Strengths and weaknesses:
- fuel economy
- ride comfort
- reduced trunk space
I remember the first Sonata. It was built in Quebec and it heralded a change in the winds that blew through the mid-sized sedan market – here was a car that could match the Japanese powerhouses (Honda Accord and Toyota Camry) on size for the price of their smaller siblings (Civic and Corolla, respectively).
As it turned out, it couldn’t shake the stigma of Hyundai’s Stellar (its “far-below-stellar” predecessor) and had its own problems with bodywork and cheap interiors. But over the years, it’s adapted to the tastes of the market - getting more radical or conservative styling depending on the trends of the time - until the latest generation introduced for 2011 (really the first Sonata to carve its initials into niche).
The latest Sonata made a splash on several levels – most evident was the flowing form, but it also shirked V6 engines, which over the years had become regarded as almost a given in the segment.
The only platform left in the segment on which Sonata didn’t stand was the electrified podium. Accord had pioneered the mainstream sedan hybrid movement and Camry, Nissan’s Altima, GM’s Aura/Malibu and Ford’s Fusion had followed.
So, given what’s come before it in the Sonata fold, the overall excellence of the Sonata Hybrid should come as no surprise to anybody.
It looks and feels (literally, not figuratively) like the new Sonata. There’s plenty of room for four people (five, if the occupant of the centre rear position is smaller in stature) and it feels probably as close to luxury automobile as you can get, without shelling out the big bucks.
Figuratively, it feels like the new Sonata as well. Driving quietly with just a hint of performance – not enough to scare families away but not so little that you think the looks really don’t do it justice. You can hear the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (the same as the base Sonata) under hard acceleration. You can hear your passengers’ whispers when you’re just cruising along the highway. And you can feel content about having it sitting in your driveway, pulling up to the opera gala and dropping off your kids at the soccer match.
It looks elegant but not show-offy. It behaves in a responsible manner with a bit of a punch underfoot when the road asks for a little aggressiveness. It’s everything you could possibly want in a family car. And, it saves you cash.
Every time you look down at the gas gauge and think you might have to get fuel for the commute home, you do the math and realize you’ll make it easily … and probably back to the office tomorrow morning, too.
It’s rated at 5.5 litres per 100 km in the city and 4.6 on the highway (about three litres per better than the regular 2.4L in the city, and about a litre better on the highway). We manage 6.0, combined (which isn’t terrific by hybrid standards, but it’s pretty darn good for a mid-sized family sedan), which is about 3.5 better than the regular Sonata tested last year.
About the only thing the modern family might miss is a wee bit of trunk space. Even though Sonata uses the latest in lithium polymer battery technology, which supposedly would result in smaller, lighter batteries, there is still noticeable intrusion in the trunk space and the access to the cabin is reduced to a pass-through. Not a big deal, especially considering some hybrids do knock-out a pass-through all together, but still worthy of consideration.
But how can you feel cheated when you can have a mid-sized family sedan for less than $30,000 ($33,999 by the time you add in our tester’s Premium package) and then save yourself about $4 for every 100 km you drive (with my commute and at today’s prices, it adds up to about $30 per week).