by: Aman Sundher
Plug in Hybrids are taking the automotive market by storm. Gas prices have been skyrocketing and oil is quickly becoming a rare commodity. It’s only natural that automakers begin looking at other options as society is becoming more “green “and “eco-friendly” every day. In the last decade alone we’ve gone from less than a handful of plug-in hybrid options to over 25 for 2017. In 2015 Hyundai released their version of a full-size plug-in hybrid, the creatively named Sonata Plug-in Hybrid. Aimed at the larger sedan market, Hyundai is looking to compete with the likes of the Ford Fusion Energi (no that’s not a typo) and Chevrolet Volt 4-door sedan. Let’s see how the Sonata stacks up.
From the outside, the 2016 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid doesn’t look that different from the standard Sonata. You really have to look to notice a few subtle changes. The alloy wheels, for example, are specific to hybrid models. Unfortunately, they do look quite small on the car when compared to the overall height of the body. Now I realize that smaller wheels and eco tires make a difference in fuel economy, but I think it looks a bit silly. The LED-trimmed headlights are a very nice touch that add some class to the overall package and provide excellent nighttime visibility. The lack of a sunroof on such a heavily optioned car is a little disappointing but does give the driver a few more inches of headroom. My biggest gripe about the Plug-in Hybrid is the collision avoidance radar in the nose of the car. It doesn’t look like Hyundai made any attempt whatsoever to conceal the giant shiny plastic square right in the middle of the front grill under the Hyundai badge where the sensor is located. I spotted it a mile away and it irritated me to no end. The least they could have done was make it out of a matte plastic so light didn’t bounce off it making it look like a third headlight. The available colour options are actually quite nice, albeit they are all darker shades. The Graphite Blue my test car was equipped with got quite a few nice comments from passersby.
The inside of the car is where the Sonata really shines. It is a masterpiece of quality and functionality. If you remove the Hyundai badging I honestly would have thought I was in a much more expensive luxury sedan. The interior is so quiet I struggled to hear anything aside from the annoying bonging at startup. The windshield visibility is excellent, but the rear is full of blind spots. If it wasn’t for the backup camera reversing the Sonata would be a real nightmare. The dash is wonderfully well-lit and is filled with easy to read gauges. Because the Sonata is a hybrid, the tach is replaced with a % of horsepower and charge gauge which takes some getting used to. But once you have it sorted it can really help coach your driving techniques to save money on fuel. All of the controls are well crafted and easy to reach and the steering wheel controls have a great tactile feel to them. The cabin is very wide and both the front and rear seats have massive amounts of leg room.
Unlike most cars, front and rear leg room is available at the same time! Even with the front seats most of the way back two full-size adults could comfortably stretch out. The Leather front seats are heated and air conditioned, which by the way if you haven’t tried yet you will never go back. Nothing cools you down quicker than a chilled bum. And as a bonus, the center of the rear seat folds down as an armrest and a handy cup holder. For the size of the Sonata the trunk space is quite small, which makes sense because the batteries have to go somewhere. But the rear seats don’t fold down either so if you don’t have a friend with a pickup truck you may not be going to Ikea anytime soon.
I was very impressed with the seamless transitions from Electric to Gas mode. The switch is so quiet and smooth I only noticed the change from the EV light in the dash turning on and off. The range on the battery packs was around 60 km’s at full charge and there was a 120V adapter in the trunk to charge at home. I’m sure it would take an overnight charge at the minimum with 120V because the proper commercial charger took 4 ½ hours to bring the electric system from empty to full again. The Sonata does have regenerative braking but I found it to be more for sustaining the battery as opposed to charging it. On the gasoline side of things, the 2.0L engine performed adequately considering it was lugging a 3500lb car around. The range of the gasoline engine was 849km indicated, but I never even had a chance to test that thanks to the electric system. In the week I drove the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid I was averaging 140 km a day and charging it while at work. After 7 full days of driving and nearly 700 km, I only used ¼ tank of fuel! That’s pretty amazing in my book.
Now to the important bit, how much does it cost? In BC, the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid starts at $43,999. Well, I say starts because there are no other trim options only accessories. I realize that sounds like a lot of money for a Hyundai, but factor in the huge cost savings on fuel over the next 5-10 years and suddenly, $44,000 doesn’t sound so bad. And compare it to the price of the other plug-in hybrids, the Hyundai is a bargain. The fit and finish beats the Ford and Chevy competitors and the price is much better than the Cadillac ELR and Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. Dollar for dollar the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is pretty hard to beat.