Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Drive

March 31st, 2010

We’ve told you many times over the next 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – explore the technical and cosmetic changes to our live coverage of the 2010 New York Auto Show, discussing how it fits into the Sonata lineup in a New York example, reporting live from Korea to the potential of Hybrid Sonata mpg highway fuel economy rating of 40, and figuring out how the Sonata Hybrid could be cheaper than a new Prius.

With all that, we almost forgot to tell you about our short experience in driving the new Sonata Hybrid. Last month I took the new gas-electric Hyundai for a short single straight line is the demonstration of the company based near Seoul, as engineers worked on the final stages of development and tuning, trying to get that last gas kilometers rating extract from the new sedan.

It is difficult to get out a rational driving impression of less than one mile in a prototype of a few rows away from production still – but we rated Hyundai’s d√©termination Could very well to show us what the major version of the new Sonata.

The Hybrid, we predict will steal all the limelight from the stock four-cylinder car and even the paddle-shifted, 274-horsepower turbocharged 2.0T Sonata because of its stand-alone looks and what would be a 40-mpg highway EPA rating. Only the Ford Fusion Hybrid is close to the predicted fuel consumption of the Sonata Hybrid, and its inverse 41/36-mpg rating of the current Hyundai 37/39 mpg rating in doing better in the city cycle.

Chemistry lesson

In short, as we told you before: 169-hp gas engine, the Sonata Hybrid teams with a 40 horsepower electric motor and the special version of the six-speed automatic transmission reached 209 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. Hyundai promises a 0-60 mph time of about 9.2 seconds while delivering at least 37/39 mpg figure.

Hyundai’s pushing hard to get 40 mpg on the highway mode to provide the marketing edge – but if it is, the Sonata Hybrid is a remarkable achievement. Not only is Hyundai’s first U.S. hybrid sales, it is also unconventional in the battery chemistry (Li-polymer, which is the development of LG Chem) and the transfer of power through a conventional six-speed automatic transmission without a torque converter.

The last detail is important: without the cost of developing a CVT to link with the hybrid’s batteries and a gas engine, Hyundai could afford half electric, the hybrid engine disconnects to run the battery more often to develop . Combined, the electric motors assist the engine, the power of the Sonata Hybrid whole, the motor assist or charge the battery.

From our brief drive, the Sonata Hybrid is the equivalent of the Ford Fusion Hybrid last year the North American Car of the Year award, tied on many levels. Apart from a slight increase in the throttle – something I’ve seen in my personally owned Toyota Prius, too – the Sonata Hybrid drove very much like the standard Sonata I had last week in Northern California.

Hyundai says the hybrid can be driven in EV mode up to 62 km / h – but to get there on electric only, you have less than 15 percent of application of the pedal effort. Every time I gently tried to power acceleration, the gas engine kicked in. We delve into the power train and how to ride better, once we get a US-marketable car later this year.

A bit of Sebring?

The Sonata is essentially good packaging gets a fair amount of fuel for the slight increase in the sticker price – and it is an unusual amount of attention to styling the transition to the gas-electric world. No sheet metal has changed, but the Sonata Hybrid gets a new shape headlight covers, a new nose cap with a large, deep grille and a chrome bar above the grille’s. Up front, the net effect is reminiscent of the last-generation Chrysler Sebring – much less so than it reminds us of the actual non-hybrid Sonata. In the back, Hyundai takes a new shape, chamfered bumper that some of the details of the Nissan Maxima calls. On the dashboard, the usual drive-mode hybrid screen between the gauges.

(Note: the photos shown here are representative of the cars in New York, but Hyundai’s tweaking the front end yet, remove the black bar on the grille Hybrid.)

The shape-changing networks Hyundai for a spectacular low drag coefficient of 0.25 (the stock sedan number is 0.29) – and brings the possibility that as the Hybrid does not cost that much more than the standard sedan that Hyundai will Hybrids number to sell to people based on appearance alone. Together with the recent announcement that the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid would be like the V-6 counterpart, the Sonata Hybrid evolving the sales are priced in a significant way.

Hyundai expects the Sonata Hybrid will carry a base price of about $ 25,000, which is about what you would pay for the much smaller Honda Civic Hybrid. Couple in unused federal tax Hyundai cars are eligible for, and it is possible you can buy a Sonata Hybrid SE for about $ 22,000. That’s less than a Toyota Prius III. A limited edition model will be priced below $ 30,000, Hyundai estimates.

It is a great opportunity. Together with Hyundai’s plans for a hybrid model to build by 2012 only, and 20 percent of its fleet of hybrids in 2020, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is quite a noisy warning shot over the bow to Toyota, Honda and Ford. Hyundai will meet Toyota-like success, or will it flounder like Honda?

The seat of our pants – and our wallets – are longing for the former.

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