It wasn’t all that long ago that people bought Hyundai’s because they were a less-expensive alternative to Toyotas and Hondas.
Nowadays, though, Hyundai models across all price points more than hold their own against the competition. A good case in point is the midsized Sonata four-door sedan, which earns high marks in one of the most fiercely competitive and crowded segments of the marketplace.
U.S. News & World Report ranks the 2013 Sonata in a dead heat with the all-new Ford Fusion Hybrid as being the very best among affordable sedans and ranks the Sonata Hybrid third. That’s mighty impressive, any way you look at it.
Our tester this week was a top-of-the line Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which is substantially upgraded and improved for 2013, drawing rave reviews in the process.
“In short, it drives really well, and it doesn’t use much fuel,” USA Today concluded of the 2013 Sonata Hybrid. “It might not be best in any category, but it’s probably the best overall package among the hybrids.”
And the New York Times also weighed in, saying “The Sonata Hybrid wins points for quality materials, clear displays (with plenty of eco information related to the hybrid drive), good rear legroom and a large trunk.”
So what’s so good about the 2013 Sonata Hybrid?
In a word, I would say “harmony” or maybe even synergy. This is one of those cars where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts and the parts are pretty good to begin with. More importantly, perhaps, Hyundai incorporated feedback — and some cases, out and out criticism — of the original 2011 Sonota Hybrid and made big improvements this year.
For 2013, the Sonota Hybrid has a lighter, yet more powerful battery pack, that has 34 percent more power than the old one. Because it’s smaller as well, trunk space increases from 10.7 to 12.1 cubic feet a meaningful increase in schlepping space.
Mileage is up, too, with the 2013 now delivering 36 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. While those aren’t class-leading numbers, they aren’t wildly inflated, either, and are close to what the car should deliver in real life.
For those who are particularly thrifty, there is a “Blue Drive” mode controlled by a button on the steering wheel. When engaged, Blue Drive optimizes mileage by slowing throttle response, tuning transmission shifting to peak efficiency and using the fuel shutoff proactively in deceleration situations.
Now the truth is, the Sonata Hybrid is not an especially sporty car, nor is it supposed to be. Accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour requires a somewhat leisurely 9 seconds or so, and it’s a good bit slower in Blue Mode.
And don’t expect BMW-like ride and handling, either. This is a midsized family sedan and as such, it is geared to a pretty broad audience of buyers. Then again, 600 miles on a tank of gas is nothing to sneeze at.
From a style perspective, opinions are all over the board about the lines of the Sonata. Personally, I think this car — and most Hyundai’s, for that matter — is a refreshing departure from the me-too looks of so many contemporary cars. The Sonata Hybrid is instantly recognizable as a Hyundai, and that’s a good thing.
There are some “Blue” badges and subtle styling touches that announce this car is a hybrid. The huge grille is the most polarizing element of the design.
Interior of midsized Sonata four-door sedan. (Photo: Hyundai)
Move to the interior, and the picture brightens up a whole lot. For a base price of $30,550, the Sonata Hybrid Limited is very well equipped with heated leather seats front and rear, navigation system with 7-inch touchscreen, leather-trimmed steering wheel, an Infinity sound system, with nine speakers, as well as aero-sleek 17-inch aluminum wheels and an optional huge sunroof.
More important than the specific features, though, is the quality: The workmanship and level of materials you find on the inside of the new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is far better than you’d expect to see in a car of this price range. This doesn’t feel like a car that one “settles” for. It feels like a car you buy because you’re impressed with all it has to offer.
To that end, the decision on buying a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid likely would come down to whether you want a hybrid at all. If you want a hybrid, this is absolutely a car you should seriously consider. And if you don’t, the conventionally powered Sonata is an outstanding choice as well.
VEHICLE TYPE: Four passenger, four-door hybrid sedan, front-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 159 horsepower, electric motor, 47 horsepower.
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic.
WHEELBASE: 110 inches.
OVERALL LENGTH: 189.8 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 3,578 pounds.
EPA MILEAGE RATING: 36 city, 40 highway.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.