Hyundai clearly spent a lot of time and money further developing and refining the Sonata for the 2011 model year. The addition of a turbocharged four-cylinder and a hybrid option to the powertrain menu is certainly impressive, and the fact that Hyundai created the hybrid system in-house is even more so.
The six-speed automatic transmission used by the Sonata is certainly interesting in the mid-size hybrid sedan segment, where a CVT is the default choice, but even more impressive is the use of lithium-polymer batteries. Most hybrids are using nickel-metal-hydride battery packs while lithium-ion battery packs are becoming the norm for the newest hybrid entries on the market. Hyundai has jumped one step ahead and launched with lithium-polymer battery packs that reduce weight and supposedly last longer than nickel-metal-hydride or lithium-ion packs. This battery pack helps keep the Sonata's curb weight about 200 pounds lower than a Fusion or Camry hybrid.
Despite all that, I'm still more impressed by the regular version of the Sonata. I find the base Hyundai Sonata to be the best mix of performance, comfort, fuel economy, and easy-to-use technology on the market today. The hybrid just doesn't offer enough fuel economy benefit to make me choose it. Yes, it will save you a few hundred dollars a year in fuel costs ($664 when compared with a regular Sonata, according to the EPA), but all Sonatas, even the turbo, have pretty incredible EPA ratings. The hybrid is certainly cool if you're into the tech, but it's not needed to save gas.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
My late-night commute home left me extremely disappointed with the Sonata Hybrid's steering. The tall-sidewall, low rolling resistance tires clearly worsen what is already rather artificial steering feel. There's a strangely elastic resistance in the steering wheel as you turn it just off center, almost as if it were connected to the front wheels via rubber bands.
The integration of the gas engine and electric motor is well done. As Joe Lorio notes, the six-speed automatic helps provide a much more conventional throttle response than we're used to with hybrids. You can hear the gas engine turn on at higher speeds, but the actual acceleration is smooth. The only other clue you're driving a hybrid is the usual sponginess in the brakes.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor