Time hasn’t been good to the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: while it’s still Hyundai’s most fuel-efficient vehicle, it was one of the many models implicated in the company’s MPG inflation scandal and, as such, no longer scores 40 mpg on the EPA test cycle. Hyundai’s putting the 2012’s problems to bed, however, with an updated model that costs less and goes farther on a gallon of gas.
Hyundai focused its updates on three of the major hybrid system components: the lithium-polymer battery pack, electric motor, and hybrid starter generator. The biggest change is to the battery pack: the pack’s output is now 47 kW, up from last year’s 34. Despite holding more energy, the pack is also smaller and lighter: the battery weighs 87.8 pounds (down from 92.4) and trunk space increases from 10.7 cubic feet to 12.1.
The added battery capacity allowed Hyundai to ratchet up the electric motor’s output without sacrificing range or fuel economy. The motor now puts out 35 kW (up from 30 kW), and the hybrid starter generator (which starts the engine and synchronizes its speed to the transmission) now puts out 10.5 kW of power, up from 8.5 kW. The result, Hyundai says, is smoother engine starts and more time spent in EV mode (the Sonata Hybrid can drive at up to 75 mph using only the transmission-mounted electric motor). Lastly, Hyundai says that it tweaked the gas engine — a version of the Sonata’s 2.4-liter I-4 that runs on the Atkinson cycle — and the six-speed automatic transmission to make them slightly more efficient than before.
All of these changes add up to one big milestone: the Sonata Hybrid now achieves 40 mpg on the highway. Before Hyundai’s class-action lawsuit and EPA recalculations, that wouldn’t have been news, but the Sonata Hybrid is now the only Hyundai to achieve the big 4-0 highway number. EPA estimated fuel economy is 36 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway; base Sonata Hybrids achieve 38 mpg combined, while top-trim Limited models are rated at 37 mpg.
Speaking of the Limited trim, the top-spec hybrid is new for 2013. While basic Sonata Hybrid models start at $26,445 and include 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, and a standard audio system, the Limited model starts at $31,345 and includes 17-inch alloys, leather seats, and a navigation system mated to an Infinity 400-watt sound system. A panoramic sunroof is a $1000 option.
The revised 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will reach dealers some time next month.