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2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: Gas Mileage Test Drive

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We weren't big fans of the first Sonata Hybrid when Hyundai launched it for the 2011 model year.

But the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has numerous updates and modifications that improve its driveability--the characteristic that can sink hybrids when buyers test them.

We found the hybrid 2013 Sonata much improved during a half-day drive a few weeks ago.

Now we've had a chance to spend a few days using the car for a variety of everyday tasks.

Solid 37 mpg

First things first: Over four days and 340 miles of driving, our 2013 Sonata Hybrid gave us exactly 37.0 mpg.

Our test cycle averaged roughly two-thirds highway travel and one-third around-town and suburban use, as it usually does for the cars we test.

The 2013 Sonata Hybrid Limited we tested is rated at 37 mpg combined, while the base model Sonata Hybrid is rated 1 mpg higher, at 38 mpg combined.

Competing mid-size hybrid sedans

By way of comparison, we averaged 36.8 mpg in February when we tested the competing 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

We're compelled to note, however, that winter weather may have knocked a couple of mpg off what the same hybrid Fusion might return over the same test route in the summer.

Nonetheless, real-world mileage in the Fusion Hybrid appears to be far lower than its 47-mpg combined EPA rating--a situation the EPA is now investigating.

Other competitors include the 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid, rated at a combined 41 mpg for the LE model and 40 mpg for the XLE high-end model.

There's also the Hyundai's mechanical twin, the Kia Optima Hybrid, whose ratings are identical to the hybrid Sonata's: 38 mpg for the base model, 37 mpg for the high-end EX model.

Behind the wheel

Our four-day test confirmed our first impression from the launch drive: The 2013 Sonata Hybrid drives better than the 2011-2012 model.

Hyundai has designed the system to operate up to about 70 mph, as well as around town, because it says U.S. drivers spend 55 percent of their miles at highway speeds.

We observed the car drop into EV mode as high as 75 mph. At that speed, the transition was imperceptible--we wouldn't have noticed if we hadn't been watching the gauges.

The more powerful electric motor allows pulling away from stops in electric power, and proved surprisingly strong up to about 20 mph, when the engine tended to start.

That sense of electric-only power is one of the selling points of a hybrid, and Hyundai definitely does its best on acceleration at low speeds.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, April 2013

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, April 2013

Enlarge Photo

Better brake blending

The brake blending between regenerative braking and the friction brakes is better in the latest hybrid Sonata too--though the brakes felt very firm, bordering on grabby.

Those transitions are still obvious in some circumstances--especially in quick on/off braking and acceleration.

We still find transmission downshifts that occur while the Sonata Hybrid is running in electric-only mode to be odd and startling, but owners will quickly get used to them.

Hyundai says using an adapted six-speed automatic transmission (with the electric motor sandwiched between it and the 2.4-liter engine) gives a more normal driving feel under all circumstances than does the electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) used by Toyota and Ford.

Other driving notes

A handful of other observations about the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid:

  • The car feels heavy on the road, and numb electric power steering can require sawing on turns to stay on line
  • The drooping roofline and high rear cowl make for very restricted rear three-quarter vision
  • We scuffed the lower edge of the front fascia on a not-very-high curb (to be fair, this is far from the only car with a very low front apron for reduced aerodynamic drag)
  • While Hyundai's display graphics aren't as pretty as Ford's, the user interface for its various commands are intuitive and easy to use
  • We especially liked the large pushbuttons for directing ventilation airflow
  • Pendant parking brake: Ugh.

Total tab: $32.5K

Our test car was a 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited, the more luxurious of two trim levels for the hybrid Sonata, with a base price of $30,550.

It had only three options: the panoramic sunroof, for $1,000, plus $110 worth of floor mats and a $35 iPod cable.

Add the mandatory $795 fee for delivery, and we ended up with a bottom-line sticker price of $32,490.

+++++++++++

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Comments (9)
  1. I took one out for a rental car, it was very nice.
    I preferred it to the prius.
     
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  2. Prius, proper name. Please capitalize proper names.
     
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  3. Well, one is a midsize family sedan with a hybrid drivetrain getting 37mpg, the other is a dedicated hybrid fuel miser getting 50mpg. Probably no point to compare the two. More interesting would be how it stacks up with the Camry Hybrid.
     
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  4. I don't understand this point of view. The Sonata hybrid and Prius are similarly sized cars (both mid-sized) and perform roughly the same family-moving-around tasks.

    Oh, except the Prius has 35% better gas mileage.

    But I agree the Sonata has a nicer interior.

    On the Prius size, the hatchback is so useful.
     
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  5. Actually, John, I'll respectfully disagree with you here. The Prius gets much better mileage, has far better visibility, has more space, but the Hyundai hybrid is far more enjoyable to drive and is stylish, something I don't think even you would claim about the Prius. It just comes down to the priorities of the potential customer.

    They do not drive alike by any stretch of the imagination, but they are both good cars, in different ways, IMO. I do think the Camry Hybrid (which I have not driven since the last version 3-4 years ago, so I won't comment on it) is a better comparison than the Prius, although certainly all hybrids can be compared.
     
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  6. Don't understand this either. Both cars are mid-sized and carry five passengers.

    The idea that two vehicles cannot be compared because some subjective judgement that one is more attractive is kinda silly.

    What is it about the Camry that magically makes it comparable with the Sonata? Is it just the fact that its a sedan?

    Anyway, the Prius has 35% better gas mileage than the Sonata. What can the Sonata do that is 35% better than the Prius? Nothing.
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  7. John, we all know that you're defensive about your Prius and that's fine. I guess you might want to wonder why most people here disagree with you.

    Why compare it to the Camry instead? Both the Camry and Prius are far more than 35% better looking in most people's opinions. people buy the others because of the overall package, not an ugly, boxy car that exists solely for mileage reasons. Or, in other words, how many non-hybrid vehicles are out there that even come close to resembling a Prius?

    The Sonata and Camry have far better steering feel than the Prius (which I'm driving this week with the wife out of town and me having dog duties), look better, drive better, etc. More HP, more torque... Mileage is king for you, we get it.
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  8. John, did you want to know what specifically on the Camry Hybrid or Sonata Hybrid is 35% better than the Prius. I mean, other than looks?

    Here are the HP comparisons, John, although we all know it's 100% mileage for you, of course.

    Sonata: 196 or 199 (?, I'll use 196 here to be conservative, 46% more than the Prius)
    Prius: 134
    Camry Hybrid: 200 (49% more than Prius)

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, yes, but it's not just about mileage to most.
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