AUTO REVIEW: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: Efficiency and Some Wow

What’s not to like about cruising the highway in a comfortable, stylish sedan, quietly doing 70 mph yet taking forever to burn a single gallon of gas?

That’s all in a day’s work for the second-generation 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

Hyundai did it right this time around, upgrading the wow factor in looks, drive and roominess — all with a 10 percent improvement in the most important hybrid factor of all: mileage.

It’s all because Hyundai revamped the hybrid system, gave the car a smaller engine — a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder — a 38-kilowatt motor and a higher-capacity battery. Air shutters behind the grille and some aerodynamic tweaks in the exterior design have helped the mpg cause, too.

So the new system now squeezes out a combined 42 mpg, a nice boost over the mediocrity — by hybrid standards — of the 38 mpg achievable with the previous generation. The Environmental Protection Agency figures are 40 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, yet I did even better on a highway run and have read some really well-behaved drivers are getting into the high 40s.

Cruising at interstate speeds can happen on electric power alone for a while, depending on how much energy has been stashed in the lithium ion battery pack during in-town driving. If more power is needed for passing, the little engine kicks in smoothly and with little whining.

This engine is no slouch; it’ll manage 154 horses and 140 pound-feet of torque on its own. Combined with the electric motor, total output is 193 horsepower. A foot down on the pedal will get you to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, quicker than some but a full second behind Toyota Camry and Honda Accord hybrids.

A smooth-shifting six-speed transmission, the only one offered, sends the power to the front wheels.

Aside from the hybrid stuff, this is pretty much a regular Sonata. It’s comfortable and has good road manners around town and on twisty roads. And a nicely tuned suspension evens out the ride on rougher roads and potholes.

A drive mode selector offers a choice of driving styles. Normal, Sport and Eco modes each will adjust shift points, throttle response and even steering weight, but the differences aren’t dramatic.

Still, the Sonata’s ride is not necessarily an engaging one. Others, like the Ford Fusion hybrid, offer more spirit on the road. Still, the 2016 Sonata is a step up from last year.

Inside, it has the redesigned interior that was introduced last year in the standard Sonata. It’s more elegant, comfortable and roomy; Hyundai boasts best-in-class total interior volume.

Quality is high-level throughout, as is the feel, panel fit and finish of the dashboard and door surfaces.

The 8-inch touchscreen has been upgraded and has sharper graphics, and it features finger swipe-and-pinch to sweep through the programs. It responds quickly and is relatively easy to use. Also, a new hybrid gauge cluster helps you keep track of all things hybrid, like current mileage and overall energy efficiency.

Front seats are bolstered on the sides, nicely padded for comfort on the long rides, and there are plenty of adjustments to fit every shape and size human being. Head and leg room are abundant up front; in the rear, taller folks might find their heads near the ceiling.

Finding places to stash stuff is easy with lots of cubbies, a mobile phone holder, big glove box and center console bin. Trunk space, however, is hampered by the battery pack’s presence but, at 13.3 cubic feet, it’s still a tad bigger than rivals.

Beyond all the air bags and traction control, Sonata offers a standard rearview camera. On the higher trim levels, the Sonata, which gets five-star crash ratings, includes blind-spot monitor, parking sensors, lane departure warning and forward collision warning system.

The Sonata Hybrid comes in two trim levels: SE and Limited. The SE gets 16-inch alloys, automatic lights and fog lights, six-speaker audio with USB inputs and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics and emergency assistance connection.

The Limited gets 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery, more safety electronics, rear AC vents, heated front and rear seats and wood-grain accents. An options package called the Ultimate adds panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, and upgraded 9-speaker Infinity sound system.

Hyundai knows it’s a long, tough climb to green-car supremacy. With improved mileage figures, an improved ride and smarter looks, the 2016 Sonata Hybrid has positioned itself as a worthy contender among the pack.

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