New York Auto Show: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Turbo
By Chris Haak
At the New York Auto Show, Hyundai pulled the wraps off of two impressive new additions to its midsize Sonata lineup. The 2011 Sonata is already on the market, but for the time being only includes a 2.4 liter direct injection four cylinder. Though Hyundai announced at the 2011 Sonata’s launch that a hybrid and turbocharged variant would be coming later, we weren’t told the specifics of what the power output, fuel economy, and pricing of these new variants would be. We now have some answers.
Though the base engine boasts the best fuel economy and some of the best output figures in its segment, some questioned whether Hyundai’s “no V6” strategy for the Sonata was the right move, given that most competitors – Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota, and Mazda – all offer optional V6 engines in their mid-market models. But the volume of the segment is absolutely in the four-cylinders, so Hyundai decided to skip the V6 and go for the efficiency of an all-four lineup, but adding a twin-scroll turbocharger to boost power and responsiveness.
Though of course we have yet to drive the new Sonata 2.0T, it should be an absolute hoot to drive. The reason? Hyundai tuned the 2.0T to produce 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. In case you’re about to jump over to the spec sheets of some competitors, let’s save you some time. The 274 horsepower tops *all* competitors’ V6 outputs (the Honda Accord V6 is closest at 271 horsepower), while also topping competitors’ V6s in the torque department as well. What’s more, the new engine delivers its peak output between 1,800 and 4,500 RPMs. According to the company, the twin scroll turbocharger – plus gasoline direct injection – are the secret in keeping the Sonata’s new optional engine from needing serious RPMs to make its power.
Hyundai says the Sonata 2.0T will hit EPA fuel economy numbers of 22 mpg city/34 mpg highway; those are nearly identical to the 2.4 liter base engine’s 22/35. Just like the output numbers, these top other comers in the segment, so you really can have your cake and eat it too. Really, the only black mark against the Sonata Turbo is that the only transmission available is an automatic (albeit one with six gear ratios). We’d really like to see this engine – meaning the turbo version, but we’d take the naturally-aspirated version as well – proliferate throughout the Hyundai lineup. A Genesis Coupe 2.0T with 274 horsepower is a much more credible performance car than one making just 210 horsepower.
The other powertrain that Hyundai announced for the Sonata is a bigger deal than the turbo, at least for Hyundai. It’s Hyundai’s first hybrid in the US market, and brings some new technologies to the hybrid market not found in other competitors. For instance, rather than connecting the electric motor and gasoline engine to the drive wheels via a CVT as every other hybrid car does, Hyundai fitted a six-speed automatic to the Sonata Hybrid instead, which will improve the car’s driving feel and sportiness. The Sonata Hybrid is also equipped with lithium polymer batteries, which boast the same superior power density that lithium-ion batteries have, but with improved robustness, power-density and package flexibility.
Hyundai projects that the Sonata Hybrid will be rated at 37 miles per gallon in the city and 39 miles per gallon on the highway. These numbers represent the best highway fuel economy in the class (excluding the smaller Toyota Prius and Honda Insight) and the best city fuel economy other than the Prius/Insight (51 mpg for the Prius and 40 mpg for the Insight) and Fusion/Milan (41 mpg). Hyundai did not announce pricing for the Sonata Hybrid, but it goes on sale in the US this fall.
The Sonata Hybrid out-powers all if its midsize hybrid sedan competitors with 209 net hybrid system horsepower, with 209 net system horsepower against a Camry Hybrid’s 187, an Altima Hybrid’s 198 horsepower, and a Fusion Hybrid’s 191 net horsepower. The Sonata Hybrid, like the conventional Sonata, is a lighter car than its competitors, and that advantage manifests itself in both fuel economy and performance figures. Hyundai’s hybrid system also allows electric-only motoring up to 62 miles per hour; Toyota’s hybrids can’t exceed 42 and Ford’s can’t exceed 47 miles per hour in EV mode.
Visually, Hyundai somewhat split the difference between making a hybrid-unique body for its Sonata Hybrid as Toyota did for the Prius and Honda did for the Insight, but took the minor visual enhancements that the Fusion Hybrid and Camry Hybrid feature to the next level. While the car is still clearly a Sonata, it has a completely different front end and different tail lamps. The car’s front is defined by a prominent grille opening that reminds one of the new Hyundai Tucson crossover. It’s different, but I’m not sure buyers will think it’s pretty – yet it makes the Sonata Hybrid stand out.