2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid road test

The Sonata Hybrid is sold in three trim levels with starting prices of $28,725, $30,965 and $36,275, including the $975 freight charge from Asan, South Korea. (Hyundai)

Don’t mess with my mileage

Hyundai went through the roof to maximize fuel economy for its redesigned Sonata Hybrid sedan. The completely re-engineered sedan debuts a solar roof system that recharges the engine-cranking 12-volt battery and the hybrid battery. Depending on region, the sunlight system could provide around 1,200 miles of free driving, such as in Southern California, Hyundai says, or more like 600 miles a year, or 2 miles per day on average, in less sunny parts of the country.

The goal of the solar roof is to help the car stay in EV mode longer. Starting off from a standstill, the fully charged hybrid battery allows a takeoff on electric power rather than firing up the engine, which saves fuel. And, especially useful, the system acts as a tender to the 12-volt battery so when the car sits for two to three weeks, the onboard electronics for anti-theft and sensor systems will not drain the battery — as long as the car is parked outside. That will be a relief to owners who are not driving as much now or for those who park at remote airport lots for extended travel.

In the Limited, the driver faces a 12.3-inch digital gauge array with configurable panels, such as for fuel economy, map and more. (Hyundai)

The system first charges the 12-volt battery (fully charged in about two hours) and then the hybrid pack. And if the driver does manage to kill the battery, there is a dashboard button — “12V Batt Reset” — that will give a jump of current, pulling from the hybrid battery.

In total, the new hybrid model delivers up to a 24 percent increase in fuel economy over the prior generation, Hyundai says.

A full 13.2-gallon tank could allow a driving range of 660 miles. (Hyundai)

The new body style, with help from a range of aerodynamic add-ons, has a sleek drag coefficient of 0.24, which compares to 0.25 for the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Honda Accord Hybrid, the two main sedan competitors. And even the standard gas-powered Sonata has a sleek drag of 0.27.

The front seats have a robust design and comfortable support for the big-and-tall driver. (Hyundai)

And for those who saw Hyundai’s Super Bowl commercial for “smaht pahk” remote parking, you can’t get that feature on the Sonata Hybrid. With all the electronics it’s another layer of complexity that Hyundai chose not to adapt. But since the feature debuted a glitch was discovered that did not always stop the car as programmed, despite a fail-safe function. It was a software issue that Hyundai says has been corrected.

The wireless charging pad is large enough for the latest billboard-class phone. (Hyundai)

Pricing

The redesigned Sonata Hybrid is everything a contemporary driver would want in a new midsize sedan, if he or she wanted a four-door car. As well done as it is, the preferred body style today is an SUV crossover. But there could be some equalization in pricing — sedans cost less than SUVs.

The Sonata Hybrid is sold in three trim levels — Blue, SEL and Limited — with starting prices of $28,725, $30,965 and $36,275, including the $975 freight charge from Asan, South Korea. Today’s tester is the Limited with one option for carpeted floor mats, $155.

The six-speed automatic transmission has performance modes of Smart, Eco, Sport and Custom. (Hyundai)

The base model is well equipped with such features as keyless locking and push-button ignition, advanced cruise control with stop-and-go function, hands-free trunk opening, locking glove box, rearview camera and high-speed wireless smartphone charging pad and LED lighting for headlights, running lights, taillights and interior with six-way adjustable front seats and fabric upholstery.

Electricity generated from the solar roof could provide around 1,200 miles of free driving in Southern California or about half as much in less-sunny areas. (Hyundai)

Standard safety features include nine air bags, forward collision‐avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, blind‐spot collision‐avoidance assist with rear cross‐traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and high-beam headlight dimming. The Limited adds a blind‐spot monitor, highway driving assist (lane centering), parking collision-avoidance assist rear.

The new-vehicle warranty includes coverage of the hybrid battery with the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles. The rest of the vehicle is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

All Sonata models, except the entry model, include three years of complimentary Blue Link services.

The 205-watt solar roof system trickle-charges the 12-volt and hybrid batteries. (Hyundai)

Powertrain

The front-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain integrates Hyundai’s Smartstream G2.0 direct-injection four-cylinder gas engine with a permanent magnet electric motor and a battery pack of lithium-ion polymer. Total system power adds up to 192-hp, or 150-hp from the ICE and 51-hp from the motor.

The six-speed hybrid automatic transmission (a refreshing alternative to the ubiquitous continuously variable automatic in most hybrids) has been optimized to reduce gear-shifting times by 30 percent. There are performance modes of Smart, Eco, Sport and Custom and while I sampled each, my preference was Smart mode for its responsive acceleration. Sport felt a little too jittery, and I was in pursuit of mpgs not performance driving.

Fuel economy estimates are 50 mpg city, 54 highway and 52 mpg combined for the Blue trim, on the recommended 87 octane fuel. The heavier SEL and Limited trims have ratings of 45/51/47 mpg. In highway driving, I noted 54 mpg, as decided by the onboard computer. With the 13.2-gallon gas tank, there will be a lot of commuting between fill-ups.

The solar roof is lighter than a panoramic glass sunroof (66 pounds versus 95), but it also means no sunroof option. At 3,350 pounds, the curb weight is just 194 pounds more than the non-hybrid Sonata.

Hyundai’s Smartstream G2.0 direct-injection four-cylinder gas engine is paired with a permanent magnet electric motor and a lithium-ion polymer battery pack. The Limited has mileage ratings of 45/51/47 mpg. In highway driving, I noted 54 mpg. (Hyundai)

The footprint

The re-engineering of the eighth-generation Sonata (first seen in the U.S. in 1988 for its second generation) is a little longer and lower on a stronger vehicle architecture. The size shift was enough to move it into the EPA’s large-car class, but it seems more of a large-midsize.

It was a ground-up opportunity to make the hybrid packaging more efficient, Hyundai says, which included moving the hybrid battery from under the trunk to under the back seat.

The placement allows a 60/40 folding back seat, preserves the large trunk space of 16 cubic feet and the more central location benefits vehicle balance and rotational control, Hyundai says. The battery sits at about the thigh point in the back seat and the fuel tank is under the butt zone.

The design of the cross-hole grille works with three active air flaps in front of the radiator. (Hyundai)

Sizewise, the 2020 Sonata is 1.8 inches longer (192.9 inches) with a roofline lowered by 1.2 inches, now at 56.9 inches and the wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer, at 111.8 inches. The body width is nearly the same at 73.2 inches versus 73.4.

Typically, redesigned sedans are made a little lower and wider for aerodynamics to benefit fuel economy. Sometimes the lower roof cramps headroom and complicates the ease of entry and exit. But the dimensions of the Sonata preserve the tall front headroom of 40 inches and it just doesn’t feel as if you are riding close to the ground and looking up at taillights ahead. Also helpful are doors that open to nearly right angles and an innovative interior grab handle that is long and easy to grasp for optimum leverage. Often, door grabs are a hand-size grip that isn’t always at the best leverage point to control the door on opening and dinging the next car over.

Even with the longer wheelbase, the turning circle is still tight at 36.1 feet. And the regenerative braking has completely smooth engagement; some systems can have an initial on-off activation. The four-wheel disc brakes have 12-inch ventilated front rotors and 11.2-inch solid rotors rear.

Hyundai is pursuing more dramatic LED lighting displays, such as the Hidden Lighting Lamps that appear to be chrome when switched off and become dramatically lit when switched on. (Hyundai)
The wide horizontal line that extends across the center of the trunk, is actually an LED strip that connects each brake light. (Hyundai)

Soundproofing maximized

Hyundai likely created the most soundproofed Sonata yet, though there is some tire hardness that is heard and felt at highway speeds. Otherwise, it rolls on carpet. Among the soundproofing tricks are improved carpet, advanced sound-absorption materials throughout the trunk and door trim and an acoustic windshield on all trims and laminated side glass on the SEL and Limited.

Cabin function

While the Sonata Hybrid is electronically sophisticated, it does not require an advanced degree for the user to learn and enjoy. In the Limited, the driver faces a 12.3-inch digital gauge array with configurable panels, such as for fuel economy, map and more.

The front seat area has a clean design with clear access to controls. The 10.25-inch upper touch screen is to access radio and media, navigation, phone and apps. Climate controls, including for the heated and ventilated seats and the heated steering wheel, are just below on a separate tier — and just a finger-touch away.

The front seats have a robust design and comfortable support for the big-and-tall occupants. The steering wheel has meaty grip, wrapped in glove-smooth leather and neatly cross-stitched. Sliding visors have covered and lighted mirrors and the locking glove box is large enough to hold all the owner’s manuals.

Sightlines are completely open at the side mirrors and over the shoulder. And the around-view camera system (overhead, front and rear) is a welcome safeguard to avoid tapping the garage door or curbing the wheels when parallel parking.

The e-bin on the shift console is a handy hub with a 180-watt 12-volt plug, media USB, charging USB and a wireless charging pad large enough for the latest billboard-class phone.

Back-seat space is adult-class for long thigh support and 34.8 inches of legroom. (Hyundai)

Also improved were the door touch sensors for no-questions locking by touching the sensor on the outside of the door handle. It potentially solves the problem between using a chiclet-style button in the door handle, which gives an absolute response on locking, and the full sensor door handle, that sometimes must be rubbed, tapped or smacked to get a response. And in that confusion, it’s not easy to know if the door is actually locked, without pulling on the handle, which then unlocks the door. Aargh!

Owners can also opt for the smartphone-activated digital key. It uses Near Field Communication and Bluetooth technology to allow the car to be unlocked, started and driven without a physical key.

Machine learning

In my test week, I discovered a couple of interesting electronic messages.

While sitting in the idling car to take notes, a warning advisory popped up in the gauge display: “Vehicle will be turned off automatically” in a countdown of 30 minutes. Hyundai says this is to prevent accidental carbon monoxide deaths from people who accidently leave a vehicle running in a closed garage.

And even better, there is a sort of a pay-attention-and-drive message. While waiting in traffic, with the adaptive cruise control engaged, the system will give an advisory message and tone to the distracted driver that reads “The car ahead is moving.” Or loosely translated, stop checking your phone and drive!

Trunk space is large at 16 cubic feet. (Hyundai)

Aerodynamics

Fuel economy is all about efficient airflow and Hyundai split hairs in the pursuit of mpgs. Among the tricks and techniques to calm the airflow:
• Underbody bumper lip, front- and rear-wheel deflectors; undercovers in the front and back of the engine bay; center floor and rear undercovers.
• Redesigned rear deck-lid spoiler.
• The cross-hole grille design works with three active air flaps in front of the radiator. The shutters improve aerodynamics and reduce air resistance by closing on engine start-up and reopening gradually as needed for optimum air flow to cool the engine. At highways speeds the shutters close to block too much air from entering and jamming up in the engine bay, which makes it harder to push the vehicle through the air, using more fuel.
• Wheels and “green” tires have always had a role in EV efficiency. The Sonata Hybrid’s wheels are actual alloy wheels, not wheel covers (aka hubcaps) that are aerodynamically designed — and good looking. The base model has 16-inch wheels with 17s on the Limited. The tester’s Michelin Primacy all-season tires (215/55) have a fairly high (hard) treadwear rating of 540, which might explain some tire noise at highway speeds, but they have a 55,000-mile tread-life rating.

Why Sonata Hybrid?

With an easily achieved 50 mpg on the commute, the Sonata Hybrid is a premium presentation without sacrifice of style, comfort and technologies. For $36K, this is the new benchmark for what to expect from a gasoline-electric hybrid.

The new hybrid model delivers up to a 24 percent increase in fuel economy over the prior generation. (Hyundai)

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited
Body style: large-midsize, front-wheel drive 5-passenger sedan
Engine: 150-hp, direct-injection Smartstream G2.0 4-cylinder; 139 lb.-ft. torque at 5,000 rpm
Electric motor: Permanent magnet with 39 kW (51) hp from 1,800-2,300 rpm
Battery: 56 kW lithium-ion polymer, 270-volt max power
Total system power: 192 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with electronic shift control
Fuel economy: 45/51/47 mpg; 87 octane

SPECIFICATIONS
Fuel tank: 13.2 gal.
Trunk space: 16 cu. ft.
Front head/leg room: 40/46.1 in.
Rear head/leg room: 37.8/34.8 in.
Length/wheelbase: 192.9/111.8 in.
Curb weight: 3,505 lbs.
Turning circle: 36.1 ft.

FEATURES
Standard Limited equipment includes: digital key locking and push-button ignition, solar roof panel, leather-trimmed upholstery, leatherette-wrapped dashboard, 10.25-inch navigation-infotainment touch screen, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, around-view camera system, front and rear parking sensors, electric parking brake (with automatic vehicle hold), 12-speaker Bose audio system, color head-up display, LED lighting (headlights, running lights, taillights and interior), 8-way power driver seat, 4-way power front passenger seat, power (heated) side mirrors with turn signals, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, wireless phone and device charging, dual USB ports
Safety features on Limited include: 9 air bags, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, brake assist, stability and traction controls, high-beam headlight assist, 5 mph bumpers, highway driving assist, parking collision-avoidance assist rear

PRICING
Base price: $36,275, including the $975 freight charge. Price as tested $36,430.
Options on test vehicle: Carpeted floor mats $155
Where assembled: Asan, South Korea
Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain and hybrid battery

MarkMaynard@cox.net

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