Stylish New Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Lacks Finesse, but So Did All the Others At First

The Korean automakers have gotten into the hybrid game finally and the first models to market from Kia and Hyundai are on the shared midsize sedan platform of Sonata and Optima.

Recently I spent some time with the former sporting what Hyundai has dubbed its Hybrid Blue Drive system. During the time I had the vehicle I was noticing some blogs reporting steering issues and a technical bulletin issued by the manufacturer addressing some torque-steer issues with certain Sonata and Optima sedans.

I found this interesting as no sooner than I headed out the driveway I found myself pulling over to the side of the road to see if I had a flat tire or something. When applying acceleration I had a very noticeable pull or influence to the front left and I actually thought the tire had gone down. Nope, just something needing addressed by the technical service bulletin I guess.

As for the hybrid itself, well, let’s just say that it is a process and this is the first step. Hyundai’s system lacks a bit of finesse in the areas of gas engine integration, braking, acceleration and a couple of other areas but I remember the first Prius here in North America was no champion either.

The Blue Drive system in the Sonata is a full parallel hybrid system meaning the vehicle will operate on full electric power (up to 62 mph depending on battery status) or a combination of gas and electric and the gas engine will shut off when the vehicle comes to a stop thereby reducing emissions while idling.

Fuel economy is marginally better than other powertrain offerings from the automaker but the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is the major benefit here for this first-generation release.

While Hyundai touts best-in-class fuel economy we know first hand that the Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan delivers slightly better returns. The Sonata Hybrid uses a new lithium polymer battery pack (manganese spinel) that is said to be more reliable and robust with greater thermal stability therefore extending the pack’s lifespan.

Hyundai also differs from competitive hybrids in the layout of the powertrain, specifically they place the electric motor between the gas engine and the transmission gear set they dub TMED (Transmission Mounted Electric Drive). They say this offers more flexibility in future hybrid models.

The Hyundai Blue Drive system is mated to a more traditional six-speed automatic transmission in the Sonata whereas most of the competition relies on CVT technology in their vehicles.

The gasoline component is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and operates on an Atkinson cycle similar to other hybrid cars. The shortcomings of this design, in the area of low-end torque, is mitigated through the involvement of the electric motor on acceleration.

As to the new Sonata itself, the vehicle is completely new and features the modern styling cues of the automaker. This is one of the best looking cars in the segment today and the quality is at an all-time high for the Koreans. Other than the torque steer issue there is very little to fault in the new Sonata. Given the recent heat wave we have been experiencing about the only luxury item I would have liked to have would have been ventilated seats (which is available in sibling Kia Optima).

Pricing for the new hybrid from Hyundai begins at $25,795 with our loaded tester coming in at $31,650. Fuel economy is rated at 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. There is a bit of a loss of trunk space due to the hybrid battery pack back there and the spare tire has been removed in place of a tire inflation kit for weight savings. Hybrid powertrain performance is rated at 206.2hp and 193.4 lb. ft. of torque with the electric motor rated at 34kW and lithium polymer battery pack is 270V.

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