2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Review Notes: Smooth Operator

OK, so that’s overselling it a bit, but it did prevent another argument over air conditioning thanks to a simple, brilliant feature: On the climate control panel, there’s a button marked “Driver Only” with a fan symbol. Press it, and the fan only blows out of the driver’s side vents, keeping the passenger from getting blasted by icy cold a/c on a hot summer day. Why said passenger wouldn’t want air conditioning is beyond the scope of this article, but for the first time in a decade, all members of my immediate family were happy with the temperature in the same car at the same time.

Miracles, indeed.

The rest of our Sonata Hybrid Limited was more of the same — it’s an extremely well thought-out car, and what it may lack in sheer driving excitement is balanced by solid engineering and some careful attention to detail. For example, hybrid sedans have traditionally sacrificed interior room and trunk space for the sake of electrification. If the Sonata steals battery space, you’d never know it. The trunk is huge and flat, and rear passengers have as much legroom as I’d typically expect from cars a size larger like the Toyota Avalon or Hyundai‘s own Azera.

This car also redefines “seamless” as it pertains to hybrid powertrains. In 90 percent of situations, a slight engine hum is the only indication you’re not in EV mode, and I found myself cruising along on at speed on the freeways on electrons alone. Road noise is minimal (chalk a few points up to the Kumho Solus tires which didn’t exhibit any of the hard-riding rumble of other low-rolling-resistance rubber), and the Sonata presents itself as a delightful midsize sedan independent of its high-tech powertrain.

My only significant complaint is that the Sonata suffers from “Korean Wheel,” the vague, squishy steering feel Korean automakers can’t seem to exorcise on their mainstream vehicles. Otherwise, the Sonata Hybrid is pretty flawless, and anyone who needs a well-equipped, well-made hybrid sedan needs to make sure they stop at a Hyundai dealership.

ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: Yes, most of this hybrid’s operation is seamless. But those brakes are terrible. Let’s start there. On the expressway, there’s a decent bite right at the top of the stroke. Nothing happens for about 5 more inches, and then the sedan finally grinds to halt. On the street there’s basically nothing, until you get several inches in. I locked the tires up in the wet recently trying to avoid a car that didn’t sneak up on me at all.

The engine ignition and operation are quiet, though power is a little less than adequate in my eyes. I was pushing the pedal down more than halfway just to get going. There’s really no point in jamming on it to pass someone, you’ll just have to wait until the next gap.

The ride is great. It absorbed almost everything I threw at it. Bumps make a little noise, but if you just concentrate on the seat, there’s barely any movement. Steering, like Andy said, is a little vague and numb. It’s easy at least, and if you’re not into corner carving, probably no big deal. On the other hand, you’re reading Autoweek, so you’re probably an enthusiast. Make this a second, road-trip car. Don’t sell the Miata just yet.

It does look good, aside from those hybrid fan wheels. I don’t love it like I loved the last generation’s body style, but it is way ahead of where the company was a decade ago. The regular Sonata is great, and I’d recommend that over this. Unless you just need that hybrid badge. I do want to try the plug-in version though.

“My only significant complaint is that the Sonata suffers from “Korean Wheel,” the vague, squishy steering feel Korean automakers can’t seem to exorcise on their mainstream vehicles.”

EDITORIAL INTERN JOE GROVE: Having read Jake’s notes about the brakes before I left the office, I was well aware of how to treat them, so they weren’t so much a problem for me.

My night with the Sonata was my first prolonged experience with a hybrid, and I really enjoyed it. I thought the car drove really well; it handled bumps and potholes better than I expected. I agree with the above editors in that it takes a bit to get the Sonata Hybrid motivated, but once it’s going it becomes less of an effort.

Our test car came with adaptive cruise control, a feature I had yet to experience, so I gave it a whirl. At first I wasn’t impressed with the following distance that it kept from the vehicle in front, but when I tried to change it, the car locked me out since I was moving. I understand the safety aspect of that decision, but I don’t think I should have to park the car to alter the distance. After I changed the setting from “Normal” to “Fast,” the distances between vehicles got better, but it could still improve.

Another feature I used for the first time was “Hold Assist” a feature that will hold the brakes for you while you’re stopped, relieving your foot of its pedal-pressing duty. As ridiculous as the feature sounds, I found hold assist to be a great feature that comes in handy at long lights, train crossings and dead-stopped traffic.

I was amazed at how much interior room the Sonata has. The rear-seat legroom is huge, much more than I was expecting and way more room than the current Malibu. The full-size sunroof also adds to the airy feeling in the cabin. My only gripe space-wise is that my knee rested and smacked against the bottom corner of the center stack.

Considering my 50-mile commute only ate 25 miles off the range, I was impressed by the frugal hybrid system. They’ve come a long way since my last hybrid drive, a 2007 Nissan Altima. Like Jake, I’d love to try the plug-in.

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