After a refresh in 2018, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid continue into 2019 almost unchanged. In the mid-sized hybrid sedan segment competition is tough, with the Camry Hybrid and Honda Clarity leading an onslaught of models from the Far East that are shifting our mindsets from combustion to electric power. With the concessions made in performance and storage space - the latter a strong point of the standard Sonata - how will the Sonata hybrid twins fare against their established rivals? Will comfort and high safety standards be enough to ensure the Sonata Hybrid is the first you think of when someone asks about a mid-sized hybrid, especially when its EPA-rated mileage and electric range are less than those of its rivals?
After receiving a refresh for 2018 the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In now boast styling to match that of the revised Sonata lineup from 2017. Up front, a low-mounted hexagonal grille houses floating chrome bars with a tapering V-design down the center to match the entry-level combustion-only Sonata. The grille features a chrome surround with a lower chrome bar extending and angling down from the lower corners of the grille to the lower outboard edges of the front bumper. Faux black air intakes located at the outboard edges of the front bumper house vertically-stacked LED daytime running light clusters. The main headlight clusters house projector lights on both lower trims, while the Limited trims get LED headlights. A J-shaped chrome detail strip traces the inside edge of the light cluster and the edge of the hood shut line where it flows into a chrome surround for the side windows.
The chromed window surrounds are matched with blacked out B-pillars, a matte finish on base models with a gloss finish on both Limited trims, with corresponding detailing on the lower half of the mirror housings. Additional chrome detailing can be found on the door handles of all models, and in a chrome detail strip on the side-sills of Limited and Plug-In Limited Trims. The front fenders of all models get hybrid badging, but only the Plug-In models get a charge port mounted on the driver’s side front fender. As for wheels, the Hybrid SE gets 16-inch aerodynamically designed alloy wheels, while the Hybrid Limited and both Plug-In derivatives are equipped with the same aerodynamically designed five-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels. The side profile of the Sonata shows a sloping roofline, with the Hybrid Limited and both Plug-In models featuring a shark-fin antenna for additional character.
The rear of the hybrid Sonatas is dominated by clear-lens LED taillights and bold Sonata lettering across the trunk lid, with a ‘hybrid’ badge on the lower right side. The trunk lid tapers in towards the bottom as the molded bumper’s lines are all drawn together at this point. All models feature a blacked out lower diffuser, with slim reflectors mounted vertically at either edge of the bumper.
A color palette of four exterior hues is available for both the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid models, comprising Hyper White, Nocturne Black, Metropolis Gray, and Skyline Blue, while the Hybrid gets access to a further three colors, Ion Silver, Cosmopolitan Red, and Astral Blue.
Both the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid make use of an identical 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine paired with a single electric motor and a six-speed automatic gearbox. While the engine is identical in both, with 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, the electric motors and batteries differ. On the Hybrid the electric motor outputs 51 hp and 151 lb-ft while the Plug-In’s generates a little more at 67 hp. The combined output of the Hybrid is 193 horsepower, with the Plug-In at 202 hp. And both models drive the front wheels.
The Plug-In hybrid relies more heavily on its electric motor than the regular Hybrid, but it's for that reason that its performance is swifter, particularly from a standstill from which it’ll breach the 60 mph mark nearly a full second quicker than the lesser Hybrid model. The extra performance is felt too, and the power delivery is made more evident by the six-speed automatic gearbox. Most hybrids make use of a CVT gearbox, but the standard automatic here feels more natural to drive and avoids the rubber-band sensation of accelerating with a CVT gearbox. Despite the Plug-In being the quicker of the two, it’s not quicker than segment rivals.
Of course, the main focus of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models are their gas mileage and electric range capabilities. The key economy figures for the electrified Sonata twins are 42 mpg for the Hybrid SE’s combined consumption estimate and 99 eMPG for the Plug-In with the gas-only figure at 39 mpg. The Hybrid Limited only achieves 41 mpg. These figures might sound impressive compared to standard midsize sedans, but the Camry Hybrid achieves 52 mpg in its most efficient trim, and the Honda Clarity PHEV gets a combined estimate of 42 mpg and 110 MPGe. The Sonata Plug-In’s electric-only range of 28 miles is also substandard for the class; the Clarity manages 48.
While the Sonata Hybrid charges its 270-volt lithium-ion polymer battery on the go, the Plug-In requires a connection to the mains taking 2.7 hours on a level 2 public charger and 8.7 hours on a level 1 household outlet to regain full charge.
The Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In won’t be winning any design awards with their interiors, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad to be inside. They thrive on practicality and sound ergonomics with a logical layout, easy-to-use controls, and intuitive infotainment setups paired with high-quality materials and a generally solid build. The buttons are all tactile and easy to use, and the broad center stack’s controls are well within reach of the driver for the most part.
Entering and exiting the cabin is generally easy due to wide door openings and low-mounted seats, but the sloping roof may trouble taller occupants climbing in and out without ducking. Once inside, the cabin is roomy. The front seats offer a wide range of standard adjustment, including height adjustment, and the adjustable steering wheel projects enough for even tall driver’s to get comfortable. Legroom is generous, but headroom up front can be hampered a little by the optional panoramic sunroof. The rear of the cabin meanwhile offers just as much legroom, with headroom being marginally impeded by the sloping roofline. Nevertheless, most adults will be quite comfortable back there, and the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In live up to their claim of seating five occupants.
In the way of tech and infotainment, the hybrid Sonata twins offer a lot. Dual-zone climate control is standard across all models, power adjustable driver’s seats on all but the Hybrid SE, and there’s wireless charging standard on the Plug-In Hybrid Limited and available on the Hybrid Limited. Hyundai’s intuitive seven-inch infotainment display does duty as standard on the SE, Limited, and Plug-In Hybrid trims with six speakers and standard SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto functionality. Optional on the Hybrid Limited and standard on the Plug-In Limited is an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation that gets paired with a 400-watt Infinity premium speaker system with subwoofer and external amp.
The standard Sonata provides some of the best cargo volumes in its class, even if only by a small margin. But the standard Sonata doesn’t have to account for battery packs, and that’s the rub. Both the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In house their batteries in the trunk which eats into their available cargo volume. The Hybrid doesn’t lose too much, and still boasts an available 13.3 cubic feet, which is enough for a weekend away for two with space to spare but it’s less than what both the Camry and Accord Hybrids boast. The Plug-In loses a lot more, with cargo volume slashed back to single digits at just 9.9 cubic feet. The competitive Honda Clarity PHEV? That offers 15.5 which puts into perspective just how much the Sonata Plug-In loses. All models receive standard hands-free trunk-lid operation, which cleverly doesn’t require foot-waving with loaded arms to open the trunk. Just stand behind the trunk for a few seconds with the key on you and it pops open. The Hybrid Limited is the only model to receive 60/40 split folding rear seats for extra versatility.
This is no sports sedan, and yet even with eco-friendly intentions the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In have surprisingly willing chassis. There’s a definite grip deficit on low-resistance tires, as the squeals of protest through corners will tell you, but the suspension offers good levels of cornering support and balance that isn’t completely devoid of all joy for the sake of economy.
The steering is pointy, with adjustments to the weighting based on drive mode selection, but neither really gives it much feedback - a criticism of almost all Hyundai EPAS systems. But, it does the job sufficiently well and is a doddle around town with its tight turning circle and light weighting.
Comfort is the Sonata’s forte, and the suspension is happy to oblige, filtering out primary and secondary bumps with ease and poise. Little upsets the ride but the biggest of bumps, and almost nothing permeates the cabin. The same goes for road noise which seems to be kept at bay on most surfaces. But, rough surfaces don’t play nicely with the eco tires which tend to roar through to the cabin more than we’d like.
The only glaring fault in the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In’s drive is the brakes. Brake feel is notoriously bad on hybrids as they try and blend regenerative braking into friction braking seamlessly and with a natural feel. The Sonata fails to blend them and it feels far from natural. The brakes grab hard, followed by a complete dead patch after which friction braking finally takes hold. It’s disconcerting, leads to jerky braking motions, and just doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s a true weak point and is worse than the standard faults in other hybrid offerings.
Solid build quality is becoming a Hyundai staple and the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In are no different - everything seems solidly put together inside and out. It seems buyers have had similarly good experiences with the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In suffering from very few problems in its current generation. The Plug-In is particularly reliable, with CarComplaint’s PainRank score of 0.94 being exceptional, and J.D Power rated it above average in the predicted reliability scores. The Camry Hybrid does, however, score better on this metric (4.5 stars to 3.5).
Like all Hyundai models, there’s an extensive drivetrain warranty and a decent limited warranty as well should things go wrong.
Both the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In variants feature two trims apiece, with an entry-level option for those who must get behind the wheel at any cost and those who like a little luxury mixed in.
The Sonata Hybrid SE is the cheapest of the four with a base MSRP of $25,750. It features the hybrid drivetrain mentioned in the drivetrain section above with 193 hp and a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard exterior equipment includes 16-inch alloys, automatic headlights, fog lights, heated side mirrors, and a hands-free trunk. The interior, meanwhile, features cloth upholstery, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rearview camera, and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, auxiliary inputs, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and six speakers. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard safety features.
Stepping up the the Hybrid Limited will set you back $29,800, but brings to the table 17-inch alloys, LED headlights with bending functionality, a panoramic sunroof, power adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, 60/40 split folding rear seats, leather upholstery, wood-look interior accents, rear seat HVAC vents, HD and satellite radio, and three-years access to Hyundai’s Blue Link remote services suite. Standard safety for 2019 comprises lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, and smart cruise control with start/stop. Available options, as part of the Ultimate Package, include a heated steering wheel, rear window sunshades, rear park sensors, an eight-inch navigation screen, Infinity premium audio system, and wireless device charging.
Meanwhile, the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid starts at $33,400 in its base trim. It gets the same front-wheel drive setup and six-speed auto ‘box, but gets more power at 202 hp courtesy of the larger battery and plug-in capabilities. 17-inch alloys, automatic headlights, a hands-free trunk lid, and keyless entry and ignition are all standard, as are dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, power adjustable driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rearview camera, and the same standard safety as the Hybrid SE. The seven-inch touchscreen is equipped with SiriusXM satellite radio and HD Radio functionality as standard, with seven speakers and two USB ports (one front, one rear).
The Plug-In Limited is the priciest of the four at a sticker price of $39,000 before incentives and adds adaptive LED headlights, rear park sensors, adaptive cruise control, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats with full power-adjustment, a wireless charging pad, heated steering, and a standard eight-inch navigation system. Safety features comprise forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, and automatic high beams.
When it comes to hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, electric range and fuel economy are crucial values. Sadly these figures are where the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In are lacking compared to their rivals, which immediately questions the point in buying either. Its traditional looks and comfortably equipped interior may win a few people over, but the lack of cargo volume is a practical concern. But perhaps one of the Sonata’s most damning traits is the poor brakes, even for a hybrid, that make every drive a pain. While the high standards of equipment, easy-to-use tech, and generous safety measures are all major drawcards, the areas that matter for hybrid-electric vehicles - drivability, gas mileage, and electric range - are huge flaws that can’t be overlooked. The Camry Hybrid or Honda Clarity Plug-In are better respective options.