2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid review:

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

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This set of screens includes a power flow animation and one showing an Eco score, presumably going up with more-efficient driving. But while the graphics are pretty, Hyundai does not include much numerical information. There is no data for how long it has run in electric mode, or to rate fuel economy over set periods of time. This sort of data is limited to the trip computer, which only shows your general average miles per gallon.

And speaking of fuel economy, although the Sonata Hybrid's EPA numbers show 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, we only achieved 29.6 mpg after a wide range of driving. Car reviewers are not noted for economical driving habits, yet the Sonata Hybrid fell far below the EPA range. We found a similar issue with the Kia Optima Hybrid.

What should be the most wasteful moment in driving, starting off from a stop, the Sonata Hybrid generally accomplishes under electric power, its 34-kilowatt lithium polymer battery pack giving it the juice to go. Even with the accelerator halfway down, the Sonata Hybrid stayed in electric mode as it took off from a light, where most other hybrids only let you get away with a quarter throttle.

Along with that electric start, the Sonata Hybrid dishes out the usual hybrid goodness, such as traveling under electric power at steady speeds and using brake regeneration. Better yet, the car showed no problems going into electric mode at freeway speeds, although usually when coasting.

The Sonata Hybrid's hand-off between electric power and the engine feels smooth, but there is a distant clatter, especially under heavy acceleration. The car's cabin is well-insulated, but the 2.4-liter four-cylinder sounds unrestrained.

Combined with the electric motor, the total system output is 206 horsepower and 193 pound-feet of torque, which leads to adequate acceleration for passing and merging maneuvers. Strangely, even though the Sonata Hybrid weighs in at 3,483 pounds, 200 less than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, it feels heavy.

The trunk space is compromised by the battery pack, but one standard CNET editor still fits inside.

The battery pack, situated in the trunk, is only 96 pounds, but the Sonata Hybrid drives like it has extra weight down low in the chassis. You can feel it when going around corners and when accelerating. Weight-centered low is not a bad thing in the turns, but the Sonata Hybrid's suspension is tuned for comfort.

The soft suspension soaks up a lot of road harshness but gets unsettled in the turns. After driving over a winding mountain course, we concluded that the Sonata Hybrid is unhappy on these types of roads. Not only does it drift and sway in the turns, the ascents seem to tax the hybrid system.

A button on the steering wheel engages Hyundai's Blue Drive, essentially eco mode with the car. During most of our testing, we left it in this mode and felt that the car was perfectly drivable. Turning off Blue Drive leads to an increase in accelerator sensitivity, but the change is not dramatic.

In sum
With its lithium polymer battery pack and drive motor assisting the engine, the Sonata Hybrid earns good marks for its performance technology, although we found the difficulty in keeping close to the EPA fuel economy range problematic. The tuning of suspension and steering make it a good general commuter car.

Its cabin tech, although not cutting edge, brings in enough high-quality and useful features to satisfy most. The Infinity audio system is a nice bonus, especially coupled with the broad range of audio sources. The interface for the cabin tech suite is also very easy to understand, and the responsiveness of the touch screen is especially appreciated.

Hyundai wraps up this hybrid sedan in a pleasing exterior design, and only compromises trunk space slightly.

Tech specs
Model 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Trim N/A
Power train 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 34-kilowatt lithium polymer hybrid system, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 29.6 mpg
Navigation Optional solid-state-memory-based with Sirius Satellite Traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard with phonebook sync
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth audio streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Infinity seven-speaker 400-watt system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $25,795
Price as tested $31,650

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