The 2011 Hyundai Sonata was one of the great surprises of the year, emerging as a real challenger to the Camry and Accord at the top of the midsize sedan heap with its combination of build quality, styling, and a low sticker price. But the Korean automaker hasn't been content to sit back and rest on the Sonata's initial success by any measure, recently releasing a turbocharged edition to compete with the V-6 offerings of the competition. And now they're going after the hybrid crowd as well, with the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.
The Sonata Hybrid will be powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 40-horsepower electric motor, which combine for a total output of 206-horsepower and 193 pounds-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai might have been able to eke a few more mpgs out of a CVT, but the six-speed helps the Sonata Hybrid's driving dynamics to feel more like that of a conventional gas vehicle, something we appreciate.
What helps to set the Sonata Hybrid apart from competition like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Toyota Camry Hybrid, is found in the battery. While the competition has equipped their cars with nickel-metal hydride cell batteries, Hyundai has opted to go with the costlier lithium-polymer cells in its battery, 72 of them in all. There are several advantages that come with the use of lithium-polymer cells, the foremost being that they weigh considerably less than other cells. They are also "memory" free (less prone to losing charge capacity over time), produce less heat, and take up less room.
Now for the important numbers: Hyundai reports that the Sonata Hybrid should be good for 36 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. The Sonata Hybrid achieves these marks with a few touches in addition to the hybrid drivetrain, including a flap behind the large front intake that closes down at high speed to reduce drag and technology that shuts down the engine when cruising or decelerating. The Sonata Hybrid is capable of cruising on electric only power at speeds of up to 62 mph.
Hyundai has also thrown in a handful of visual cues that distinguish the Sonata Hybrid from its gas powered brethren, the most prominent being the large hexagonal front opening that completely changes the Sonata's look. Other updates include LED daytime running lights, hybrid badges, and fog lights that stylishly curve up towards the front bumper.
The interior remains basically intact, the largest change being the new LCD screen in the instrument panel and the "eco" guide which replace the standard tachometer. The screen relays information to the driver, including fuel economy and the level of charge remaining in the battery.
There is no word yet on pricing from Hyundai, but the Sonata Hybrid should be landing in dealerships in December 2010.
The Sonata Hybrid's cousin, the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid should expect to receive the same powertrain details and equivalent mileage in a freshly styled package. The Optima Hybrid is being officially unveiled at the 2010 LA Auto Show, and we will update this article with the relevant details and images as they become available. Look for the Optima Hybrid to find dealer lots sometime in early 2011.