First Drive: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

The Sonata will be the first production hybrid to store electricity in a lithium-polymer battery. Laminating the anode, polymer separator, and cathode together in a li-poly battery means that there's no need for a rigid structural casing, which saves weight and allows for more flexible packaging. In theory, these prismatic cells should be cheaper to manufacture than cylindrical cell, lithium-ion batteries. Reality, however, says that the supply base for Hyundai's battery is quite small and, for the time being, will command a premium from supplier LG Chem. We're still waiting to hear the official price of the car, but we expect the Sonata Hybrid to match its competitors at roughly $27,000, even if Hyundai has to sell each car at a small loss.

Same inside, fresh outside
The trunk-mounted battery pack drops cargo capacity from 16.4 to 10.7 cubic feet, but the rear seatbacks still fold down for long items. From the driver's seat, this is the same Sonata that debuted earlier this year, with the exception of unique interior colors and relevant hybrid displays on the instrument cluster and the navigation screen. To establish its presence as a green alternative, the hybrid trades the base Sonata's fussy chrome grille for a thin ornamental slit and a gaping hexagonal lower grille. There are also new headlights, clear taillights, altered rocker panels, different wheels, and a fresh rear fascia. The changes also have a functional role; they significantly lower the aerodynamic drag coefficient from 0.29 to 0.25.

A hybrid that's comfortably familiar
Although it may not have the cachet of hybrid-only styling like a Toyota Prius, the Sonata's normalcy is a good thing-especially when it comes to driving. The gas/electric Hyundai provides the mechanical ebbs and tides of rpm, torque, and engine growl as the gears change. With that character, the Sonata joins the ranks of the Porsche Cayenne and the Honda CR-Z as hybrids that are enjoyable- even fun-to drive.

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Very impressive engineering and specs. I like the styling mods too--looks much better without the crazy "waves of chrome" grille.
One more good review about Hyundai, for those that are still skeptic.

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