, increasing to 17s on the higher-spec trims.
In terms of dimensions, the Sonata Hybrid is lengthier than the Honda Accord, one of its key rivals, at 192.9 inches. It measures 56.9 inches in height and 73.2 inches in width excluding the side mirrors. The sleek design conceals a 111.8-inch wheelbase. The curb weight varies from 3,325 pounds for the lightest base trim to 3,530 lbs for the heaviest model. By contrast, the heaviest non-hybrid Sonata weighs in at 3,336 lbs.
The Sonata Hybrid's color palette is made up of seven shades: Hyper White, Nocturne Black, Hampton Gray, Calypso Red, Shimmering Silver, Portofino Gray, and Oxford Blue. Where in the past one would need to go for a vibrant shade to spice up the appearance of a generic Hyundai sedan, today's Sonata looks interesting and assertive even when painted in simple white.
With a focus on efficiency, the new Sonata Hybrid isn't the most powerful competitor in its segment. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 150 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, with the electric motor contributing another 51 hp and 151 lb-ft. According to Hyundai, the maximum combined system output is 192 hp. Power goes to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai hasn't released official performance figures - no surprise since this isn't the focus of the powertrain - but last year's similarly powerful Sonata Hybrid (not the plug-in version) took over eight seconds to do the 0-60 mph sprint. The new base Sonata Hybrid is lighter, though, so may end up being a bit quicker than this. Honda's more powerful Accord Hybrid will get to 60 in the low seven-second range. As with many other hybrids, towing isn't recommended for this Sonata.
Hyundai's Smartstream G2.0 GDi HEV four-cylinder engine produces 139 lb-ft of torque, with another 151 lb-ft served up by the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor. Combined system power output works out to 192 hp. The setup is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.
The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid's drivetrain accelerates it strongly from a standstill. The engine and electric motor are aided by a six-speed automatic transmission rather than a continuously variable transmission, which is unusual for a hybrid. Hyundai's new Active Shift Control system is designed to monitor the engine and use the electric motor to match the transmission speed, and the system is quick to shift but not quite as smooth as advertised. The overall result is that you can quickly forget you're driving a car with electric motor assistance around town.
It is easy to forget you're driving a hybrid version of the Sonata around town, right up until you use the brakes. That's not a bad thing, though. The brakes are on the aggressive side, so take a little getting used to for stopping smoothly. The regenerative braking is strong, letting you know you're recharging the battery as you come off the gas and saving some wear and tear on the brake pads.
The ride is smooth and quiet, and a move upscale for the Sonata in general. On the highway, the Sonata is a great cruiser, but getting onto curvy country roads and it's extra weight starts to show and the body roll is noticeable. During our week with the Sonata Hybrid, it's didn't take long to realize that outside of the city or a freeway, the Sonata Hybrid isn't ideal for swift driving if you don't want passengers to complain.
The Sonata Hybrid is an exceedingly thrifty midsize sedan. In its Blue trim, gas mileage estimates work out to an exceptional 50/54/52 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. The pricier trims return mileage figures of 45/51/47 mpg. The Sonata Hybrid Blue is, therefore, more efficient than the Honda Accord Hybrid (48/47/48 mpg) and closely matches the most efficient Toyota Camry Hybrid (51/53/52 mpg). Even though the 13.2-gallon gas tank isn't especially large, it's still enough for a maximum combined cruising range of 686 miles. Hyundai says that the Solar Roof System (standard on the top-line Limited) adds around two miles of range per day - or about 700 miles over the course of a year.
In the real world, our Limited trim tester sat around 42-43 mpg. But, that was biased towards freeway use and a trip out into the desert for some sight-seeing to escape the lockdown. What we couldn't discern is exactly how much difference the solar panels on the roof made a difference despite leaving it parked in the sun for a couple of full days.
Hyundai has stepped up its game in the Sonata Hybrid's cabin, too. Much like Mazda right now, Hyundai has achieved a premium look by going for a simplified, fuss-free design and fewer physical buttons than before. The climate control panel, for instance, is a model of clarity. The seats are supportive and space utilization earns high praise both front and rear. The nitpickers out there will be able to find one or two bits of trim that aren't especially solid, but overall, it's a fine effort. All trims are equipped with cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and dual-zone climate control, while higher-spec trims have power-adjustable front seats, heated front seats, and wireless device charging. A color head-up display is standard on the range-topping Limited trim.
Inside the Sonata Hybrid, you'll find room enough for five adults, but that last center-rear seat is best saved for short journeys. The new sportback styling of the Sonata doesn't impact rear headroom as much as the sloping roof suggests. In the back, there's 37.8 inches of upright room, just a shade less than in the standard Sonata, while there are the same 40 inches up for driver and front passenger. Both front and rear legroom are the same at 46.1 inches and 34.8 inches, respectively.
Like the standard Sonata as well, the Sonata Hybrid has an excellent driving position with decent visibility all around. The level of adjustment in the steering wheel is fine, but the driver's seat would benefit tall drivers by being able to be set a little lower.
While the Blue and SEL trims have premium cloth seats, the Limited gets leather upholstery. The base model has a urethane-trimmed steering wheel but more appealing leather wrapping is applied to the steering wheels on other versions. Hyundai has made good use of soft-touch materials on the armrests and door panels, surfaces that will most often be touched. On non-hybrid models (which we review separately), a mix of black and light grey or brown interior color schemes can be chosen, and the Sonata Hybrid has access to a similar range of colors, although the Dark Grey/Camel color scheme is only available on the leather found in the Limited model.
In terms of cargo volume, the Hyundai Sonata hybrid sedan has been thoughtfully developed to maximize trunk space. The high-voltage hybrid battery has been optimally placed so that there is no reduction in trunk capacity compared with the non-hybrid Sonata. At 16 cubic feet - although not the largest in this segment - the trunk is big enough to accommodate about seven carry-ons or a weekly grocery shop. The back seats can also be folded down in a 60/40 split to further increase overall cargo capacity, and hands-free smart trunk access is a big plus when your hands are full.
Interior storage space is generous, too, with a usefully-sized center console and well-placed cupholders. The doors are also equipped with their own pockets for stashing phones, wallets, and the like.
Hyundai continues a tradition of offering plenty of standard features across the Sonata Hybrid range. The entry-level Blue trim gets specs that include LED headlights, automatic high-beam assist, power-folding mirrors, dual-zone climate control, and six-way manually-adjustable front seats. A tilt/telescoping steering column helps in finding a good driving position, too. Along with an impressive nine airbags, all models also receive a rearview camera, forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning. The mid-range SEL adds console-mounted vents for the rear passengers, wireless device charging, and power-adjustable/heated front seats, while the range-topping Limited has ventilated front seats, the solar glass roof, rear parking sensors, and a color head-up display.
An eight-inch color touchscreen is standard for the Sonata Hybrid, while a 10.25-inch unit comes standard on the Limited trim. Both screens are quick to respond to touch inputs, and the displays, controls, and settings are intuitive to move through. Hyundai has stuck to the tried-and-tested physical volume knob and simple physical controls for the HVAC system. The forward and back controls are a less-traditional capacitive-touch design. Bluetooth streaming, Apple Carplay, and Android Auto are standard on all trim levels, as is HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Hyundai's Blue Link connected car system. A 12-speaker Bose sound system is standard on SEL and Limited trim along with wireless phone charging capability.
A 4.3-inch digital gauge cluster is standard on the entry-level Blue trim and the middle SEL package. Limited trim gets a 12.3-inch digital display, but either way, the displays are vivid and easy to grab information from at a glance. The 12.3 in. display automatically adds navigation capability.
The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid was recalled twice for a faulty remote smart parking assist system and incorrect tire size information, both of which were problems that also affected the Sonata Hybrid. As an all-new model, we'll have to wait a bit longer to get an accurate picture of the range's reliability.
One of Hyundai's major advantages is its superb warranty coverage, with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile limited warranty. Even better, the brand recently added three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary maintenance.
The 2020 Hyundai Sonata was named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS (when equipped with LED projector headlights), with an excellent spread of Good ratings for crashworthiness. The only blemish following its evaluation was a Marginal rating for the standard headlights. The NHTSA's review of the Sonata Hybrid for 2020 resulted in a five-star overall safety rating.
Hyundai has equipped the Sonata Hybrid with nine airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and side-curtain airbags for both front and rear occupants. Active safety features common to all variants are blind spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision alert with pedestrian detection, rear occupant alert, lane keeping assist, lane follow assist, driver attention warning, and high beam assist. All versions also have vehicle stability and tire pressure monitoring systems in place. The top-spec Limited additionally has a surround-view monitor, parking collision avoidance assist (rear), and front/rear parking sensors.
We are fans of the new Hyundai Sonata for its stylish practicality, a long list of standard features, and added exterior design flair that doesn't stretch into gimmickry. Adding the hybrid system improves fuel economy, but adds weight to the chassis that's detrimentally noticeable on back roads. However, for a daily driver and family car that's going to spend most of its life in the city or on the freeway, Hyundai has pulled off a slam dunk, even if it doesn't quite reach the level of the Toyota Prius in terms of fuel economy. Still, the Sonata Hybrid doesn't have the excessive "Look at me I'm a hybrid!" styling elements or the irritating interior design of the Prius.
Like most of its competitors, the Sonata doesn't make a meal of being a hybrid car. However, we would also shop around and look at the Honda Accord Hybrid and Toyota Camry hybrid as closer competitors.
The price of the Sonata Hybrid is yet another strong suit, with the base Blue kicking off at just $27,750. The SEL has a starting price of $29,900, while the top-spec Limited goes on sale for $35,300 excluding a destination charge of $975. For reference, the Honda Accord Hybrid ranges from an MSRP of $25,620 to $35,290, while the Camry Hybrid starts at $28,430 and tops out at $32,730.
Hyundai's all-new Sonata Hybrid is offered in a choice of three trims: Blue, SEL, and Limited. All are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor for a combined power output of 192 hp. A six-speed automatic gearbox is used and power is directed to the front axle.
Starting with the Blue trim, it comes with LED headlights (with LED DRLs), power-folding side mirrors, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The interior features cloth-trimmed seats along with dual-zone climate control, an eight-inch color touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a six-speaker audio system, and safety equipment like blind spot monitoring and pedestrian detection.
The mid-range SEL adds bigger 17-inch wheels, power-adjustable front seats with heating, a Bose premium audio system with 12 speakers, wireless device charging, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The range-topping Limited enjoys the brand's Solar Roof System, LED matrix headlamps, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen interface with navigation, and a color head-up display.
Hyundai generally doesn't overwhelm with millions of available options, but a few choice examples can be equipped to improve the 2020 Sonata Hybrid's spec levels. All three trims can be optioned with an auto-dimming rearview mirror at $295, but the rest of the options center around accessories such as a first aid kit, mudguards, and carpeted floor mats.
There's very little to complain about with the Sonata Hybrid. For its price, the Hyundai Sonata is a hybrid car that boasts loads of tech and safety features, and its excellent fuel economy simply adds to its value. Even on the basic Blue trim level, there are LED headlights, dual-zone climate controls, alloy wheels, and the best mpg estimates. We would go with that or the middle SEL trim for a balance of cost versus benefits that include things like power and heated front seats, the Bose sound system, and wireless charging.
At $35,300, the Limited Trim looks pricey, but it is a full-featured car complete with leather upholstery, the larger screens, and a color head-up display. We're still not convinced about the solar-paneled roof, though.
The Prius nameplate has been around for well over 20 years, and this quirky hatchback-style fuel-sipper continues to find favor with buyers who value frugality. But the Prius no longer has the hybrid market all to itself, and the new Sonata Hybrid is just one example of that. In terms of showroom appeal, the Sonata feels more upmarket and it looks more cohesive to our eyes than the oddball Prius. With a combined system output of just 121 hp and a CVT transmission, the Prius is not only slower but a lot less joyful to drive than the Sonata. The Toyota does offer the option of AWD, though. With best EPA ratings of 58/53/56 mpg, the Prius' remarkable economy betters the Sonata Hybrid Blue's figures of 50/54/52 mpg. The Prius also has a much bigger trunk. Despite this, we'd still side with the Sonata Hybrid with its much classier cabin, superior driving experience, and more palatable styling.
Kia's solid Optima Hybrid is offered both as a regular hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. As a range, the Optima has been around for a lot longer, but it still impresses with a quiet cabin, lots of features, and a comfortable ride. As attractive as the Optima is, the new Sonata does render it suddenly dated, though. With a combined power output of either 192 hp or 202 hp (in the case of the Optima PHEV), the Optima offers similar acceleration. However, the new Sonata Hybrid is a runaway winner in the economy stakes, with its best 50/54/52 mpg EPA rating easily trouncing the Optima Hybrid's best effort of 40/45/42 mpg. The Optima PHEV has a 101 MPGe rating. As solid as the Optima Hybrid is, it's now been outclassed by the new Sonata.
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