New Sonata Hybrid Goes for Dedicated HEV Look

Staff - CAP staff
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Hyundai wants you to know without a doubt that the new Sonata driving into your rearview mirror is a hybrid, and there will be no mistaking it from either base model or the new 274hp turbocharged top-line model.  It looks sportier than either! 

From a marketing perspective, it matters more that the Sonata Hybrid looks like a dedicated HEV than merely more athletic than its conventionally-powered stable mates, as there have been enough studies showing that environmentally-motivated buyers want to stand out from the crowd in a vehicle that makes a statement about earth-friendliness and how they're metaphorically walking their talk. 

Compared to Chevy's Malibu Hybrid, Ford's Fusion Hybrid, Nissan's Altima Hybrid or Toyota's Camry Hybrid, which each feature minor augmentations to their exterior designs at best, the upcoming Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will sport a radical new grille and front fascia design that you'll be able to spot a mile away.  The South Korean automaker has even gone so far as to complete change the shape of the headlights and fog lamps!  A thick chrome appliqué graces the front lip of the hood, too, while a Hyundai stylized "H" badge on a blue background (a la Lexus) sits at its centre.  Below this a deep, gaping grille pulls design cues from the Blue-Will Concept that made its debut at the Detroit auto show last January.  

From profile the Sonata Hybrid looks much like its conventionally powered sibling other than a new set of alloy wheels on low roll resistance tires, but from the rear additional modifications, while less obvious, nevertheless separate it from the gasoline-only variant. 

Most noticeable are revised taillights with more clear plastic than the standard car and, upon closer inspection, interesting design detailing that features triangles and orbiting atoms that should set conspiracy theorists off on wild tangents about hybrid cars being nucleic all-seeing eyes designed to destroy the rights of independent militia propagated by anti-buy-American socialists, while the rest of us will simply say, cool!  A totally new bumper and lower valance sport a deep, blacked-out, diffuser-style design, joining all body modifications for a car that's even slipperier than the standard Sonata's wind-cheating Cd of 0.28 to just 0.25!  As important the new model looks good enough to convert sport enthusiasts to the green side. 

Performance won't be as energetic as the top-line turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder that boasts 274-hp, but the Sonata Hybrid's 2.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder, the same engine that's currently available in conventionally powered Sonata albeit upgraded to the more efficient Atkinson Cycle technology as used in rival hybrids, puts out decent power thanks to the 30-kilowatt (40.2-hp) electric assistant that comes along for the ride.  The electric motor generations 151 pound-feet of torque as well, and while doing double duty via regenerative braking also acts as the torque converter for the six-speed automatic.  Yes, utilizing a conventional automatic instead of the usual continuously variable transmission (CVT) is unusual in the hybrid category as the CVT is considered more efficient and better suited to hybrid duty, but it's difficult to argue against a hybrid that bests all direct competitors with combined gasoline-electric output of 209-hp and the ability to achieve 100 km/h (62 mph) in full EV mode; yes, it's a full parallel hybrid system, the only in its class, and the only car in the segment to break the 200-hp barrier.  

Like all competitive HEVs and some conventionally powered models the Sonata Hybrid uses start-stop technology to save fuel when idling, but Hyundai chose to incorporate an integrated starter generator rather than a traction type used by most rival automakers, just the beginning of how this powertrain is unique amongst its peers. 

More obvious it the inclusion of lithium polymer batteries, the first North American application of these advanced power cells.  The only other global use of them is within the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte hybrids only available in South Korea since last year.  The cells are supplied by LG Chem, and are quite close to those Chevrolet will use in its upcoming Volt series hybrid when it debuts later this year.  Part of the lithium polymer benefit is lightweight construction.  The Sonata Hybrid's 1.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack weighs in at only 43.5 kilos (95.9 lbs) compared the 56.2-kg (123.9-lb) nickel metal hydride battery pack used in the Camry Hybrid. 

Before the powerful turbocharged four-cylinder upgrade was announced alongside this Hybrid, Hyundai took some flack for creating a design that doesn't allow for a V6 engine upgrade, but making the hard choice to wean North American buyers off of thirsty six-cylinder engines and back onto smaller displacement four-cylinder mills has resulted in an overall mass that's hundreds of pounds lighter than much of its competition.  The Fusion Hybrid, for instance, already one of the lighter offerings, is a full 119 kilograms (263 lbs) heavier than the 1,568-kilo (3,457-lb) Sonata Hybrid, which should give the Korean the performance element that its sporty exterior design promises. 

The performance that matters most in this class, however, is the type that keeps you rolling past the pump, and to that end Hyundai expects its new Sonata Hybrid will achieve the EPA equivalent average of 6.3L/100km in the city and 6.0 on the highway, which will make it slightly less efficient than the Fusion's EPA average of 5.7L/100km in the city, albeit slightly better than that Ford's 6.5L/100km highway rating.  Possibly more importantly the new Sonata Hybrid outclasses Toyota's Camry Hybrid where it truly hurts, as the Japanese automaker's midsize four-door HEV can only muster 7.1 and 6.9 in the city and on the highway respectively.

And what will a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid cost?  The exact number won't be out until closer to its dealer launch date, but expect the Korean automaker to continue its aggressive pricing strategy by pricing the stylish new HEV alternative hundreds if not thousands less than the competition.  Delivering all the goods for less money will go far in making the Hyundai-developed Hybrid Blue Drive architecture as well known as Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Hybrid, HEV, Hyundai, 2011, Sonata Hybrid, $30,000 - $39,999,

Organizations: Hyundai

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