2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata has been a huge sales hit for the Korean car company, outpacing the Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima in recent months. The news could get better for Hyundai later this year, as the new sedan gets a greener version that could hit a class-best fuel economy target.

Hyundai's American CEO John Krafcik said this morning that the Sonata Hybrid could earn a 40-mpg highway fuel economy rating by the time the sedan gets its final EPA certification.

"We're working on final calibration...and the fuel economy estimates could come in a little better than before," Krafcik said. "We said the Sonata Hybrid will have the highest fuel economy of any mid-size hybrid. We predicted 39 mpg, we may hit 40 mpg."

The competitive Ford Fusion Hybrid, by comparison, has earned a 41/36 mpg rating from the EPA. The Toyota Camry hybrid checks in at 33/34 mpg, the Nissan Altima hybrid at 35/33 mpg.

Krafcik credits Hyundai's "breakthrough battery technology," which uses lithium-polymer batteries while cars like the Fusion Hybrid use less effective nickel-metal hydride batteries. He also points out the Sonata Hybrid will use a conventional automatic transmission without a torque converter instead of a CVT, will help keep the price difference from a standard Sonata minimal.

That price won't be announced until later in the year, but Krafcik says the Hybrid will span a range close to that of the Sonata 2.0T turbo. The range? From about $25,000 base to just under $30,000--substantially lower than any of its sedan competitors.

The difference is so slight, Krafcik adds, some buyers might choose the Sonata Hybrid simply because of its distinctive front-end styling and its revised interior.

The Sonata Hybrid goes on sale later this year.