Driving Hyundai’s Sonata Plug-In Hybrid


The all-new, seventh-generation Hyundai Sonata that emerged in the 2015 model year proved this automaker’s ability to offer increasingly sophisticated and compelling models. It featured a more exciting design, improved road manners, and greater use of advanced on-board electronics. What it didn’t offer was a new hybrid variant.

Hyundai strategically retained its previous-generation hybrid Sonata for an additional year as it prepared to add new hybrid and plug-in hybrid models to round out the 2016 Sonata lineup. As Green Car Journal editors found during a recent 500 mile road trip in a 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Limited, the wait has been worth it. Simply, this efficient plug-in sedan is a joy to drive.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-enginePowering both the standard hybrid and plug-in variants is a 2.0-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine producing 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft torque. This engine is augmented by a 51 horsepower electric motor in the hybrid and a more powerful 67 horsepower motor in the plug-in, with torque output the same at 151 lb-ft.

The primary difference between the two hybrid variants is the size of their lithium-polymer battery. The hybrid we’ve driven before used a 1.6 kilowatt-hour battery, while the plug-in we drove this time uses a much larger 9.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack to provide extended electric driving range of up to 27 miles in electric-only mode. Once battery power is depleted the plug-in variant operates just like the Sonata Hybrid.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-public-chargingAn ability to travel those electric miles does come with a bit of trade-off since the plug-in’s larger battery takes up additional space beneath the trunk floor. For comparison, the standard Sonata has 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space versus 13.3 in the hybrid and 9.9 in the plug-in. Still, there’s plenty of trunk space available in our judgment. Charging the plug-in takes about three hours with an available 220 volt Level 2 charger or nine hours with a 120-volt recharging unit that plugs into a standard household outlet.

The plug-in hybrid is distinguished from the standard Sonata with styling ques that include an aero kit, unique front fascia and rear diffuser, and model-specific aluminum wheels. Part of this sedan’s welcome fuel economy comes from enhanced aerodynamics that result in a very impressive 0.24 drag coefficient.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-cabin-2Inside, the five-passenger plug-in hybrid is essentially the same as the conventional Sonata except for a modified gauge cluster with a new color LCD multi-purpose display showing operating data on the hybrid system.

Fuel efficiency is impressive, with the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid rated at an EPA estimated 40 mpg combined fuel efficiency and 99 MPGe while driving on battery power. It features a total driving range of some 600 miles, a welcome feature during our daily drives and our road trip from California’s Central Coast to Los Angeles.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-rear-1The Sonata Plug-In uses MacPherson strut suspension with a 24.2 mm stabilizer bar up front and an independent multi-link design with coil springs and a 17 mm stabilizer bar at the rear. High performance shocks are used at all four corners. During our drives on highways and twisty canyon roads we came to appreciate the Sonata Plug-In’s comfortable ride and handling dynamics that found us firmly planted through sweeping turns and switchbacks alike. The Sonata’s engine rpm-sensing power rack-and-pinion steering is pleasing and responsive.

While you can get a standard Sonata or Sonata Hybrid at Hyundai dealers nationwide starting at $21,750 and $26,000, respectively, the $34,600 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is a bit more exclusive and available in just 10 California emissions states.