By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Owning the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is a lot like having your cake and eating it too. This good-looking sporty sedan is fun to drive, comfortable and it gets phenomenal fuel economy.
Like many of the popular mid-size sedans, the Hyundai Sonata now comes in a variety of drivetrain variations: one gasoline, two turbocharged gasoline variations, one hybrid and now a hybrid plug-in. We?ve driven everything in the Sonata lineup and they are all impressive, but the new plug-in version really got our attention.
The Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is responsive, agile and as enjoyable to drive as the gasoline-powered versions. On recent holiday weekend we took it on a sight-seeing excursion with our grandson and his girlfriend, who were visiting from California. We drove up the Columbia River Gorge going east out of the Portland/Vancouver metro area to the Bonneville Dam, the fish hatchery and to all the Waterfalls along the south side of the Gorge. Obviously we weren?t thinking clearly about the traffic in that area on a holiday weekend — the traffic was impossible. It was stop and go for miles along Historic Columbia River Highway, taking as long as an hour to drive a couple of miles.
Actually, the stop and go traffic turned out to be a great test for the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid. It was very comfortable for all four passengers, and we had a great chance to try out the Smart Cruise with Stop/Start capabilities. With the cruise control set at minimum 25 mpg, we would creep forward until the car in front of us stopped, then we stopped automatically. When the car in front started, the driver just touched the resume button on the steering wheel and the car moved forward to the next stop. It works great and was very smooth. In addition, we averaged nearly 50 mpg according to the trip computer during the 120-mile drive.
Hyundai says the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) will travel about 27 miles on the battery before the gasoline engine kicks in, that?s of course unless you accelerate hard, then the range drops. That?s significantly farther than a typical hybrid. We?ve driven some hybrids that require a soft touch on the accelerator to avoid the engine starting, but the Hyundai PHEV allowed fairly strong acceleration in the all-electric mode before the gas engine was activated. This makes it much easier to drive economically. The transition from electric to gas is nearly imperceptible. Even Sonata?s sleek design and class-leading 0.24 coefficient of drag works to improve fuel economy.
The Sonata Plug-in Hybrid uses a 9.8 kWh lithium polymer battery which is about five times larger than one in the Sonata Hybrid. The battery can fully be recharged by a 240-volt Level-Two charger in less than three hours, and in under nine hours using a standard 120-volt outlet. The larger battery does takes up an extra 3.4 cubic feet of trunk space, but at 9.9 cubic feet the Sonata Plug-in still has the largest trunk in its class. In addition, the battery has a lifetime warranty, compared to most other hybrid batteries which have an 8- or 10-year warranty with mileage limitations.
The Plug-in Hybrid can be managed and monitored from a smart phone using the BlueLink? app. Owners can access real-time data from the car and perform commands like starting the engine and locking doors. Additionally, users can search for points of interest using Google with voice or text and have the directions when they start their Sonata Plug-in Hybrid.
Since it was launched five years ago, the Hyundai Blue Link??has handled more than 90 million requests from customers. Subscribers have used it to remotely start their Hyundai?s more than 22 million times and remotely locked the doors more than 2.5 million times. From inside the car, Blue Link can search for destinations, schedule service and call for emergency assistance after a collision.
Most hybrids use a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), while the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid uses a six-speed automatic transmission with Hyundai?s Transmission-Mounted Electrical Device (TMED) and a 50 kW electric motor, in place of a torque converter. When the battery is depleted, a 154-hp 2.0-liter Nu four-cylinder GDI engine takes over and operates just like the it does on the Sonata Hybrid. Combined the electric motor and gasoline engine produce a total output of 202 horsepower.
The six-speed automatic transmission gives the Sonata a more positive feel during acceleration and when using the transmission for engine braking. The EPA rates the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid at 99 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) using the engine and motor, and 40 mpg using the gasoline engine only. Over the week of driving we averaged 44.7 mpg. The plug-in hybrid accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in and estimated 8 seconds.
The 2016 Kia Plug-in Hybrid has an HEV Mode Select switch just to rear of the console-mounted shifter. The HEV button allows the driver to toggle through three modes: EV (Electric) Mode running on battery only, HEV (Hybrid Mode) which keeps the battery charge level maintained during highway driving and the CHG (Battery Charge Mode) works to charge the battery during highway driving and thereby actually increase the vehicle?s range.
Our test 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid test vehicle was the Limited trim model and the only option choices were color and a few accessories, like floor mats. However, the list of standard equipment is extensive with all the new technologies and luxury features like the Smart Cruise, Blind Spot Warning, Automatic High Beam Assist, Collision Warning, parking sensors, along with heated leather seating, Smart Opening Trunk, panoramic sunroof and on and on. A couple of other small features we like on the Sonata are the electronic parking brake and Auto Hold switch, which holds the car without keeping a foot on the brake after it?s been stopped at a stoplight until the driver touches the accelerator. (To get the whole list of features go online to https://www.hyundaiusa.com/all-new-sonata-hybrid-plug-in ).
The Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is available in two trim levels, the base model priced at $35,435 including the destination charge, or the totally loaded Limited at $39,435. Hybrid Sonatas range from $26,835 to $35,435. Gasoline-powered Hyundai Sonatas range from $22,585 to $34,910.
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is very impressive and it truly gives the owner style, comfort and performance along with outstanding fuel economy. The only down side we could see was that it is only available currently in California and Oregon, but that will be expanded soon.