2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Hyundai also says the hybrid can be driven in EV mode up to 62 mph - but to get there on electric alone, you'll have to apply less than 15 percent of pedal effort. Each time I tried to power softly to speed, the gas engine kicked in. We'll dive into this powertrain and how to drive it more effectively, once we get a U.S.-salable car later this year.
A bit of Sebring?
The Sonata's essentially good packaging gains a fair amount of fuel economy for the slight rise in sticker price--and it gets an unusual amount of styling attention in its transition to the gas-electric world. No sheetmetal has changed, but the Sonata Hybrid gets reshaped headlamp covers, a new nose cap with a large, deep grille and a chrome bar across the grille's top. Up front, the net effect reminds us of the last-generation Chrysler Sebring--much less so than it reminds us of the actual non-hybrid Sonata. In back, the Hyundai also picks up a reshaped, chamfered bumper that evokes some of the details on the Nissan Maxima. On the dash, the usual hybrid driving-mode display nestles between the gauges.
(Note: the pictures shown here are representative of the cars shown in New York, but Hyundai's tweaking the front end even more, removing the black bar across the Hybrid's grille.)
The shape-changing nets Hyundai a spectacularly low coefficient of drag, at 0.25 (the stock sedan's number is 0.29)--and it puts out the possibility that, since the Hybrid doesn't cost all that much more than the standard sedan, that Hyundai will sell some Hybrids to folks based on looks alone. Along with the recent announcement that the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid would be priced the same as its V-6 counterpart, the Sonata Hybrid is evolving the sales pitch in a significant way.
Hyundai expects the Sonata Hybrid will carry a base price of about $25,000, which is about what you'd pay for the much smaller Honda Civic Hybrid. Couple in the unused federal tax credit Hyundai's cars are eligible for, and it's possible you could buy a Sonata Hybrid SE for about $22,000. That's less than a Toyota Prius III. A Limited model will be priced under $30,000, Hyundai estimates.
It's an amazing prospect. Coupled with Hyundai's plans to build a hybrid-only model by 2012, and to hybridize 20 percent of its fleet by 2020, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is a pretty noisy warning shot over the bows of Toyota, Honda and Ford. Will Hyundai meet with Toyota-like success, or will it flounder like Honda?
The seat of our pants--and our wallets--are leaning toward the former.